As the Director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence Legal Advocacy Project, Emily Wright is responsible for training and mentoring legal advocates across the state of Alaska. Alaska has some of the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault nationwide and in order to bring these rates down, it is imperative to improve victims’ access to the legal system. She currently works with legal advocates at 18 shelters ranging from southeastern Ketchikan, to western Bethel, to far north Barrow. A typical day for Wright includes assisting advocates with questions on criminal law, protection order hearings and filings, and confidentiality issues. In addition, she provides targeted monthly training for advocates, as well as on-site legal training. The training Wright provides can range from basic legal skills (i.e. “Who are the players in the courtroom?”) to more technical skills (i.e. “What are Alaska’s laws on stalking and technology, and how can we best present evidence to the court?”).
What steps led you to what you are doing now?
My work with the Colorado Law Family Law Program and Juvenile Clinic really instilled in me the importance of taking my skills and knowledge and using them to assist women, children, and families. After law school I had an excellent clerkship with Judge Edward Bronfin with the Denver District Court and then spent several years as a Deputy District Attorney with Boulder. When I moved to Alaska, I was lucky enough to find a position that allowed me to take my training from the clerkship and criminal prosecutions and use them in a civil law setting. Alaska is a huge state with a sparse and geographically isolated population; as such, legal advocates at shelters are vital front line workers. It is a great opportunity for me to be able to teach them and mentor them.
As a law student at Colorado Law, what courses or practical learning experiences (i.e. internships, clinics) best prepared you for what you are doing now?
I absolutely loved my experience in the juvenile law clinic. While law school classes are fascinating and challenging academically; clinic pushes you to be a better orator and advocate. The skills taught in clinic have taken me very far.
What skills—legal or otherwise—do you utilize on a daily basis, and how do they make a positive difference in your work? How did you develop these skills?
The ability to quickly, logically, and thoroughly research a legal issue is extremely valuable. I think back to my first day of class with Professor Al Canner and learning IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion) and how confusing it all seemed then. I am amazed that I use this skill every day. The best way to develop these skills is time and practice–they have become second nature to me now.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
The importance of networking cannot be understated. Both my clerkship and my position with the Boulder District Attorney’s Office came about because I had met and talked to someone who then met and talked to someone else. The people you meet and connect with in law school will still be there when you graduate (and in my case they are still there today–providing references and advice). While it may seem difficult or uncomfortable to attend a networking event the key is to smile and ask a question that gets the other person talking (lawyers love to talk about themselves and give advice … really).
What advice would you give to current Colorado Law students to help them make the most of their legal education?
I would advise you to take a variety of academic classes (administrative law with Professor Hal Bruff has indeed come in handy), participate in practical classes such as trial advocacy or clinic, and join a journal. Also, just enjoy! Law school can seem crazy and hectic while you are in it–but it is really an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in the law in a way that you will likely not get again.