The Justice Center is very proud of its student advisory board graduates and the contributions they are making serving the public good. Below we highlight a few of our graduates’ current work, law school activities, and their advice for law students (and future law students) who hope to make a career in public service.
Jessica Cassidy, '09
Jessica is an attorney with Texas Legal Services Center. From 2009 through 2011, Jessica served as an Equal Justice Works fellow (funded generously by Texas Access to Justice Foundation) working with survivors of domestic violence on economic empowerment issues. A first generation college graduate from Corpus Christi, she received a Master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs as well as her J.D with Honors. In law school, Jessica participated in the Capital Punishment Clinic, the Criminal Defense Clinic, and the Domestic Violence Clinic, as well as the Public Interest Law Association, Texas Law Fellowships, Concerned Students for Loan Repayment Assistance, and the President's Student Advisory Council. She also interned with the Texas Advocacy Project and the ACLU of Texas. Jessica spent her summers working in Austin at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and the ACLU of Texas and served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate throughout law school.
- "Aggressively seek out opportunities to work for the underserved. The clinics, public service opportunities, and non-profit jobs I had throughout school reminded me of why I was here and what I came to do. Each shaped the way I view vulnerability and need. Each exposed me to the way that legal systems structure resources towards power, and away from the disenfranchised. And each inspired me to do more."
Michael O'Keefe Cowles, '12
Michael is working with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and the Equal Justice Center to expand advocacy on behalf of low-wage workers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, funded by the UT Law Julius Glickman Fellowship in Public Interest Law. As a law student, Michael took part in the Transnational Workers' Rights Clinic, the Immigration Clinic, and clerked for The ACLU of Texas, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, and plaintiff attorney Broadus Spivey. Michael was a proud member of the public interest community at UT and was active with the American Constitution Society and as a member of the Student Advisory Board to the Justice Center.
- "If you are going to law school to start a career in the public interest, UT has everything you need. From the large and passionate community of like-minded students, to the amazing people at the Justice Center, to the extensive network of faculty and alumni, there is no reason a UT student should be intimidated by pursuing a career in public interest law. Take advantage of it and make your career what you want it to be."
Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, '07
After graduation, Parisa served as a law clerk to the Hon. Vanessa D. Gilmore, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, and then as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Public Advocates Inc. in San Francisco. She is now a staff attorney at Public Advocates, where she is utilizing California's climate change laws to increase affordable housing and public transportation for low-income households in the Bay Area. Parisa, a native of Iran, grew up in Austin. Prior to law school, Parisa worked at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. While at UT Law, Parisa completed a Master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and participated in the Transnational Worker Rights Clinic and the Immigration Clinic. She was also active in the American Constitution Society, Middle Eastern Law Students’ Association, and the successful effort to establish an LRAP at UT Law. She spent her summers working at the National Employment Law Project in New York City and the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin.
- "I would encourage all law students to take advantage of the rich clinical opportunities at UT Law. The clients will teach you, inspire you, and remind you exactly why you went to law school; and the professors are top-rate attorneys who will become lifelong mentors."
Whitney Hill, '09
Whitney is currently working at Youth, Rights & Justice (fka Juvenile Rights Project) in Portland, Oregon, and now has a full-time position in Juvenile Law after getting her start there as a fellow funded by the UT Law Justice Corps George M. Fleming Fellowship in Health Law. Originally from California’s Bay Area, Whitney worked as a legal assistant, with a youth wilderness program, and at a residential treatment facility for teens prior to coming to law school. In law school, Whitney spent her summers at TRLA’s Family Law Department in Austin, funded by Equal Justice America, and the Juvenile Rights Project in Portland. During the school year, she interned at Advocacy, Inc., and participated in the Environmental Law Clinic, the Children’s Rights Clinic, the Juvenile Justice Clinic, Concerned Students for LRAP, Women’s Law Caucus, Street Law, and TLF. She also worked at Slack & Davis LLP in Austin, and volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Shirley Horng, '07
Shirley, originally from Houston, is a housing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, where she has been practicing since graduating law school in 2007. Shirley represents low-income tenants in eviction cases and administrative hearings. She also advocates for systemic policy reforms before the D.C. Council and the D.C. Housing Authority and conducts outreach in the communities. While in law school, Shirley participated in the Housing Law Clinic and the Criminal Defense Clinic, and interned at the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin. She spent her summers working at the Public Defenders Service for the District of Columbia, and TRLA in Eagle Pass, Texas.
