Spring to D.C.: 2L Sam Snell shares experiences living in the U.S. capital for a semester

Apr 08, 2024 | Students

by Lindsay Wilcox

Sam Snell, a young white man with short brown hair, stands beneath a cherry tree in Washington, D.C., with the blossoms in full bloomSam Snell completed his undergraduate degree in Utah and says it has always felt like home to him. He recalls coming to Utah Law on Admitted Student Day in March 2022 and knowing it was a great fit.

“It was clear to me that S.J. Quinney College of Law could help me achieve my goals and provide me with all the opportunity I could ask for. I was impressed with some of the faculty that I met and loved the beautiful building as well,” Snell recalls. “I see Utah as a place where I’d like to build a life and have a family.”

For the past few months, however, Snell has made Washington, D.C., his home as part of the new Spring to D.C. program, a partnership between the S.J. Quinney College of Law and the Hinckley Institute of Politics that allows 2Ls and 3Ls to spend a spring semester living and working in the U.S. capital. Snell has been working at the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy nonprofit group that advances immigration, refugees, and funding to foreign nations.

“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity this Spring to D.C. program has given me to become acquainted with amazing individuals working to make the U.S. immigration system better. I’ve been really impressed with their competence and genuine interest in making a positive difference in the world,” Snell says. “I think D.C. is full of people who have high ideals and want to make the world a better place (obviously, there is a lot of bureaucracy and politics as well), so it’s amazing to be here for that purpose.”

He has enjoyed living at the Orrin G. Hatch Center—located steps from Dupont Circle and Embassy Row, and nine blocks from the White House—as well.

“Many of the interns who live here work for congresspeople on the Hill, so I’ve been able to catch a glimpse of what life is like for them and how Congress works in general,” Snell says. “That has been very eye-opening, and I don’t think I could have gotten that experience without being here.”

Snell highly recommends the Spring to D.C. program especially for students interested in public service, administrative law, and public interest law, though he says there are connections in D.C. for just about every area of law.

“I think it’s amazing to have the opportunity to be out here and see how law is made, both in Congress and in administrative agencies and on the lobbying side. There are so many think tanks and lobbying firms and people in Congress and the federal government that there is an opportunity for you to do meaningful work on most any cause you care about,” he says. “The Hinckley Institute, as well as people in the career development office, is well-connected and can help you find a placement that you will grow from.”

Though his semester in D.C. will soon come to an end, Snell is excited to return to Utah’s mountains, lakes and canyons this summer—and to a position with the West Valley office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“My current goal is to make myself a competitive applicant for an honors attorney position with the Department of Justice, so that I can clerk for an immigration judge. I’d also like to apply for an honors attorney position with the Department of Homeland Security,” he says. “If neither of these work out, I also plan to do work for Catholic Community Services of Utah in their immigration law team and may look to explore my options working in a nonprofit, practicing immigration law. I’m interested in clerking for a judge at any level to get more exposure to the law and practice. I would also consider doing immigration work at a firm, preferably a small or medium-sized one.”

As he will soon enter his final year at S.J. Quinney College of Law, Snell recalls that a business law class originally piqued his interest in earning a JD.

“The biggest factor in attending was that I thought law school would give me skills and a degree that would help me do good in the world. So far, that seems to be true! There are so many opportunities to advocate for people and causes that are needed and that I find interesting in the field of the law,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with so many awesome opportunities, such as working with many awesome faculty members as a Quinney fellow during my second year and getting to come to D.C. (shoutout to Gina Nelson Shipley with the Hinckley Institute on main campus for setting me up with the awesome folks at the National Immigration Forum). I also think my class has been super collaborative and cordial, despite the pressure-cooker environment of law school.”

It is these connections within his class and through field placements that Snell is most proud of.

“I enjoyed my time networking with fellow students and attorneys during my time in the Public Interest Law Organization, and I think there are many other student organizations that I would have loved to have been a part of as well. I really cherish the opportunity the College of Law gave me to work for a capital habeas unit in Boise, Idaho, during my 1L summer. I met amazing attorneys, paralegals, and fellow interns there, and I sharpened my legal writing skills,” he recalls. “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities to delve into my interest in immigration law. I’m also very proud of the good impression I’ve been able to make on some faculty members I’ve been able to work with as a Quinney fellow by working hard on the projects they’re passionate about. Their passion is contagious!”

With Snell’s undergraduate degree in Spanish and Portuguese and passion for service, he says law school has been a chance to figure out how he wants help people.

“I know that I love connecting with people and helping them feel like they have someone in their corner. I have worked really hard to develop language skills and to learn about different cultures, so I’ve chosen to try to put those skills to work to help people feel heard and welcome,” he says. “Although the system is highly flawed, I see practicing in immigration law as a way to help people feel heard and welcomed and help people who might not otherwise be able to access help. Learning about other people and ways of thinking and viewing the world have helped me have a fuller, richer life. If I can help people have the same experience (both citizens and noncitizens) and learn from each other, I think the world will be a little bit better place for everyone.”