Ashleigh Leitch, an associate at Best & Flanagan, LLP, started her law career in 2008 with an undergraduate internship at Legal Aid’s Willmar office. Today she specializes in employment litigation and advice for companies and nonprofits. She credits that summer of 2008 with inspiring her legal career and solidifying her commitment to justice for all.
“It was an incredible summer,” Leitch says. “I was thinking about law school, but I didn’t know any lawyers and I’d never been in a law office. Deputy Director Ann Cofell was such a strong mentor. She managed two law offices, and she was still so connected with clients, enamored with the law, and happy in her work.”
The Willmar staff quickly recognized Leitch’s gifts and talent and assigned her more complex tasks. She loved answering phones because it brought her closer to clients, and Legal Aid’s emphasis on respect and tact stay with her today.
“Ashleigh has an amazing commitment to the common good,” says Cofell, who has worked with hundreds of interns over the years. “Her potential, even before starting law school, was clear. Before long, we had her meeting with clients to find out their legal problems, investigating cases, and researching the law.”
The summer after her first year of law school, Leitch interned with Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) and had another rich learning experience. She performed cite checks for an amicus brief on voting rights and had her first taste of representing clients in court. Both Legal Aid experiences taught Leitch important lessons about power and privilege.
“Working at Legal Aid in my hometown helped me to recognize my privilege,” says Leitch. “In my personal life, I never saw the issues that Legal Aid clients were working through. Later, working with MDLC, I did a deep dive into my own preconceived notions about disability and became aware of implicit bias. I learned so much about access and ability that is helpful now in my work with employment law.”
In both experiences, Leitch learned to treat each client as an individual with particular needs, and to do her best to meet those individual needs. The work also deepened her understanding of justice and the importance of competent representation. Working the phone, Leitch spoke with many people whose cases had merit, but the waiting list was long. Instead of an attorney to guide them through the legal system and stand with them in court, they received an advice letter.
“It’s a resource gap,” says Leitch. “There are a lot of things in the world that don’t feel fixable, but we could fix this with resources. The private bar needs to pick up as much funding and pro bono work as we can. We all took the same oath, we’re in it together, and we need to do our part to support Legal Aid. It’s our obligation.”
Leitch takes that obligation seriously. After several years as a firm captain in The Fund for Legal Aid’s Associates’ Campaign, she joined the co-chair team last year. This year, Leitch and Mike Sawers of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP are the Lead Co- Chairs, coordinating a city-wide effort to raise over $100,000.
“I want to set high goals and blow them out of the water,” says Leitch. “I’m excited about working with Mike and the other Co-Chairs. The Campaign is always fun – we have a tangible goal, and we pull together as a team. It’s one big associate web of connectivity. We work with our colleagues to set ambitious fundraising goals, and we get it done.”