What I Did My First Summer: Lara Stewart, SJQ 2013, Law Clerk at the Disability Law Center, Salt Lake City


Why did you come to law school?  Before coming to law school, I worked at a long-term pediatric facility for kids with complex physical and medical disabilities.  I worked primarily with the children’s families to help them make decisions about healthcare and insurance options and to educate them on available government assistance.  Although rewarding, social work is limited in the type of advocacy you can provide to clients, and I wanted to elevate my skill set to better serve the community of which I’m a part.

What did you do last summer?  I worked as a law clerk for the Disability Law Center (“DLC”) and took ten credits of summer school.

Why did you decide to do that?  I took summer school classes to establish my residency for the upcoming fall semester (tuition cut!).  I decided to work at the DLC because I’ve always worked in the non-profit sector and advocating for people with disabilities seemed for me like a good introduction to legal practice.

If you had a job, clinic or fellowship:  How did you learn of the opportunity and what was the application and interview process like?  I first met my now-supervising attorney at the Public Interest Crawl, which PDO sponsors annually.  I listened to the attorneys’ comments on their respective organizations and made it a point after the Crawl to speak with attorneys in whose work I was interested.  I met my boss for the second time at the on-campus Career Fair, also sponsored by the PDO annually.  She not only remembered me from the Crawl, but also commented on the fact that I had sent her a thank-you card.  Of course I sent another after the Career Fair, and today both cards are still on her desk.  You’d be surprised how far a small gesture can go, but always be sincere.

I learned at the Career Fair that the DLC was looking to hire at least one law clerk for the summer, so I left my resume and again expressed my interest in their civil rights work.  I was called in for an interview in mid-March and was offered the job the following week.

If you had a job, clinic or fellowship: what did you do on a day to day basis?  The DLC handles disability-based discrimination cases, so I had to first familiarize myself with controlling statutes—the Americans with Disabilities Act, federal and state fair housing laws, etc.  I spent a lot of time training with all the DLC’s “teams,” such as Access and Rights, Abuse and Neglect, Employment, Legislative and Special Education, to decide in which area I was most interested.  Because disability law and its protections are rapidly expanding, I researched a lot of current case law on deinstitutionalization and reasonable accommodations in the employment and housing contexts.  I attended legislative meetings at the Capitol and client mediations at the Utah Anti-Discrimination and Labor Division.  I secured for clients numerous assistive animals as reasonable accommodations to housing policies, helped conduct a suspicious death investigation in rural Utah, and developed a housing outreach table held at the weekly Street Law Clinic.  Finally, I drafted a memo addressing the “Good Landlord Program” and its potential violation of fair housing law’s protections for recovering addicts and alcoholics.  We are circulating the memo statewide and have been invited to meet with city officials to recommend amendments that would bring the Program into compliance with the law.

What was the best part about what you did over the summer?  What did you learn?  Getting paid and wearing jeans.  No, the best part of my first summer was realizing that not all legal jobs are formal and corporate.  I worried that by going to law school I would have to sacrifice my identity as a socially conscious, free-spirited activist; the DLC allowed me to retain those personal qualities while also helping me develop concrete, transferable legal skills.

What advice do you have for the 1L’s who are thinking about what to do this summer? Don’t define your opportunities (or yourself!) by your grades.  Don’t obsess over On-Campus Interviews and don’t limit yourself to applying to jobs at the big downtown firms.  Take responsibility for your success and create opportunities where they might not otherwise exist.

In addition, whether you are working as an employee or clinical intern, always give 110%.  Your supervisors and peers are watching.  Although each situation is unique, if you work hard and prove yourself to be competent and responsible, you may find yourself as lucky as I was to be offered a clerk position until graduation and potentially beyond.