UPDATE | By Nikita Desai, Project Coordinator, Legal Access Division, SBOT
What gave you that first nudge?
A cause close to heart, an injustice you saw, a love of the democratic system? Maybe just a particularly good Perry Mason novel. Regardless, the nudge became a push became a shove became a calling.
For law students Katie and Alexandra, that calling is access to justice.
Along with ten other students selected to participate in the Texas Access to Justice Commission internship program, they spent their summer interning at legal aid organizations across Texas. Interns worked in different areas of interest, from disability rights to medical law.
Alexandra Masri, a 2L at Tulane University Law School, followed her calling all the way to the Human Rights Initiative of Northwest Texas. A Dallas native, she strongly believes in using her education to ensure everyone in her community has agency in the justice system. Every day, she interacts with non-citizen clients to keep their families together and safe. “My eyes have been opened to an entirely new division of the legal field,” she says of her experience, “Now I’m starting to consider entering immigration law.”
Katie Hawkins’ nudge towards law school came during her time teaching in rural Louisiana. She witnessed firsthand the need for access to justice, and chose to study at Texas A&M in part because of their Family Law Clinic, where she is currently interning. Almost all of her cases involve domestic violence or sexual assault. This summer, Katie tried her first case as lead attorney, successfully helping her client escape domestic abuse. On top of the practical skills she gained, she says the exposure has been unparalleled. “I have met five or six judges and shaken their hands. They know who I am, and the networking is a huge benefit if I decide to pursue a career in family law.”
Similarly, Alexandra has appreciated the “all hands on deck” environment at the Human Rights Initiative. “You are constantly expected to learn at a fast pace,” she says of working in legal aid, “but you also get to be around people who are just as passionate about this area of law as you are, which is an ideal environment for learning how to be a great attorney.”
Both Katie and Alexandra agree that access to justice is essential to our society. For Alexandra, this means protecting the right each person has to control their own lives. “So many people don’t know what they’re entitled to, don’t know their rights, and they have much more access to important information when they have an attorney sitting next to them and listening to their story,” she emphasizes. Katie describes the justice system as a pillar of our democracy, and firmly believes that denying people access to it is denying a fundamental of our society.
The large number of applicants and fellow interns that share this commitment to access to justice is heartening and exciting. Early career experiences can shape decisions for years to come; the hope of the Access to Justice Internship Program is to provide ways for students to learn about access to justice issues and follow the passions that brought them to law school in the first place.
“We go to school to become helpers.” For Katie, and for so many of us, this is what it comes down to. So here’s to these interns who are living up to their ideals each day -- and reminding us of the first time we saw the direct impact of our profession on people in need.