WRITTEN BY: Kari Cooper, MCEA Development & Communications Associate
During the week of February 27-March 3, MCEA hosted ten students from the University of Michigan Law School. These students are part of a program called LAWBreaks, which stands for Legal Alternative Winter Breaks. LAWBreaks offers service-learning experiences for law students during theSpring Break of the academic calendar. Trips are planned and designed to provide current law students a brief immersion into the real-world practice side of a pressing legal or social justice issue. LAWBreaks brings students all over the US and the world, including Belize, Arizona, New Orleans, and … St. Paul in February.
I sat down with a few of these students to hear about their reflections on the time they spent at MCEA and in Minnesota.
Hometown: Mahtomedi, MN
Dream Legal Job: Director of Environmental Law Clinic at a Law School
Hometown: Leeds, UK
Dream Legal Job: Working with Technology Start Ups or Public Defense
Hometown: Anchorage, AK
Dream Legal Job: Environmental Prosecutor
What were some of the highlights of your week at MCEA?
Reed: MCEA’s staff provided us a number of opportunities throughout the week. We had speakers come in every day during our lunch break, which ranged from people who are activists, to people who are practicing lawyers in the private sector.
Amy: I heard from a number of the 1Ls (first year law students) that this trip got them interested and excited about Environmental Law, and that is a result of all the people we had a chance to meet and the staff we worked with at MCEA. To me that shows the value of us taking these LAWBreak trips.
What new things did you learn about Minnesota’s environmental issues, or environmental law in general?
Brett: I know for me I learned a lot about the complexity of water issues in Minnesota, and how it impacts water all over the country. Minnesota is home to the Headwaters of the Mississippi and Continental Divides, so pollution that goes into the Mississippi River spreads pollution all over the country. It has huge impacts on the Great Lakes, and goes all the way down to oceanic fisheries.
Amy: I learned about how environmental law has connection to other social justice issues. There is a strong interconnection between environmental issues and race/equality issues. Jim Erkel gave us some great insight on environmental justice in Minnesota during one of our opportunities to talk with staff.
Reed: Minnesota has a deeply rooted and historical connection to wild rice, and as a result the state has laws that protect this resource which is unique to the region. I learned about Minnesota’s efforts to protect that waters that grow this crop, and its cultural significance to the Native American population in the state.
Did you guys have any time for fun while you were here?
Reed: Oh yes! I think the most fun was just meeting new people every day whether it was speakers, or staff, or some of MCEA’s partners.
Amy: The most fun for me was spending time with the other students; we really built a sense of comradery while working together at MCEA all day every day. I got to know some of the younger students and learn about their backgrounds and interests.
Brett: MCEA was intentional about scheduling Happy Hours for us to get to know people on a more personal level and in a social setting. It was fun having opportunities to get a small taste of the Twin Cities while we were here for such a short time.
MCEA is grateful for the time these law students spent volunteering for our organization, and we greatly appreciate this partnership opportunity with LAWBreaks to introduce aspiring lawyers to our mission and the importance of environmental law.