Poor lawyer? A 3L finds challenges, rewards in public interest law

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” It is for this reason that I love to work in public interest law. As a 3L and the president of our Public Interest Law society, I have had great experiences at KU Law learning about the opportunities in this field. Most of all, I’ve appreciated meeting community members who lead in the practice through example. Though it can often feel like the “road less traveled” in a busy trafficway of rock-star resumes, mounting debt and competitive classmates, I hope to find a career in public interest law. I think KU has given me the tools to do just that.

KU Law students at a Habitat for Humanity build site

Jessica Lewicki (back row, third from left) is president of the KU Public Interest Law Society. The group volunteered at a Habitat for Humanity build site earlier this year.

In the field of public interest law, eager young lawyers have to jump on every opportunity they can. Through my work opportunities during my time at KU, I have had the privilege to work at the Department of Homeland Security, Kansas Court of Appeals, Army JAG Legal Services and Project for Innocence & Post-Conviction Remedies. I have researched and briefed complex legal issues concerning immigration, criminal, family and international law. My successful public interest-minded mentors have a few things in common: They love interacting with clients, participating in the courtroom and working as part of a team. Due to our tight-knit community at Green Hall, KU Law students graduate with these skills honed and practiced — an invaluable asset for new grads.

KU Law students at a Habitat for Humanity build siteWhen not at work or in the classroom, I think it is important for public interest lawyers to stay involved politically, socially and philanthropically. My public interest mentor also told me to prepare to feel uncomfortable, be ready to step out of my comfort zone and embrace the learning curve. My Kansas City Immigration Court internship pushed me to do just that. I researched and wrote about female genital mutilation in Nigeria and how it affects some African asylum-seekers and their chances for relief from deportation. In unrelated cases, I researched deportees’ options within the Mexican health care system, African religion and culture, and Latin American economics. In the JAG, I worked with cases ranging from spousal abuse to paternity determinations and AWOLs. These experiences led me to appreciate not only the power of the courtroom, but also how global issues and topics affect the everyday lives of those in our community. Even though we are a Midwestern city, we are still part of a global community helping people. I am proud to have found that connection at KU Law.

Finally, as a young public interest law student at KU, I have learned to both lead and listen to people from all walks of life. From the elderly inmates I represent in the Project for Innocence, to law school hopefuls from diverse backgrounds, to parents of mentally challenged adults in need of legal guardianship, I work with a wide variety of people. A student intrigued by public interest law will have a diverse circle of supervisors and clients at KU Law. Working on emotionally challenging topics and a variety of backgrounds and issues is both a challenge and a thrill I look forward to continuing to pursue.

Overall, the community of young public interest law attorneys I have met at KU embodies a quality-focused and community-oriented mentality. I cannot imagine a better place to begin my legal career or a better opportunity to give back to my community than through a career in public interest law.

Jessica Lewicki, 3L and Student Ambassador