/ Blog Post
My Impact is a conversation series from Equal Justice Works, using interviews with alumni to shine a light on what’s possible with an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. Brooke Meckler, director of law school engagement and advocacy, recently spoke with Kace Rodwell, a 2017 Rural Summer Legal Corps Student Fellow and 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow hosted by Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Inc.
Like many lawyers, Kace Rodwell was drawn to a career in public interest in response to issues within her own community. Having grown up in the capital of Cherokee Nation, Kace was well versed in the types of legal barriers facing other Native Americans: “land issues, reservation land issues, water rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act…obstacles Native Americans face just based on their status as Native Americans.”
Kace cited her “Cherokee values” as a solid foundation for her work, such as, “how can we help our families? How can we help our communities? How do we build and maintain our culture, our language, and our land?”
In 2017, Kace became a Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC) Student Fellow at Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Inc. (OILS), where she worked throughout the entire state of Oklahoma on estate planning issues, particularly American Indian Probate Reform Acts; worked with trust land; and helped members of the Five Tribes with land status laws.
The hands-on nature of RSLC was, Kace noted, a highlight of the program: “I got to go out to the communities and serve—and that’s really what showed me I was on the right path, because I wanted to do public interest but didn’t have that kind of experience until Rural Summer Legal Corps, of actually being there [in the field].”
Kace was determined to continue working with OILS after law school, and built upon her previous relationship with the organization to collaborate on an Equal Justice Works Fellowship application. In 2018, she became an Equal Justice Works Fellow at OILS, working specifically with parents involved in Indian Child Welfare Act cases. Kace encouraged other law students to follow a similar path and leverage existing relationships when creating their own Fellowship projects.
Kace’s other advice for law students following a public interest path? “Take as many litigation courses—or moot court, or mock trial [courses]—as possible,” she said, emphasizing the importance of venturing outside of one’s comfort zone to build practical skills, necessary even in the age of COVID-19. “It doesn’t stop, even if you don’t meet physically in a court room. Life keeps going—these families still need help.”
Following her Fellowship, Kace continues to work at OILS as a staff attorney, much like the 85% of Equal Justice Works Fellows who remain in public service after their projects end. “In short,” she said, “this is my life now. I can’t see not [working on] the Indian Child Welfare Act. I can’t see not continuing helping the communities I’m helping right now.”
Applications for the RSLC program are due at 11:59 p.m. ET on February 8, 2021. To learn more about becoming a 2021 Rural Summer Legal Corps Student Fellow, visit here.