Law School

Summer Series: Discovering Public Interest Law

It’s another Summer Series post! The series where law students, law grads, and pre-laws share what they’re doing for the summer. Today we hear from Amanda, a rising 3L who has not one, but two, roles this summer—working for a major public interest institution and researching for a profession. Learn about her summer and how one class opened up so many more professional opportunities.

Hi everyone! My name is Amanda McElfresh, and I am a rising 3L at the University of Kansas School of Law. This summer I have been working for Kansas Appleseed and for a professor at my school as a research assistant.


At Kansas Appleseed, my role is to support the Legal Director. For those that do not know, the Appleseed Network is made up of 18 justice centers in the United States and Mexico that work to improve the communities in which they are located. The Kansas Appleseed center focuses on creating inclusive, thriving, and just communities and they do that through working to end hunger in Kansas, increasing civic engagement, advocating for criminal legal reform, and impact litigation. This summer I have worked on an ongoing class action against a local police department. I have been able to draft a Brief in Opposition for a discovery issue and work on document review for the thousands of pages of discovery we have received. I have also conducted other ongoing research for issues such as Kansas Open Records and working to fix the various issues in our foster care system. 


I found this opportunity through my law school’s job portal during fall OCI’s about a year ago. When I submitted my application materials, I made sure to highlight the causes that I was most interested in and why I decided to apply for a non-profit instead of a firm. I was also vulnerable in my interview and highlighted some aspects of my lived experience that I thought would provide a valuable perspective to the work that Kansas Appleseed does. I was nervous about being so open in my cover letter and during my interview, but it paid off and I am glad I chose to do that. This experience has shown me just how many moving parts need to line up to create actual change in our community, and even though the work is hard and slow moving, it is always rewarding.


In my role as a research assistant my focus is to support Professor Kyle Velte’s academic scholarship. My research assignments have focused on how judges understand what it means to be transgender. I have spent my time this summer summarizing legal and non-legal research including scientific and medical articles. This experience has exposed me to a subset of the law that I only briefly interacted with in my previous classes. I really enjoy learning about new things, and this has been the perfect way to do that! 


I also found this opportunity on my law school’s job portal during the spring semester. I previously had a class with Professor Velte so I already knew that she was kind and understanding and that I would likely enjoy working for her – and that has turned out to be true! When I applied, I made sure to quantify the previous research experiences that I had so I could demonstrate that I could do the work. This was helpful during the interview because I was able to present specific examples of research that I had previously done, and I could compare that to Professor Velte’s research. This experience has taught me a lot about patience, especially when Westlaw returns thousands of results and I need to filter through them to pull out the relevant ones. This experience has also taught me that there is still a lot of hate and misunderstanding in the legal community, especially against transgender litigants, but the cases where judges understand and protect the rights of transgender litigants are refreshing to read.


Before law school, I thought that a law degree could only be used to work in a firm, as a prosecutor, or as a public defense attorney. It was not until the fall of my 2L year, when I took Social Justice Lawyering, that I learned that I could use my law degree for direct representation, impact litigation, or policy advocacy. This class was eye opening and inspired me to use my law degree to help others and I quickly learned that getting into public interest is a little different than getting into a firm. Because public interest work is typically underpaid, emotionally taxing, and requires a lot of hours, many organizations want to hire people who are dedicated to the work. You can show a dedication to the work by joining organizations at your school, taking related classes, volunteering, and even discussing your own lived experiences. I also encourage you to reach out to any professors or law school alumni who have worked for, currently work for, or sit on boards of public interest organizations. They can likely make some connections for you and talk to you about the work they do. I hope this is helpful to anyone who is interested in public interest law, and that you can implement some of these tips in your own job search!