- "Don't give up. Be persistent with applications to individual positions and be patient with the general public interest job search."
Brett Kaufman, '09
Brett is the current National Security Fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project in New York City. Before joining the ACLU, he clerked for Judge Robert D. Sack of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Judge Richard J. Holwell of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and (after Judge Holwell's resignation from the bench) Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, also of the S.D.N.Y. After graduating from U.T. Law and prior to beginning his federal clerkships, Brett spent one year in Israel, first clerking for Justice Asher Grunis of the Israeli Supreme Court and then working with Gisha, an NGO dedicated to protecting Gazans' human right to freedom of movement. Originally from Chicago, Brett taught English in Madrid, Spain, and worked in California’s Bay Area as a paralegal at a non-profit disability-rights law firm before coming to Austin. At U.T. Law, Brett participated in American Constitution Society, the Supreme Court Clinic, the National Security Clinic, Texas Law Review, and the Rapoport Center for Human Rights. He spent his law-school summers working at the Inter-American Court for Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica, and the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.
- "If you want to make a career for yourself in public interest law, you can—there is more to life than your loans."
Lawson Konvalinka, '11
Lawson Konvalinka is currently working for Montana Legal Services Association representing clients in the Foreclosure Assistance Program. After graduation, Lawson served as a law clerk to the Hon. Andrew S. Hanen, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Texas in Brownsville. Originally from Tennessee, Lawson attended Vanderbilt University for his undergraduate studies. Before coming to law school, he helped start a microfinance organization in Peru. While at UT Law, Lawson participated in the Capital Punishment, Immigration, and Housing clinics. He was a member of Texas Law Review, served as co-president of the Public Interest Law Association, and was a student organizer of the Law School’s 2009 and 2010 winter break pro bono trips. He spent his summers working for the Bronx Defenders in New York and the Orleans Public Defenders in New Orleans.
- "Take advantage of the resources and opportunities present at UT Law. The William Wayne Justice Center, PILA, and the clinical professors are a great place to start. Also, I would recommend looking at various areas within public interest law and trying them out to see what fits your personality best."
Brandi Mirzakhani, '12
Brandi works for a small law firm in Houston, where she is an associate in the family law practice and is developing a disability law practice. As a law student, Brandi was an active participant in pro bono work after her experience with the Pro Bono in January (PBJ) trip to the Rio Grande Valley. In addition to her participation with the Justice Center, Brandi was a member of the Thurgood Marshall Legal Society, Christian Law Students Association, and the Texas Environmental Law Journal. Brandi also participated in the Frederick Douglass Moot Court Competition. She was the Rocky Mountain Regional Champion and also won the award for National Second Best Oral Advocate. During her summers Brandi worked at the EEOC and the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs as a SLIP intern. As a 3L, she interned with the Department of Justice Disability Rights Division.
- "I encourage students to take advantage of all of the opportunities that UT Law has to offer. Students should enter law school with the mindset that nothing is out of reach and that every opportunity is open to them. All students should get to know their professors and develop them as mentors. Students should give back to the community and an easy way to do that is to get involved with the William Wayne Justice Center."
Meredith Parekh, '11
Meredith Parekh is a Skadden Fellow at Disability Rights Texas in Austin, TX. She will use her fellowship to advocate for the rights of female teenagers in foster care and the juvenile justice system who have been sexually assaulted as well as those who are pregnant or parenting. A native of Dallas, TX, Meredith graduated with honors from The University of Texas, Austin in 2007. In law school, she participated in the Immigration Clinic and the Children’s Rights Clinic, was a student leader of Law Students for Reproductive Justice and was a Public Service Scholar. She also volunteered for Jane’s Due Process and participated in the Student Hurricane Network trip to Biloxi, MS. During her law school summers, she worked for Texas Advocacy Project and Advocacy, Inc.
