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Fellowship Helps Law Students Explore Civil Justice

A fellowship program hopes to make the law profession more diverse. (Scott/Red Fish Blue Fish Photography)
A fellowship program hopes to make the law profession more diverse. (Scott/Red Fish Blue Fish Photography)
June 14, 2018

SEATTLE – A fellowship is helping law students to explore their interest in social justice issues.

The Washington State Association for Justice fellowship is focused on plaintiff law, including civil rights issues, consumer law and workers' compensation.

It's a change of pace for many law students, who typically see internship offers from firms that represent large corporations or the government.

Liz Berry, executive director of WSAJ, says her organization created the fellowship because it wasn't seeing a lot of social justice minded graduates practice law.

"Why are they not translating those interests into becoming plaintiff lawyers?” she questions. “We were finding that they weren't exposed to it. They didn't know that our side of the law existed."

Berry says law is one of the least diverse professions in the country, even though schools are graduating diverse populations of people.

She hopes this fellowship can start to change that.

Crystal Pardue, a recent graduate of the University of Washington's law school, was a WSAJ fellow last year. This summer she has a fellowship at the American Civil Liberties Union, and says her experience at WSAJ set her up for this.

Pardue wants to focus on discrimination in public schools, but says even students who aren't interested in plaintiff law should step outside the box.

"It's worth it to try to look everywhere and try to see if there's anything to do with the other side so that you can just get that experience,” she states. “Even if you don't end up doing it, it's still very useful to see both sides."

Nathan Roberts is an attorney with Connelly Law Offices, one of the firms that students rotate through in their fellowship. His firm deals with personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Roberts says this type of law and civil rights law usually aren't at the top of people's lists professionally.

"But once people really get into a law firm and start to do the work and realize that they're helping real people with real problems, it's hard not to fall in love with it," he points out.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA