Denver Law Providing Extra Support for Students
DU's Sturm College of Law provides funding for student externships
For a lot of us, summer is synonymous with relaxation and leisure. But for most students at the Sturm College of Law, summer provides an opportunity for valuable work experience through a legal externship. Joaquin Gallegos, an incoming second-year at Denver Law, worked at Michigan State University’s Indian Law Clinic because he knew he wanted experience in the public sector.
Through its externship program, the Sturm College of Law has long fostered opportunities in public interest law. However, many students who arrive at law school with idealistic notions of changing the world by serving in the public sector often stray from their initial path. “It’s known as ‘public interest drift,’” says Alexi Freeman, associate professor of the practice of law and director of Externships and Public Interest Initiatives at the Sturm College of Law.
Beginning this year, the school endeavored to help students follow the path toward the public sector by providing summer funding for externships to 26 of them. “I want every student who envisions themselves as a public sector lawyer to have the opportunity to do so, and public sector externships are a perfect avenue to be reminded of one’s passions and purpose in the midst of the challenging atmosphere of law school,” Freeman says.
Gallegos was one of the recipients. “Historical investment in public interest law has often been neglected, despite the high need around public issues,” Gallegos says. “Unfortunately, students from areas most impacted by public law — whether they’re from Indian nations, communities of color or the disabled community — are often unable to work in their own communities.
Far too often the public interest legal community loses law students and lawyers to the private sector, not because of a change in interest or motivation, but because of a need to earn more money.
Gallegos is from the Jicarilla Apache Nation/Pueblo of Santa Ana in New Mexico, and knew he wanted to work on cases involving federal Indian law. Law school staff helped him obtain a placement at Michigan State University’s Indian Law Clinic over the summer. “I was deliberate in pursuing MSU’s Indian Law Clinic,” he says. “It’s at the forefront of defending and innovating federal Indian law, specifically related to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).”
The ICWA was enacted in 1978 to prevent the forced removal of Indian children and their placement in non-Indian institutions, including foster and adoptive homes. At MSU, he worked on state appellate cases, tribal court cases and tribal-state negotiations taking place across the country.
“I came to law school with a firm idea of what I wanted to accomplish,” Gallegos says. “The stipend and externship program allowed me to do that. Going forward, it only amplifies my interest in federal Indian law, because I know that I’ll be supported and that the school is willing to find and drive more resources toward public interest.”
As Freeman sees it, the stipend empowers students to make choices that support their dreams and passions. “Far too often,” she says, “the public interest legal community loses law students and lawyers to the private sector, not because of a change in interest or motivation, but because of a need to earn more money. While we understand finances are a factor, we definitely want to push back against that trend and allow students to make choices that are not solely based on funds.”