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UW Law Student Lands Elite Fellowship in New York City

February 24, 2017
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UW third-year College of Law student Halinka Zolcik, from Gillette, is the first UW student selected for an Immigration Justice Corps Fellowship, one of the most prestigious legal fellowship positions in the country. (UW Photo)

University of Wyoming third-year College of Law student Halinka Zolcik, from Gillette, is the first UW student selected for an Immigration Justice Corps Fellowship, one of the most prestigious legal fellowship positions in the country.

She is among 25 students awarded the fellowship among hundreds of applicants nationwide. The coveted positions are reserved for the “best of the best” embarking in careers in immigration law, and are usually filled with graduates from prestigious law colleges such as Harvard University, Yale University and Georgetown University.

Zolcik has been paired with Prisoners Legal Services of New York as her host organization. She will begin her fellowship duties in September, after completing the bar exam.

The Immigration Justice Corps is a fellowship program that was created by Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in partnership with the Robin Hood Foundation. The two-year fellowship matches the country’s most talented law school graduates with top host organizations in New York City and surrounding areas to serve as legal advocates in immigration.

Born in Prague, Czech Republic, Zolcik immigrated to the United States as a small child with her family. She grew up in Gillette and, as a first-generation immigrant, was drawn to immigration law through her own experience. She chose to attend the UW College of Law for its robust clinical programs and the opportunity to gain practical skills, a decision that has proven instrumental to her success.

Zolcik currently serves as the student director in UW’s International Human Rights (IHR) Clinic, where she carries a caseload of clients seeking help through the U.S. immigration system. The clinic’s faculty director, Assistant Professor Suzan Pritchett, supervises Zolcik.

With Pritchett at the helm, the clinic has expanded from asylum cases into other forms of humanitarian relief efforts, including special immigrant juvenile status, U visas, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) advisement issues, green card process adjustment and family-based petitions.

Working in the clinic, Zolcik has gained valuable experience on a variety of immigration issues. She has already appeared in the Denver Immigration Court five times this semester, and has performed every aspect of representing a client from start to finish, Pritchett says. Zolcik learned about the fellowship opportunity through the clinic.

“Halinka is an exceptional student,” Pritchett says. “I encouraged her to apply for the fellowship because I was confident that she would be a strong contender for one of the positions. Her hands-on experience in the IHR Clinic has guaranteed that she is ready to hit the ground running in a fast-paced advocacy environment. I think that was a major factor in her selection for the fellowship position.”

The application process for the fellowship is long and rigorous, she adds. Zolcik had to submit numerous essays and letters of recommendation, and go through multiple interview rounds. With a carefully crafted portfolio of all her work in the clinic, she “blew the interview panel away,” Pritchett says.

“The interviewers on the panel didn’t know anything about the University of Wyoming. They were surprised that we do immigration work here and also by the breadth and depth of the work that we do in the clinic,” Zolcik says. “At UW, you can get this experience that rivals other clinical programs on an international level. The panel members said they had never seen a current law student with that much experience.”

Among her many talents, Zolcik is an accomplished linguist, fluent in five languages -- English, Czech, Polish, French and Spanish.

“During the interview, members of the panel would randomly switch to Spanish just to test that I actually spoke multiple languages,” she says. “It really throws you off to immediately switch languages, so it was a very intimidating experience.”

Pritchett stresses how impressive this achievement really is.

“Not only was Halinka up against students from some of the most competitive law schools in the country, but she also was up against recent graduates who have already served as immigration court clerks and federal law clerks for the past two years,” she says. “The fact that her abilities and experience at UW can rival those other people is not something that should be taken lightly.”

Zolcik credits her success to Pritchett, the IHR Clinic and her UW College of Law education.

“I am so grateful for the clinic experience,” she says. “Here, we are able to take on numerous clients and have the incredible supervision of Professor Pritchett. Additionally, the small class sizes allowed me to do multiple things, such as the clinic, while still being able to excel academically.”

Zolcik says the college’s Trial Practice Program also is a factor in her advocacy abilities. Through the course, she polished her trial skills and became confident in a courtroom.

“Halinka is a really good lawyer in a difficult multicultural lawyering environment,” Pritchett says. “Navigating the different needs of each client, overcoming language barriers, and interpreting the legal system and communicating that to the clients so they feel well represented is a challenge. She advocates for her clients with compassion, but also shows real strength both in her written advocacy and in the courtroom.”

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