'LAW Breaks' offers student advocates experience in the field

By Jordan Poll
U-M Law

  1L Kaitlyn Beyer entered the University of Michigan Law School with the goal of becoming an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Through a Legal Alternative Winter (LAW) Breaks trip, she found her first opportunity to gain practical client experience in a real-world setting.

“I knew that new trips were being considered, so I immediately volunteered and started reaching out to organizations that I was interested in working with,” said Beyer, who co-led the LAW Breaks excursion to Legal Aid of North Carolina in Durham.

“I was excited to shape such an experience from the very beginning, coordinating with experts in the field so that I and seven other volunteers could spend spring break doing meaningful work by assisting and empowering victims of domestic violence.”

LAW Breaks is an entirely student-run organization that plans weeklong, pro bono trips during spring break. The executive board spends every fall and early spring picking leaders and participants, liaising with sites, and preparing students for the work they will be doing throughout the country.

Each trip is specially designed to provide an immersive, service-learning experience, and—despite the diverse range of subject areas and locations—they uphold a singular mission: to address the pressing legal needs of marginalized communities while instilling in law students a lifelong passion and commitment to public interest work.

“For me, it was an opportunity to connect with like-minded law students who are similarly passionate about this type of work, including many amazing upperclassmen who also have become close mentors and friends,” said 1L Elizabeth Temkin, who co-led a group of 12 Michigan Law students to work on the appeals of death row inmates in San Francisco.

“I also was able to connect with incredible professionals in the field, whose work I greatly admire and have learned so much from.”

LAW Breaks has grown significantly since its founding in 2011—when a small group of 1Ls spent their spring break helping immigrants in Arizona. This year, the organization sent 76 law student volunteers to eight sites, four of which were new additions: the Tennessee Public Defender’s Office in Nashville, ArchCity Defenders in St. Louis, Legal Aid of North Carolina in Durham, and the Central Florida Gay and Lesbian Law Association in Orlando. These newly established trips were supplemented by repeat excursions to the South Texas Family Detention Center in Dilley, California Appellate Project in San Francisco, United Community Housing Coalition in Detroit, and Navajo Nation in Window Rock, Arizona.

“LAW Breaks was an incredible opportunity to strengthen my legal advocacy skills while engaging in the social justice work that originally brought me to law school,” said 1L Dillon Roseen, co-lead of the trip to Orlando where he and a team of nine other student volunteers rewrote anti-discrimination laws to better protect LGTBQ individuals in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

“Much of our time in law school is spent in the library, head down, grappling with complex doctrinal concepts presented in class. LAW Breaks allowed me to look up and put all that hard work into context.”