Graduating Student Awards Presented

The William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law Graduating Student Awards recognize the outstanding contributions of 3Ls to building and supporting the culture of service and public interest community at Texas Law. The Justice Center convenes a committee of faculty and staff to select recipients from among student applications and peer nominations.

Araceli Garcia and Amy Austern hold their trophies
Araceli Garcia and Amy Austern, both Class of 2024; photo by Brian Birzer

In spring 2024, Amy Austern, Araceli Garcia, and Crystal Tran received these awards. “The Justice Center is proud to honor these outstanding students who have given so generously of themselves and their time to the school and to their peers,” said Justice Center senior research attorney Helen Gaebler, who chaired the selection committee. “Texas Law’s public interest community is stronger and more robust than ever due to their efforts.”

Nicole Simmons, director of the Justice Center, recognized Austern, Garcia, and Tran at the law school’s 2024 Celebration of Service on April 23, in a packed midday ceremony in the school’s Susman Godfrey Atrium. Excerpts from Simmons’ remarks follow:

Amy Austern

During her time at Texas Law, Amy Austern has worked diligently and often behind the scenes to build long-term student and institutional support for the public interest community.

As a student noted, “Amy has been an instrumental part of the Public Defense Group’s leadership for the last two years, always going the extra mile to connect with 1Ls and 2Ls interested in the field.” As a board member of the Public Defense Group, Amy helped create a fall workshop to support students who were applying for public defense summer jobs and a spring workshop — covering basic skills, like discovery review, suppression motions, and client interviewing — for students about to start those summer jobs.

At every opportunity, Amy has supported, guided, and mentored other public interest students who sought reassurance or were just looking for like-minded community. As a student noted, “Amy embodies what it means to be a student leader. She leads by example, through dedication to her craft, community, and the values many of us share, and she advocates, selflessly, to continue bettering the public interest experience at Texas Law.”

Araceli Garcia

Araceli Garcia has been a source of support for many public interest peers trying to find their footing in the law school environment. As one student said, “The first time I felt at home at Texas Law was when I met Araceli. She informed me of the ins-and-outs of the law school and how to navigate the public interest world with such grace and kindness. I am not the only one who felt this way. My 1L friends and I discuss our gratitude for Araceli constantly. She is always there for her fellow law students and anyone who is in need of guidance or help.”

Another student noted that Araceli has worked to institutionalize support for public interest students in formal ways, like the EmPOWERed for Public Interest Initiative, which provides a safe and honest space where students whose lived experiences intersect with the law they want to practice can share the challenges of that work. “This community building has undoubtedly helped students stick to their public interest path and push back against the ever-mounting pressure that pulls people into big law,” the student said.

Araceli’s impact on the Texas law public interest community has also extended beyond the law school. “Araceli has revolutionized our public interest community through her organizing efforts,” said one student. “Araceli is frequently organizing students to join Austin-based protests, attend our city council meetings, and to show up in solidarity with our larger community.”

Crystal Tran

Crystal Tran

Crystal Tran, a joint degree student at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, has worked to support public interest students at the law school and across the law/public policy dual degree program.

In the words of one student, Crystal Tran has been “an active and constant source of communication and community-building and a consistent resource to her peers. She’s always the first to try to initiate study sessions, coffee breaks, or other opportunities for peer connections. Crystal also provides direct mentorship to peers — most directly by serving as a PILA peer mentor and by taking time to check in on public-interest students in the years behind her.”

Another student noted that Crystal “loves serving as a mentor to other public interest students. She’s learned a lot of institutional knowledge over four years of completing her dual degree, and she freely shares that knowledge with anyone. She’s helped me choose my classes, apply for internships, and do legal and policy-related writing. I know she’s done the same for other public interest students as well.”

In addition to supporting her peers as a guide, mentor, and connector, Crystal has provided skillful and dedicated leadership to numerous public interest law school organizations.

What the Future Holds

“Amy, Araceli, and Crystal have contributed significantly to building up the public interest community at Texas Law,” said Simmons. “We are honored to recognize their leadership and thank them for their service.”

The awardees will soon be advancing their commitment to public interest law in Texas and New York, in coveted positions. Austern will work as a public defender at New York County Defender Services in New York City, Garcia will work for the Atascosa Area Regional Public Defender Office, representing clients in several rural counties outside San Antonio, Texas, and Tran will work as an Equal Justice Works fellow (funded by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP) at Texas Appleseed in Austin, advocating for K-12 students facing truancy charges in Texas through direct representation, impact litigation, and policy recommendations.

“We are all so incredibly excited for the work they will do,” Simmons added. “They will be terrific lawyers and great ambassadors for Texas Law and our ethos of service and giving back.”

The 2024 Celebration of Service was presented by:

  • The William Wayne Justice Center
  • The Richard & Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program
  • The Student Affairs Office
  • The Texas Law Pipeline Program
  • The Student Bar Association

View the Celebration of Service 2024 program.

Celebration-of-Service 2024 program

View the Photo Album

Celebration of Service 2024
View photos on Flickr
Category: Center News, Law School News