Philanthropy Supports Student Legal Clinics
Student directors provide real legal help to people who truly need it.
By Tamara Linse
Both Mikole Soto of Sheridan, Wyo., and Halinka Zolcik of Denver are passionate about helping people. Their dedication shows—Soto is the student director of the Civil Legal Services Legal Clinic, and Zolcik is student director of the International Human Rights Clinic. This student dedication is in turn supported by University of Wyoming’s stalwart donors.
Soto was motivated to become a lawyer to help people with special needs. Her younger sister Laurel was born with learning disabilities and developmental delays.
“(In the clinics) we’re providing real legal help to people who really truly need it,” Soto says. “That’s extremely rewarding. You are able to go in and represent clients on your own under the supervision of a licensed attorney, an experience many of us didn’t think we’d be able to do until after law school. I know that when I’m out of law school, I’ll have that foundation some people might not have when they first come out.”
As director, Soto helps students as they start the clinical experience. “I tell them everything they need to know, and they give me that deer-in-the-headlights look. I tell them, ‘I’m literally throwing you in the deep end, and you have to drown a little bit before you can figure out what’s going on.’ But it’s so awesome to see them leave the clinics so confident. They struggle, then the lightbulb switches on, and all of a sudden you can see them becoming an attorney.”
Zolcik was motivated to become a lawyer to help those who are caught at the intersection of immigration and criminal law. It’s personal: Her family immigrated from the Czech Republic when she was 7, and even though her father is a doctor, they didn’t receive citizenship until 2009.
“It’s all about helping individuals who really deserve to be here and help them get a legal status in the United States,” Zolcik says. She wants to work with detained immigrants and those seeking asylum, especially children, and has received a prestigious fellowship in New York to do just that.
“No matter what you’re interested in, there’s a clinic for it, so many to choose from,” she says. “The fact that we get to take on real clients here really makes a difference. We get to go to court and advocate for clients.” She adds, “I think that to become a good writer—a good lawyer who writes well—taking a clinic is absolutely the way to go.”
Zolcik cites cost as the initial reason she came to UW, but then she found that “the law school here is just incredible.” The class sizes are small, the professors are very approachable, and the whole law school feels like a supportive family, she says.
It is the College of Law’s mission to prepare students for the experience of real-world lawyering after graduation, and the UW College of Law student legal clinics do just that.
UW offers legal clinics including Civil Legal Services, Defender Aid, Family and Child Legal Advocacy, International Human Rights, Prosecution Assistance, and Energy, Environmental and Natural Resources, as well as an estate-planning practicum.
Donors help students in these clinics prepare to become lawyers through endowments such as the John Burman Fund, the Kepler Fund for Professional Education, the John P. Ellbogen Foundation Endowment to Support the Center for International Human Rights Law, and the Robert J. Golten Memorial Fellowship.
“It is hard because we are students, and we have a statewide service,” Soto says. “Sometimes it is hard reaching as far as we need to and involving ourselves in so many different areas of the law. The opportunities are endless, and sometimes it feels like there is so much more that we could be doing.”
“I want to be part of a bigger story,” Zolcik says. “I want to be one of those advocates who really understands criminal law and immigration law so that these vulnerable clients are not just pleading guilty to things that might have adverse consequences.” She pauses, then adds, “I want to become
one of the best immigration attorneys in the United States.”
STUDENT LEGAL CLINICS
BY THE NUMBERS, 2015–2016
Civil Legal Services: 66 cases in 12 Wyoming counties
Defender Aid: 134 cases in 18 counties
Prosecution Assistance: 60 cases in 15 counties
Energy, Environment and Natural Resources: 53 cases representing the state
Family and Child Legal Advocacy: 57 cases in 10 counties
International Human Rights: 55 cases for clients from 23 countries