Legal Aid welcomed fresh talent and energy over the past few months, as three women brought unique skills to their summer clerk positions. All returned to law school this fall knowing they had a part in creating access to justice in our community.
Ashley Meeder, a student at University of Minnesota School of Law, joined Legal Aid’s housing unit on a Minnesota Justice Foundation (MJF) fellowship. She assisted with eviction defense cases, conducted legal research for hearings, and drafted and filed eviction expungements.
“It was satisfying to be part of a team that brings justice,” Meeder says. “Housing during a pandemic is crucial, and I was shocked by the audacity of some landlords. It was jarring to see the complexity of issues clients dealt with, and I was inspired by their ability to overcome challenges and keep going.”
The clerkship gave Meeder an opportunity to work directly with clients. She gained real-life experience with legal situations she’d learned about in class.
“I’ve seen really good creative lawyering,” says Meeder. “The lawyers I met at Legal Aid are some of the brightest, hardest-working people I’ve ever met, and I’ve developed skills and experience that I can use to make a difference in my community.”
Legal Aid’s greatest wealth is client stories, but before this summer that asset has been loosely organized and sometimes scattered. Katie Quinlan, a University of St. Thomas law student with a background in mechanical engineering changed that.
Quinlan developed and fine-tuned a story bank database, entering client stories from the past 10 years. Easy access to stories is critical for grant writing, legislative advocacy, and public presentations.
“The project gave me a wide view of legal services work,” Quinlan says. “I saw themes amongst clients and systemic issues that affect them all.”
Quinlan started law school because she wanted more connection with community than she had found in engineering. Her work with Legal Aid renewed her energy and offered an opportunity to explore options for her legal career.
“The experience clarified how valuable a legal education is, and how I can use it to actually change people’s lives,” she says. “It helped me see that a public interest career is possible. There’s a clear path to follow and I learned a lot about the people I hope to serve one day.”
Faith Wanjiku, a third-year student at University of New Hampshire School of Law, worked with Legal Aid on an Access to Justice Tech Fellow. She brought her passion for accessible legal information to the State Support Team, creating short informational videos for the statewide website.
“Access to justice is a big deal for me,” says Wanjiku. “When I designed the videos, I put myself in the shoes of the people I imagined watching them – like a grandmother who wants to know about her visitation rights and doesn’t have time to read 20 pages of law.”
Wanjiku, working remotely from the east coast, quickly conceptualized the project and ran with it. She created 10 animated videos, covering such topics as promissory notes, visitation rights, and debt collection.
“The majority of people in this country cannot afford a lawyer,” says Wanjiku. “Making videos to improve access to justice was an interesting concept and it pushed my creative limits. When people have information, they make different choices and decisions. Legal Aid invests in making that information widely available.”
Meeder and Quinlan have continued volunteering at Legal Aid through the fall, and Wanjiku can’t wait to graduate in 2021 and work in public interest law. Legal Aid is grateful for their work and excited to see all three launch their careers.