From the Governor’s office to rural California
How one law student’s career path intersects with rural justice
OneJustice supports a statewide network of nonprofits, law schools, law firms, and businesses that provide life-changing legal help to hundreds of thousands of Californians facing legal barriers to basic necessities. You – like everyone in our network – are an essential part of this collective effort!
This month we’re excited to feature Lauren Plunkett, a law student at Southwestern Law School as another example of how “It Takes a Network” to achieve access to justice for Californians in need. Lauren volunteered for Southwestern’s two-day Justice Bus trip on April 15-16, where she and the other student volunteers conducted mobile legal clinics providing family law services in Palm Desert an immigration services in Coachella, serving 27 low-income residents. We were able to connect with Lauren for a quick Q&A about her experience.
Lauren, could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your path to Southwestern Law School.
As I graduated from the University of Colorado, the thought of going to law school was always in the back of my mind. I was not interested in becoming an attorney per se, I just wanted to know the laws and use that knowledge to help others. After a brief stint as a flight attendant in Washington D.C. in 2005-06, I began my first career as a public servant in Colorado in the Governor’s Office of Information Technology. Over my six-year tenure with the state I held various positions managing several statewide initiatives leveraging technology to improve service delivery in a variety of areas and improving the state’s broadband internet capacity; especially in rural areas. I also became a foster parent to two children, and we began navigating the confusing world of the child dependency legal system. After nearly four years, I adopted the two children that were placed in my care, and we celebrated becoming a forever family on National Adoption Day in 2011.
From these personal and professional experiences, I found my purpose for law school that had been pulling at me since college. I wanted to learn all the laws and policy behind how the states protect children and their families, and my ultimate goal is to leverage the experience I gained in the Governor’s Office with my law degree to implement changes in the systems used by human services agencies, and transform state government operations so they are enabled to truly work in the best interests of children and families.
Tell us a bit about the pro bono and public interest work you’ve pursued during law school!
Since I was young as a girl scout, I have gravitated towards work and volunteer activities where I can listen to people’s needs and direct them the resources available to help them. I want to make a difference helping others because I get such joy out of seeing their happiness when they get what they need, or are listened to for the first time.
Southwestern has no shortage of ways to get involved public interest through its Public Service Program (PSP), various student organizations, and countless summer externship opportunities. I have volunteered for the homelessness prevention law project and for the Teen Court program and have also been active in Southwestern’s Public Interest Law Committee (PILC). I have also had two public interest externships – one at the Children’s Law Center and then at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. Both positions offered opportunities to work with foster youth and were very fulfilling because I saw first-hand what a difference the advocacy I provided made in the lives of other foster youth.
What made you decide to go on the Justice Bus trip?
I was very interested in participating in the Justice Bus Project because a classmate told me that on a previous Southwestern Justice Bus trip, the students helped the same number of people in two days that the local legal services nonprofit can help in three months! I knew I wanted to be part of the student group who made that level of services possible.
What was your favorite thing about going on the Justice Bus trip?
My favorite thing about this year’s Justice Bus trip was that it fulfilled my desire to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence and learn more about family law. I helped one client in particular that touched me. She was only 22 years old and was 8 months pregnant. She had only been married 8 months, and had no job and had dropped out of school to be with her husband who had become very abusive to her both physically and verbally. She came to the Justice Bus clinic because she wanted to be able to move back closer to her family to have her baby, stay safe, and get the financial support she needed until she was able to start working again. We assisted her in completing a temporary restraining order that would keep her safe and allow her to begin the divorce process. She was scared, emotional, and very thankful that we were able to help her that day. It felt really good to be able to offer the services that made her feel safe and supported during a difficult time.
Lauren, from everyone here at OneJustice, thank you for being a Justice Bus Rider and for your outstanding commitment to public service! We look forward to many future collaborations!