Summer Job Diaries: Rising Third-Year Evening Student Savanah Walseth '24 Practices Integrated Advocacy at the ACLU
Savanah Walseth '24, a third-year evening student, pursues an interest in civil rights litigation through homelessness advocacy at the ACLU.
How did you land your summer job?
Before law school, I had spent about ten years working in homeless services, but could not figure out the best way to apply that knowledge to the legal world. Last year, I took LLS' Civil Rights Litigation Practicum. Both professors had long careers at the ACLU before teaching the course. Through that course, I decided that I wanted to shift my career towards impact litigation work. When I learned that the ACLU had a department that focused on homeless rights litigation and advocacy, I was excited. I immediately worked with the LLS Career Development Office on editing my resume and preparing for the interview.
During the spring semester, I externed for one of my Civil Rights professors, Carol Sobel. One day, we went to court with the ACLU team. I had already applied and interviewed for a position with the ACLU, but meeting their lead attorney with Carol and having worked on similar cases definitely made a difference in landing the internship.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
I love the integrated advocacy approach at the ACLU. In just my first couple of weeks, I went to court with an unhoused activist, helped with community organizing for a November 2022 ballot measure, did research for a California Constitutional Amendment, and assisted with substantive litigation work. The ACLU values approaching issues from multiple lenses and directions to ensure it is being responsive to the community, and that is an exciting environment to be in.
What has been your most challenging assignment thus far?
I continue to work in homeless services during the day while taking courses as an evening student at LLS. This summer, when I started at the ACLU, I learned that they had been interviewing unhoused individuals and working with activists to prepare for potential litigation in a location that I was very familiar with through my other work. I had to shift my lens from program-building and service work into a lens of litigation. It was challenging to think and approach advocacy in a different way, but it was great to have a supervisor who appreciated my unique insight into the issues.
What new legal skill have you acquired during your summer job?
Creating a document in a school setting is very different than applying them in real-world situations. I have had the chance to write public records requests, demand letters and complaints at the ACLU. Each time, it is a lot to remember, piece together and stay detail-oriented. Luckily, I have a great supervisor who lets me have experience writing first drafts and gives me a lot great feedback. Each time I do a new one, they are easier and look better.
What bit of legal knowledge have you been able to display?
I am very lucky to have taken the Civil Rights Litigation Practicum that taught me the pieces of litigation beginning to end. My supervisor asked me to go back to files from a year earlier and start to piece together information regarding the criminalization of unhoused individuals in a specific area to see if there was enough information for a demand letter. I put together interviews, public records requests, and online information, as well as find a new unhoused individual whose rights had recently been violated for an interview. With thorough edits and support from my supervisor, I conducted research, came up with claims, and put together a demand letter. We identified advocates and activists in the area and got their local knowledge and support. We sent the letter out this week and—depending on the response—our demand for action may turn into a full-blown case. Without a course like the Civil Rights Practicum, I would have lacked the skills and knowledge to know which direction to go.
How has Loyola helped you map your career path?
I went into Loyola knowing I wanted to do work in the public interest, but nothing else. I had influential professors and help from the Public Interest Department and Career Development Office to support me. The Civil Rights Litigation Practicum was incredibly influential. I went from being unsure on what I wanted to do to solidly wanting to do impact and civil rights litigation work. The externship from that class was the catalyst for my position with the ACLU and a potential externship for the Fall. Currently, I am working on Post-Grad Fellowship applications all within the same area of homeless rights litigation. Everyone has been so supportive in helping me shape the trajectory of my career.