Lisa Philip, '09
Lisa Philip is currently a staff attorney on the Protection and Civil Rights and State Supported Living Center teams at Disability Rights Texas in Austin. On these teams, she represents men and women with intellectual disabilities residing in the large, state-run institutions as well as individuals with mental illnesses accessing community resources. In law school, Lisa participated in the Domestic Violence Clinic, the Domestic Violence Survivor Support Network, The Review of Litigation, and the Student Hurricane Network. She also worked as a research assistant for Professor Sarah Buel and as a LexisNexis student representative. She spent her summers working with the Texas Advocacy Project in Austin and CASA in Newport News, Virginia. After law school, Lisa worked at Disability Rights Texas on a Skadden Foundation Fellowship representing domestic violence survivors with disabilities.
"I think many students plan on going into public interest law and then they get to law school and think that it's just going to be too hard. Too hard to get a job, too hard to pay off loans, just too hard in this economy. I would encourage students interested in public interest work to stick it out. There are many resources, especially the WWJC and Nicole Clark in CSO, who are able and willing to point students to new resources and new programs. If you're passionate about public interest work, don't let fear that you can't 'make it' keep you from pursuing justice."
"It's also incredibly important to cultivate relationships with professors and mentors early. I knew I wanted to do domestic violence law so as a 1L, I volunteered to do research for a professor at UT whose specialty was domestic violence. That volunteer work turned into a research assistant job, which led to my paper being published, which led to excellent recommendations, and a job. I wouldn't have my fellowship and I wouldn't have the contacts and opportunities I have now if I hadn't been persistent, introduced myself as a 1L, and shown I was serious and interested in domestic violence law. No matter what area of law you are interested in, make your own opportunities. The staff at UT is excellent but the student body is huge--take the initiative to cultivate relationships and make yourself known."
Jordan Pollock, '12
Jordan Pollock graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in May 2012 with honors. She was awarded a 2012 Equal Justice Works Fellowship to work with Public Counsel in Los Angeles assisting immigrants in detention. Her fellowship is funded by Munger, Tolles and Olson. Before law school school, Ms. Pollock worked in immigration legal services in New York. During law school she volunteered with American Gateways, South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project and the Equal Justice Center in Austin. During her 1L summer, she worked on immigrants’ rights litigation for the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles and during her 2L summer she worked at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle where she assisted with various immigration law matters. She was co-president of the Public Interest Law Association at UT law and was a volunteer/student in the UT immigration clinic all six semesters of law school. Ms. Pollock received the Class of 2012 William Wayne Justice Center Equal Justice Scholarship, which provided full-tuition for her three years of legal study at UT. Upon graduation, Ms. Pollock received the Excellence in Public Interest Award from the Texas Law Fellowships and the William Wayne Justice Center graduating student and pro bono awards.
Kathrine Russell, '08
Kathrine, from San Antonio, worked as an associate at Latham & Watkins in New York before becoming a children’s immigration attorney with South Texas ProBAR in Harlingen. Since May 2012, Kathrine has worked with KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) in New York, NY. She recruits, trains, and mentors pro bono attorneys working on cases of unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings. In law school, Kathrine participated in TLF, PILA, the Texas International Law Journal, the Housing Law Clinic, Telephone Access to Justice at TRLA, and the Student Hurricane Network. She spent her summers working at Akin Gump in San Antonio, Texas C-BAR in Austin, and Latham & Watkins in New York.
- "I would encourage new law students hoping for a specific career in public interest to keep an open mind and explore as many areas of law and career paths as possible. I am thankful for the experiences I had working at law firms, because law firms play a very important role in public interest law by providing financial support and pro bono attorneys. My law firm experience gives me confidence in interacting with private attorneys and encouraging them to support public interest work."
Meghan Shapiro, '09
Meghan, from Alexandria, Virginia, is currently a Staff Attorney with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans, exclusively representing indigent people indicted for capital murder or on death row in Louisiana and Mississippi. Prior to this job, Meghan practiced capital defense trial work at the Northern Virginia Capital Defender Office, and in private practice in Virginia. Meghan clerked for the Hon. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, in the Eastern District of Virginia from 2009-2010, and is a graduate of Gideon's Promise (previously the Southern Public Defender Training Center). She recently co-authored an essay in How Can You Represent Those People, eds. Abbe Smith and Monroe Freedman (Palgrave Macmillan 2013), and has been published in the Champion, Virginia Lawyer, and the American Journal of Criminal Law. In law school, Meghan participated in the Capital Punishment Clinic and the Supreme Court Clinic. She volunteered for the Capital Punishment Center, worked as a research assistant to Professor Jordan Steiker, and split her summers between the Texas Defender Service (Houston), Equal Justice Initiative (Montgomery, AL), the Philadelphia Capital Habeas Unit, and the Federal Capital Resource Counsel's office in Richmond, Virginia.
- "Do not be tricked into thinking you ‘need’ to work in a firm, in the summer or after graduation, for experiential or financial reasons. Publicly funded offices and not-for-profits offer rich experiences and high quality training. And now, the College Cost Reduction Act makes it possible for all law students, even out-of-state students, to pursue a public interest career without exception."
Kyle Marie Stock, '10
Kyle Marie Stock is the Legislative Fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City. Prior to joining the Center, Kyle was the George M. Fleming Health Law Fellow at the Southwest Women's Law Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Originally from the Mitten State, Kyle moved to Austin immediately after her graduation from the University of Michigan. During law school, Kyle co-founded the Texas Chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice and served as the Vice President of the Public Interest Law Association. She also participated in the Capital Punishment and Immigration clinics and worked as a research assistant for the Center for Women in Law. During her summers, Kyle worked at the Texas Civil Rights Project in San Juan, Texas and the Texas Advocacy Project in Austin.
- "Create your own community! Find like-minded students and professors who encourage and support all of your hair-brained ideas. Take at least two clinics. Force yourself to speak up in class. Do not feel obligated to participate in On-Campus Interviews (OCI), research post-graduate fellowships and pursue your dream job instead. And last but not least, make friends with the big firm kids. They will be valuable allies and future donors."
Stephanie Taylor, '10
Stephanie was awarded the UT Law Justice Corps Julius Glickman Fellowship in Public Interest Law to work for two years with American Gateways in Austin, a local non-profit that provides free and low-cost legal services for immigrants and refugees. At American Gateways, Stephanie will work to address the consequences of criminal convictions in the immigration context. A native of South Texas, Stephanie graduated suma cum laude from the University of Texas at Brownsville. During law school, she worked as an advanced student in the Immigration Clinic, participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic and the Transnational Worker Rights Clinic, and was co-president of the Public Interest Law Association and a Public Service Scholar with the Justice Center. During her law school summers she worked in Boston with the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and for the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project in Harlingen.
- "My advice to students interested in public interest law is to start early. The public interest law community is a tightly knit group so take advantage of the mentor directory during your 1L year. Talking to former students who are now public interest attorneys is a great way to forge new relationships and create opportunities. I would also encourage all students, regardless of whether they want to practice public interest law, to take a clinic. It is a unique opportunity to gain hands-on legal training while working with some of the best legal minds in the country."
John Tustin, '06
John clerked for a federal magistrate judge in Dallas and is currently an Honors Program attorney in the Environmental and National Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He works in the Natural Resources Section and represents federal agencies, principally the Forest Service and divisions of the Department of Interior, in federal courts across the nation. Originally from Lubbock, Texas, John served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon and as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Congress before attending law school. During law school, he participated in Concerned Students for LRAP, the Texas Intellectual Property Law Journal, and the Immigration Clinic. He spent his summers working at the Office of the Legal Advisor at the Ministry of Environment in Brasilia, Brazil, and the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C. He studied abroad in Brazil and interned at Imazon, a Brazilian environmental NGO.
- "I encourage current law students to seek out the many professors, programs, and clinics at UT Law that support public interest law."
Amber VanSchuyver, '08
Amber, from Arkansas City, Kansas, is a staff attorney at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) in El Paso, Texas, where she practices family law, immigration and microenterprise law. After graduating from UT, Amber received an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to economically empower victims of domestic violence in South Texas. She conducts trainings on economic empowerment for domestic violence survivors and shelters and has litigated many economically issues related to domestic violence. During law school, she participated in the Transnational Worker Rights Clinic, the Immigration Clinic, and the Access to Justice Internship; was actively involved in PILA, the Human Rights Law Society and Concerned Students for LRAP; and served as managing editor of the Texas Journal on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and as a student representative on the Dean’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program committee. She spent her summers working at TRLA in Edinburg, Texas and Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco.
- "The best advice I can give for students interested in public interest is to get very involved in the public interest community by taking clinics, volunteering at local non-profits, and being active in student groups with similar interests."
Elizabeth Wagoner, '07
Elizabeth, a native of Dallas, is an employment attorney at Make the Road New York, a nonprofit, membership-based community center in Queens, New York. She was awarded a UT Law Faculty Fellowship in 2007 to develop Make the Road’s Immigrant Women's Workplace Justice Project, which provides representation to immigrant women in wage-and-hour and sexual harassment litigation against abusive employers. In law school she participated in the Transnational Worker Rights Clinic and the Immigration Clinic, and was active in the National Lawyers’ Guild, the Justice Center, PILA, and the successful effort to bring an LRAP to UT Law. She spent her summers in New York City interning at Make the Road and at UNITE HERE’s International office as a Peggy Browning Fellow, and spent a visiting semester at CUNY School of Law in Queens, New York during the fall of her 3L year.
- "Often, being a public interest lawyer means being a litigator. I didn't know that at first. If you're interested in employment, immigration, housing, civil rights, domestic violence, and other legal issues that affect low-income people, you are going to find yourself representing people in court pretty soon after you graduate. To prepare yourself to fake it until you know what you're doing, I recommend taking lots of fundamental 'bar' classes: for example, evidence, conflicts, state civil procedure, criminal procedure, corporations, and bankruptcy (really!). Those sound boring, but if you're taking them because you want to be the best possible advocate for low-income people they become relevant and fun. I also wish I'd done mock trial. It helps to practice oral arguments, direct/cross, and introducing documents into evidence before you're in court for the first time."
Spencer Wilson, '09
Spencer Wilson is the Brayton-Thornton Attorney at Public Justice, where he works on impact litigation in the areas of consumer law and civil rights. Prior to joining Public Justice, Spencer managed the Tenants After Foreclosure Project at Bay Area Legal Aid with the assistance of UT Justice Corps fellowship administered through the William Wayne Justice Center. Spencer successfully represented tenants in a variety of civil and administrative matters and he briefed, argued, and won one of the first appellate cases in the country interpreting the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act.
While at UT, Spencer was Editor-in-Chief of the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, a William Wayne Justice Center Public Service Scholar, a participant in the Capital Punishment and Criminal Defense Clinics, and the Court Watch Fellow at the Texas Watch Foundation, where he researched the impact of the Texas Supreme Court’s decisions on consumer justice laws. He spent his summers at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin and Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland. Prior to attending law school, Spencer was a legislative assistant for Congressman Earl Blumenauer. He received his B.A. in Politics from Pomona College in 2001.
- "I encourage students to take advantage of the resources UT has to offer for public interest and to make an effort to get to know the faculty and students who share similar interests. Also, try not to be dissuaded by the financial and logistical challenges in obtaining public interest work. The career path may not be as clear cut as a path to a traditional legal career, but ultimately it is much more rewarding."