Summer Public Service Program Makes Big Impact

Texas Law has long supported students who choose public service or other careers advancing the public interest. This summer, 167 students benefitted from Texas Law’s newly formed Summer Public Service Program (SPSP) which guaranteed them stipends to work in government and nonprofit summer fellowships. In total, 150 students received a general Summer Public Service Fellowship and 17 student students received one of seven named fellowships.

“It has been extremely gratifying for us at the Justice Center to help roll out the Summer Public Service Program,” said Mary Crouter, Assistant Director of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law. “Texas Law has taken a huge step and can be rightly proud for helping students explore work in these settings and navigate the complicated but rewarding world of public interest lawyering.”

The SPSP serves as an umbrella for fellowships created through funds raised by Texas Law Fellowships (a student organization), gifts from generous individual and institutional donors, and grants. The program provides invaluable opportunities for Texas Law students to build their knowledge and skills, explore career paths, and improve their prospects for employment following graduation.

SPSP – Impact Stories

Meet five SPSP students who tell us how a 10-week summer fellowship in public service impacted their lives.

Sophia Abbas headshot

2L Sophia Abbas

Travis County Attorney’s Office
Texas State Board of Pharmacy
Austin, Texas

Sophia Abbas split her summer between two different positions, gaining experience and skills in two different settings. At the Travis County Attorney’s Office, she created and analyzed notes for DWI cases, researched federal and Texas law, and drafted legal memoranda. At the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, Abbas drafted legal memoranda, conducted research, completed statements of allegation documents, and organized information into draft statements.

“One of the main takeaways I learned from my experience is that attention to detail is so important in the legal environment,” she noted. “Having worked on multiple statements of allegation documents at the same time, I realized that each case I worked on was so different from the next.

“The cases we are dealing with directly impact real people with real emotions, and it’s important to remember that at every step of the way,” she added.

At Texas Law, Abbas is a staff editor for the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights and the Texas Intellectual Property Law Journal.

3L Kate Gibson

Kate Gibson headshot

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section
Washington, D.C.

While working with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Kate Gibson got practical experience in researching novel legal issues to determine whether federal statute applied, applying the law to a fact pattern to identify occurrences of discrimination, and reviewing respondent documents. Gibson also researched policy, discovery, and previous cases, and assisted with communication.

Gibson’s experience led to her consideration of a potential career option. She said: “I hadn’t considered working for the government before until I came across this office. I really enjoyed my time at the Civil Rights Division. I am considering applying for a position at IER in the future or potentially with other government offices that do similar anti-discrimination work.”

In her first two years at Texas Law. Gibson participated in the Immigration Clinic and completed an internship with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). She is involved with the Texas International Law Journal, Assault & Flattery, Supreme Chorus, and several other student organizations.

Olivia (Kickert) Hagye, 3L

Olivia Kickert Hagye headshot

United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals
The Hague, Netherlands (Remote)

Olivia Kickert Hagye completed a remote internship working on assignments in connection with appellate proceedings in a large and complex case concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity. Her duties included research to support the preparation of oral submissions, particularly focusing on sentencing and modes of liability. Hagye also assisted the Office of the Prosecutor, preparing materials for an advanced seminar on conflict-related sexual violence crimes.

“The IRMCT taught me much about international criminal law and what it looks like to practice in an international criminal tribunal,” Hagye said. “It helped me to think deeply about the way in which we prosecute those who have committed crimes on an international scale and the way in which we interact with victims suffering from intense trauma. Ultimately, my time at the IRMCT was an impactful and thought-provoking experience that will affect the way I carry out my work no matter where I end up.”

Hagye has completed two previous internships, with a federal judge and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. At Texas Law, she is the symposium director for the Texas International Law Journal and held a board position with the Human Rights Law Society. In addition to completing her internship, she enjoyed one other life-changing event—she got married this summer too!

Olivia Pacheco, 2L

Alliance for Children’s Rights
Los Angeles, Calif.

Olivia Pacheco started her summer with three days at the University of Michigan as a Bergstrom Child Welfare Fellow, where she learned in greater depth about the child welfare system, trauma-informed lawyering, and advocacy within the system. Immediately afterward, she began her clerkship at the Alliance for Children’s Rights, which advocates on behalf of foster children. Pacheco worked primarily in the Benefits Program, where she conducted research, communicated with clients, and filed inquiries with local and state agencies. She also worked with the Intake Department, Adoptions program, and Policy team.

“Public interest work can feel overwhelming and challenging as one works to improve massive, broken systems,” she said. “Clients will come and go. It is the people you work with who are the foundation for a joyful work experience, and I am grateful to have found that culture at the Alliance. In particular, members of the Benefits team were wonderful mentors and I cannot thank them enough for their encouragement and support.”

Pacheco has been actively involved at Texas Law. She is Pro Bono Scholar for INCLUDE: SPEAK, an officer of Texas Law Women’s Christian Fellowship, and a member of Public Interest Organization, Women’s Law Caucus, the Chicano, Hispanic, Latino Law Student Association, and the Federalist Society. She has completed double the hours of pro bono work required of the Pro Bono Pledge.

Mitchell Petersen, 2L

Mitchelle Petersen headshot

Orleans Public Defenders Office
New Orleans, La.

In his clerkship, Mitchell Petersen did criminal defense representation for indigent clients in Orleans Parish (encompassing most of the city of New Orleans). He analyzed factual and legal issues, wrote motions, visited with clients, and simulated opposing counsel and witnesses in mock trials to assist supervising attorneys. Petersen also drafted discovery digests, researched jury pool members, and assisted staff investigators.

“I actually came to law school with a primary focus on worker’s rights, hoping to do plaintiff-side labor/employment litigation,” Petersen explained. “That’s still an interest of mine, but my experiences at OPD made me feel confident that I want to cut my teeth in public defense in the near future (at least).

“The race- and class-based discrimination in the criminal justice system was visceral, the ‘catch-22s’ enforced by the state were laid bare, the excitement of the courtroom was unmatched, the office culture was what I’ve been looking for, and working with clients is the best source of motivation one could ask for,” he added.

Petersen worked on the Expunction and Driver’s License Recovery pro bono projects at Texas Law last year, which helped him transition into his work this summer. He is on the board of the GRITS (Getting Radical in the South) Conference and is a member of several student organizations. Petersen participated in pro bono projects during 1L and plans to do so again this year.

Category: Center News, Student Life