Caitlin Imhoff shares passion for Utah Law clinics and environmental justice

Mar 26, 2024 | Students

by Lindsay Wilcox

Caitlin Imhoff, a young white woman with long, curly blonde hair and blue eyesCaitlin Imhoff recalls being a very argumentative child and frustrating her parents because she was so good at arguing. While law school was always part of her plan while she was growing up, Imhoff first earned a degree in English with a creative writing emphasis and double minors in philosophy and medieval and renaissance studies. When she decided to take a break between her undergraduate and law school, Imhoff joined Teach for America and taught seventh-grade English in Las Vegas, Nev., for a year, which she says was very challenging.

“I used my writing as a way to cope, which led me to apply for a creative writing master’s program at the University of California San Diego,” Imhoff recalls. “While I was not selected for the program, it ended up being for the best; the last unit I worked on with my students was an argumentative unit focused on the environment, and I suddenly remembered that that was always what I wanted to do. I have always wanted to protect the environment and use the law and policy to do so.”

Since she grew up in Salt Lake City and all of her immediate family members attended the University of Utah, Imhoff says part of her always had a desire to be a Utah Ute as well when she was applying for law school.

“Further, S.J. Quinney College of Law is one of the top environmental law schools in the country, and the Wallace Stegner Center is well-known for its extensive programming and variety of environmental courses,” she says. “I’ve been able to take numerous environmental law classes with accomplished, passionate, and incredibly supportive professors, and the opportunity to do just this is exactly what drew me to S.J. Quinney. Living at home rent-free is just a bonus!”

Imhoff has also enjoyed attending Utah Law because of the supportive faculty and staff.

“Law school is incredibly challenging, and I’ve had a variety of health concerns and life events come up that have often made it feel like too much. I have been able to stick with my studies and be so successful simply because of the enormous amount of support and encouragement I have received from my professors, the student affairs team, all the deans, and all the staff who help make everything possible at this school,” she says. “I work at the information desk in the building, so I’ve gotten to know various staff members I probably never would have met otherwise. Every day they bring a smile to my face, and I will always hold dear the friendships I’ve built with the people who work in this building. I’ve been so lucky to learn from the incredible faculty, who have encouraged my passions and supported me through challenges, and the amazing staff, who have given me a sense of belonging that I will always cherish.”

Looking back on the past three years of law school, Imhoff says she wishes she’d known before starting that it is okay to ask for help.

“For a majority of my 1L year I struggled in silence—partly because I didn’t know whom to turn to, and partly because I was terrified to look or feel like a failure. But if I’ve learned anything throughout my law school experience (apart from all the law, of course!), it’s that asking for support is a sign of strength,” she says. “While I still find it difficult to ask for help at times, it is a skill that I have greatly developed over the last three years, and I wish I had known that it’s okay from day one.”

Though she initially felt overwhelmed by the number of classes and course requirements in law school and wasn’t sure which path to take, Imhoff says Utah Law’s clinics have allowed her to cultivate valuable skills for a career in advocacy work.

“My participation in the Environmental Justice Clinic, Great Salt Lake Policy Accelerator, and Pro Bono Initiative has reconnected me with my passion and determination,” she says. “It has been so rewarding to engage with people and communities and work on real-world issues, and I’ve learned so much from the experiential learning faculty.”

Since she has been involved in most of the initial projects and relationship-building in the brand-new Environmental Justice Clinic founded by Associate Professor Ruhan Nagra in fall 2023, Imhoff is most proud of her work within this clinic.

“We are working with several indigenous communities in San Juan County, and I have been fortunate enough to travel to these communities several times throughout the year with Professor Nagra. It has been so incredible to meet and get to know community members, and I have loved seeing our relationships with these individuals grow and develop throughout the year,” Imhoff says. “There is so much we can do to support community goals, and I believe that we have truly contributed in a way that communities find valuable. While these projects and relationships will continue to develop long after I have graduated, I am grateful to have been part of the first year.”

Her experience with the Environmental Justice Clinic has also helped her to realize what she’s most passionate about within the field of law.

“I want to protect the environment and shine a spotlight on the voices of those most marginalized in our society, and the law is an extremely valuable tool in pursuing these objectives,” Imhoff says. “As the world becomes more divided, as all levels of government ignore, violate, and overturn basic human rights, and as industry continues to value profit over people and the environment, it is important to me that I use my opportunities and privileges to fight oppression and promote sound policy that will preserve this earth and the people who inhabit it.”

Now that law school graduation is just a few short weeks away, Imhoff is looking at various environmental policy internships throughout the country.

“Eventually, I would love to be involved in environmental justice advocacy work, working hands-on with communities most affected by environmental harm and climate change. There are so many opportunities for creative advocacy, and I am looking forward to not only utilizing all the skills I have developed but also continuing to grow and learn from the people most connected to the land,” she says. “I cannot wait to use all I have learned throughout my time at S.J. Quinney to continue advocating for the rights of people and the environment.”