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Many Americans spend more time at work than in their homes. For Rachel Tom-Quinn, a third-year student in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Law, it’s important that employers and employees have safe and fair working environments where they can thrive.

Rachel Tom-Quinn
Rachel Tom-Quinn

Initially starting her career as a financial services recuiter, Tom-Quinn formed relationships with her clients and wanted to further aid them throughout their employment. She moved into human resources as an opportunity for more involvement in positively affecting the employee experience. After years of working in human resources in New York City, she decided to pursue her interest in employment law at UT.

In her third year, Tom-Quinn began working with Associate Professor Joy Radice, director of the college’s Legal Clinic, to create a project tailored to her interest in improving individuals’ work opportunities while aiding community members.

“Professor Radice had been working with students to help restore the voter rights of persons with convictions, and we realized I could help those same people gain employment after conviction or incarceration,” Tom-Quinn said. “It’s the perfect project, because positive employment is my passion and I love being able to serve the community.”

Tom-Quinn works with clients to file petitions for a certificate of employability. Individuals who wish to pursue a career that requires a state license, such as hairdresser, electrician, or welder, often struggle to obtain their license because of prior convictions and incarcerations. A certificate of employability informs an employer that a person has sustained the character of a person of honesty, respectability, and veracity, and is generally regarded as such by their neighbors.

“Having a conviction can be a pretty significant roadblock to employment,” she said. “And it’s not just the licenses, it’s sometimes employers, period. There’s a liability they face if they hire someone with a record and something goes wrong—the employer can be held liable. So these certificates help alleviate some of that liability for employers so they’re less likely to say no immediately if someone can present them with this physical certificate.”

The Legal Clinic hosted a voter restoration event in March where student attorneys worked one-on-one with clients to walk through the process of restoring their right to vote and filling out expungement petitions. During the event, Tom-Quinn specifically assisted clients with their employability petitions.

The Legal Clinic’s expungement efforts have been recognized with two $100,000 grants from the Tennessee Bar Foundation in the past three years.

Tom-Quinn graduates in May, with a position as an employment esquire at Waller, a Nashville-based law firm, after her bar exam.

April 5 through 9, UT is celebrating the achievements of graduate students like Tom-Quinn during Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week. Various events and engagement opportunities will take place all week to spotlight UT’s graduate students and the incredible work they do. Classified as a public R1 doctoral university with very high research activity, UT houses multiple nationally ranked programs with more than 6,000 graduate and professional students currently enrolled in more than 180 different graduate degree and certificate programs. View the full lineup of events on the UT campus calendar.

Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375, lowen8@utk.edu)

Rachel McClelland (865-974-6788, rachel.mcclelland@utk.edu)