UF Law Students Serve the Public Interest
Students committed to public interest law are representing the UF College of Law in venues across the country by traveling to notable conferences, teaching university students, and receiving national recognition for their work.
In October, eight students attended the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) national conference in Birmingham, and seven participated in the national Equal Justice Works (EJW) conference in Washington, D.C. Career Services Director Jessie Howell and other UF law representatives attended workshops on topics ranging from civil rights and election protection to fundraising, while UF law students networked with public interest attorneys and other students, sharing their experiences and meeting people with similar legal interests.
At the NLG conference, third-year UF law students Angelique Knox and Steckley Lee (see photo) gave presentations at a workshop, “Radical Law Students: Surviving Through Mass Defense.” Knox, who headed election poll monitor training at the law school this semester, spoke about defending the right to vote, while Lee’s talk focused on mass protests.
As a member of the NLG Mass Defense committee, Lee has spent the past year representing protestors, leading “know your rights” training sessions, and working as a legal observer at protested events. Lee is the first law student in history to be elected NLG southern regional vice president, which makes her responsible for representing NLG in the South and working with students at southern law schools.
For her efforts in NLG, Lee received the 2004 C.B. King Award for Outstanding Achievement. Named in honor of the civil rights lawyer who represented activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., it is the highest honor given to a student member of the NLG. Lee received the award for her contributions to the NLG’s mass defense work and for inspiring other law students to get involved in their communities.
“I encourage law students who care about social change to contribute pro bono time to grassroots activists when they become attorneys,” Lee said. “A lot of grassroots community activists are poor and in need of legal support for daily things like family matters, housing and immigration.”
Students who attended NLG and EJW conferences returned excited about their experiences and eager to share their enthusiasm with others.
“I hope it will be possible to share some of the ideas that were circulated at the conference to get the student body more involved in public service and public interest law,” said Jennifer Staman (2L), who attended the EJW conference.
“Both years I have attended the EJW conference, I have come back with renewed inspiration,” agreed Jill Mahler (2L). “I met so many wonderful people there who are doing such incredible things on campuses across the nation, and it always makes me want to do more.”
While in Washington for the conference, Mahler and Whitney Untiedt (3L) were invited by Dr. Ivy Kennelly to give a guest lecture on “Race and the Law” to a first-year sociology seminar class at George Washington University. Their lecture focused on the law as an institution that is created, reinforced, and implemented by individuals, and they asked the students to consider the origins and current applications of American law.
“I was very impressed with the students’ willingness to share openly, their ability to talk about the issues intelligently, and their critical viewpoints,” Mahler said.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Untiedt added. “As I was speaking, I watched one student struggle with a concept and then finally ‘get’ it. That moment alone was worth the trip to D.C.”
NLG and Association for Public Interest Law (APIL) representatives brought back experiences and ideas they hope the student body at the UF College of Law will embrace and become involved in, and will make information on programs and volunteer opportunities available soon. To learn more, contact NLG Executive Member Virginia Hamner at firstname.lastname@example.org or APIL President Whitney Untiedt at email@example.com.