Mary Jane Ciccarello aspired to a career in law after her children were born, realizing that she wanted a profession where she could give back to the community by helping people to solve problems.
She enrolled at the S.J. Quinney College of Law in 1990 at a time when the field of elder law was making its way into law school curriculums. She took one of the first elder law courses in the country from former College of Law Dean Ned Spurgeon. She and Spurgeon would go on to collaborate on several projects over the years related to law and aging.
“It was terribly exciting to be examining issues that were of great significance to so many people and to try to figure out ways to use legal tools to tackle such topics as incapacity, guardianship, health care, Social Security, and elder abuse,” said Ciccarello, recalling the course she enrolled in with Spurgeon. “Stepping into that classroom changed my life.”
Ciccarello graduated from law school in 1993. Today, she is the Self-Help Center Director with the Utah State Courts. Prior to her current position, she was an elder law attorney in private practice in Salt Lake City. She provided Older Americans Act Title III legal services to older persons in Summit and Wasatch Counties in northern Utah. She also served previously as the Legal Services Developer for the Utah State Division of Aging and Adult Services, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and Utah Legal Services, and the dean of students at the College of Law where she now teaches elder law as an adjunct professor. A fellow with the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging since 2001, she has served as the foundation’s assistant director since 2007. A national center, the institution provides annual fellowships to lawyers beginning their careers in law and aging as well as academic research grants to further scholarship about new or improved public policies, laws and/or programs that will enhance the quality of life for the elderly.
“I was interested in forging a second career after my children were born that utilized my skills in writing, analyzing, and teaching. I chose to go to law school not really knowing what I was getting into but soon realized that it was the right choice for me. I also realized early on that I wanted to be a public interest lawyer and do my best to help people resolve problems,” said Ciccarello.
“When I was in law school, there were not many programmatic opportunities to forge a public interest career. I took as many courses as I could that would help a career in poverty law and deeply appreciate the family law courses taught by Lee Teitelbaum and the clinics established by Linda Smith. More than anything else, I learned from my fellow students and some wonderful law school staff like Karen McLeese; for example, we established the Public Interest Law Organization and the Fordham Loan Forgiveness Program and we supported one another in our desire to use the law to improve access to justice.”