Making Connections Remotely
New immersion-style field placement program brings students closer to their career goals.
A NEW BUT GROWING PROGRAM at Minnesota Law—the Remote Semester Field Placement— sends students out of the Twin Cities metro area to other states and, so far, to one other country. The goal is to extend the Law School’s public service mission while expanding ways students can gain practical skills and earn credits toward their degrees.
Six students have taken remote semesters since the program debuted in fall 2018, according to Anne Sexton ’12, assistant director of public interest at the Law School. The four additional students participating in spring 2020 include the first international placement, in Mexico.
“Some use this as an opportunity to have an adventure,” Sexton says. “Sometimes students are thinking more strategically as far as wanting to work in this legal market or with that organization after graduation. This is a way to do a deep dive, get to know people and put down some roots in a market outside of the Twin Cities.”
Remote semester students spend the fall or spring of their 3L year performing work for credit at nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Students must complete 500 hours of work and do reading, writing, and timelog assignments, among other requirements, to earn 12 credits and maintain full-time status.
Sexton discusses financial, housing, and other considerations— including graduation requirements and bar application and prep—with those considering a remote semester.
From MN to L.A.
The Law School’s public service mission brought Alex Young, 3L, and her goal of being a public defender to Minnesota. With her sights also set on practicing in Los Angeles, Young took advantage of Remote Semester Field Placement to build her legal career in Southern California.
Young spent the fall of 2019 working at the Inner City Law Center, a nonprofit law firm offering free legal services to homeless and other poor, vulnerable Los Angeles residents. Serving with a team that brings suits over substandard or unhealthy housing conditions, Young helped at each stage of the litigation process, including drafting a complaint, assisting with discovery responses, organizing information for mediation, and interviewing clients. She attended depositions, mediations, and visits to the buildings in question. An Iowa City native whose family had moved to Los Angeles, Young served in an AmeriCorps program there after graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in political science and history. She had worked at the Los Angeles County public defender’s office during the summer after her 1L year and at Inner City Law Center last summer.
“I knew I wanted to go back for my legal career,” Young says. “I felt confident I could return having a degree from Minnesota.”
Young recently accepted a postgraduate fellowship with Inner City Law Center; she’ll be working on homelessness prevention and eviction defense issues.
A remote semester in Washington, D.C., was a front-row seat to headline news and a “strategic choice” for Noah Steimel, 3L.
“It’s a competitive market for legal jobs, and especially jobs in policy and politics,” says Steimel, who worked for the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “You have to be there and you have to network.”
Steimel researched legal issues, found witnesses, and wrote questions for the subcommittee, which includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, both members of “the Squad.”
Hearings on immigration garnered national media attention, with Steimel occasionally appearing on C-SPAN. He was in Washington during some House impeachment hearings and when Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Oversight and Reform Committee chair, passed away.
After graduation, Steimel will work at the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington. He interned there last summer and lived in D.C. before law school.
“Minnesota Law seemed to be a good place to do public interest work,” says Steimel, whose hometown is Des Moines and who has a history degree from Northwestern University. “The career department and the school do a good job of making a public interest career more feasible and realistic.”
Service in the Second City
During a remote semester with Legal Aid Chicago, Katie Miller, 3L, got the practical legal experience she wanted in the place where she wants to practice.
Miller secured what’s known as an Illinois Supreme Court Rule 711 license, allowing her to render legal services in Illinois under the supervision of a licensed attorney, and she frequently had the opportunity to speak before a judge in court proceedings.
“To be there during the semester— getting more work experience as opposed to more class time, and continuing to build my life in Chicago—was an amazing opportunity,” Miller says.
Miller joined the Chicago Bar Association, attended bar events, and met lawyers for coffee to build her network there.
At Legal Aid Chicago, Miller’s responsibilities included working with domestic violence survivors to explain the legal process and giving judges status updates.
A native of West Bloomfield, Michigan, Miller went straight to the Law School after earning a political science degree at the University of Michigan. She wants to practice family law and loved her summer internship with a private family law firm in Chicago. Her positive experience with Legal Aid Chicago, however, has her considering nonprofit work.
“I never would have thought of the public interest route until I did it,” Miller says. “A remote semester is the perfect way to explore a new area of law outside the classroom.”
Dallas Defense Work
Catalina Hotung, 3L, says her remote semester, which included interviewing immigrant workers nabbed in headline-making raids and visiting death row inmates, was a “pretty wild experience.”
Hotung, a University of Minnesota graduate with a global studies degree and minors in political science and Spanish, was the first extern in years at the Federal Public Defender’s office in Dallas. She familiarized herself with federal criminal law and completed her program-required writing, an opening brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in partnership with the Law School’s Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic, where she is now a student director.
A fluent Spanish speaker, Hotung was sent to answer an urgent call from the Federal Public Defender’s office in Jackson, Mississippi, which had no Spanish-speaking attorneys, in the aftermath of raids that rounded up 680 migrant workers. Her immigration law experience, from the clinic and three years as a paralegal, was invaluable in interviewing clients facing charges.
Returning to Dallas, she continued working on federal criminal-immigration issues, but also delved into the complexities of capital habeas law and visited inmates on death row.
Summing up the experience, Hotung says, “I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much in my life as I did in that one semester.”