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My Impact: A Conversation with 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow Kevin Hempy

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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. Program Specialist Sarah Jasper spoke with Kevin Hempy, a 2019 Rural Summer Legal Corps Student Fellow and 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Deere & Co., Lane & Waterman LLP, and Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP. Kevin is currently hosted at Prairie State Legal Services.

Like many lawyers, Kevin Hempy was drawn to a career in public interest because he wanted to follow his passion for making a difference. “I really wanted a career [where]… I could come to work and be excited to be there and feel like I was helping people,” he said.

This enthusiasm to pursue a legal career quickly wore off during Kevin’s first year of law school: “It was really challenging and just felt really dry for me,” he admitted. “I was kind of at this point where I was wondering if this was something I wanted to stick with.”

It wasn’t until Kevin’s second year of law school, when he had the opportunity to gain exposure to real legal issues and clients during a spring internship at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, that he knew he had made the right decision. This experience led him to apply for an Equal Justice Works Student Fellowship in the Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC). Hosted by Prairie State Legal Services, Kevin supported the organization’s efforts to expand its expungement program. “It gave me a chance to learn a little more about expungement law in Illinois and…the positive impact that expungement can have for clients,” recalled Kevin.

Interested in continuing justice reform and reentry work, Kevin applied for an Equal Justice Works Design-Your-Own Fellowship, submitting a project proposal in collaboration with Prairie State Legal Services that focused on expanding the organization’s expungement program to more rural counties in Illinois. In 2020, Kevin was selected as one of 78 public interest lawyers from a whopping 432 applications to work on the project he had designed!

Beginning his Equal Justice Works Fellowship during a pandemic was no easy feat, but Kevin has made tremendous progress in building up his host organization’s expungement program through client referrals and local media coverage. “There is a big need [for this work],” said Kevin. “A lot of people are interested [because they see] just how difficult life can be with these old records. I talk to a lot of people who are really struggling to get employment, housing, or higher education.”

Kevin also shared tips for how to thrive in law school: apply for internships (like Equal Justice Works law student programs), participate in legal clinics, schedule informational interviews, and network with lawyers in a field that you find interesting. “There are so many really cool areas of the law and so many different directions you can take it,” noted Kevin. “Get as many experiences as you can and see what sticks.” Kevin’s other advice for law students? “Don’t be afraid of the cold calls and emails,” he said. “Most of the time, if you’re reaching out to people in public interest, they’re going to want to talk to you…they’re going to want to share what they’re doing.”

 To learn more about Kevin’s project advocating for workers in expungement and sealing proceedings, watch the full interview here.

Interested in kickstarting your public interest law career as a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow? Visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the September 20, 2021 deadline!

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow