/ Blog Post
Chantel Matikke, a law student at Lincoln Memorial University, Duncan School of Law and a member of the National Advisory Committee (NAC), recently chatted with Equal Justice Works about serving on her campus and in the community, and shares advice for students interested in becoming public interest leaders at their schools.
You have a clear passion for public interest law as shown by your many volunteer experiences in the city of Knoxville. What inspired you to become a public interest leader on campus and in the community?
My passion for public service was first sparked as a young child and continued to grow throughout my upbringing. My parents often modeled their high values of serving others, and their examples have spurred me on to pursue public interest work on my law school campus and in my community.
Between participating in the Knoxville Bar Association’s Diversity in the Profession Event and Serving your law school’s Black Law Student Association, you have been a tireless advocate for increasing diversity in the legal community. What does it mean to be diverse (defined in the context of the work you’ve done within the community and law school community) and what steps can the public interest community take to better embrace diversity?
I think diversity is a dynamic, multi-faceted concept. In my particular context, pursuing diversity has involved education, training, building authentic relationships, having poignant conversations, and holding individuals, institutions, and organizations that claim to prioritize diversity accountable. I think practicing intentionality is a critical component for the public interest community to embrace diversity.
One of the ways that you serve on your campus is through the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee. As a member representing the South region, what are some of your responsibilities?
As a member representing the South region my responsibilities include championing the mission of Equal Justice Works to “create opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service.” I primarily do this by promoting and sharing Equal Justice Works resources and events on my campus. I also encourage my colleagues to pursue public interest opportunities like one of Equal Justice Works law student programs and/or postgraduate programs. I hope to continue developing new ways to champion public service on my campus and throughout the region.
What are some of the biggest concerns that students have about pursuing a career in public interest law? What steps can law students and law schools take to remedy those concerns?
Some of the concerns that students have about pursuing a career in public interest law include earning adequate compensation to maintain a healthy lifestyle, achieving work-life balance, paying off school debt, and the emotional and physical burnout that can be associated with public interest careers. Students can begin cultivating the healthy internal practices necessary to cope with some of the challenges of public interest law. Law schools can also help remedy these concerns by providing scholarships and grant opportunities to students, particularly those who have greater barriers to procuring funds to attend school. Law schools can also partner with organizations like Equal Justice Works to educate students on the nuances of debt and loan forgiveness.
What are some upcoming projects and/or initiatives you are working on at your law school?
I am working with my school’s Black Law School Association (BLSA) chapter on several initiatives. Some of these include creating a how-to (safely) protest guide, providing a pro bono expungement clinic in partnership with a local historically black organization, and volunteering at a local school. I am also joining in opportunities to make my school and the city more welcoming and equitable—which is especially pertinent given the growing disparities that have been compounded in the past several months.
Can you share some best practices for organizing and advocating for public interest initiatives on law school campuses? How about outside of campus? How can students become public interest leaders in their communities?
I’m still learning a lot about how to effectively organize and advocate for public interest initiatives on campus and beyond. I have found engaging individuals who are already working in public interest spaces helpful. I also think it is beneficial to communicate with individuals who have led initiatives in the past. Supporting, listening, and learning from leaders of existing initiatives, and then assessing the actual needs of the community can be beneficial steps to take before starting “new” initiatives.
How have these opportunities—from serving on the National Advisory Committee to volunteering with legal services organizations in Knoxville—helped to set the foundation for your own public interest law career?
These opportunities have expanded my ideas of public interest law. I’ve also been able to meet individuals currently practicing in these areas, and think more critically about the current opportunities for positive transformation in the field of public interest law. Lastly, participating in these opportunities makes it feel more possible for me to overcome some of the barriers to pursuing public interest law and settle into a thriving career.
Lastly, what advice would you give to incoming law students interested in becoming public interest leaders at their schools but don’t know where to start.
I would encourage incoming students interested in becoming public interest leaders on their campuses to keep their passion for public interest work at the forefront. Transitioning into law school can be difficult and the tedious 1-L workload can sometimes muffle students’ passions. I hope students allow their passion for public interest to spur them on to mastering the important concepts presented in their first year of law school. I would also encourage students to get involved with Equal Justice Works, utilize the resources available, and plan to attend the Conference and Career Fair. I would also encourage students to apply for one of Equal Justice Works law student programs and/or postgraduate programs. Lastly, I would encourage students to seek out mentors who practice public interest law and start serving as soon as possible.
Supporting, listening, and learning from leaders of existing initiatives, and then assessing the actual needs of the community can be beneficial steps to take before starting “new” initiatives.
Chantel Mattike /
National Advisory Committee Member