Interview with Law Student Co-VP Stephanie Platenkamp

Why did you decide to go to law school?

After graduating from college, I worked as a secretary for the court-appointed attorneys for children and youth in the Sacramento County Dependency Court system. I saw what a tremendous difference those attorneys made in the lives of their clients, who are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. I decided that a career advocating for indigent clients would be the best way to serve my community and bring greater equality in society.

What has your law school experience been like so far? Your summer internships?

Law school has been great, though I’ve generally found my extracurricular experiences more enriching than coursework. I’ve really enjoyed the clinical programs I’ve been lucky enough to participate in, including Voluntary Legal Services Program’s Employment Law Clinic and King Hall’s Immigration Law Clinic.

The summer after my first year I interned at a local union in Los Angeles through the AFL-CIO’s Law Student Union Summer program. It was a great experience—I spent about half the time organizing and half the time on more traditional legal work. I learned how to use law creatively to advance organizing campaigns. I’ve spent my second summer at a wonderful firm in Sacramento that represents unions and some individual employees.

What political issues are you most passionate about and why?

I’m most passionate about promoting workers rights, an interest that grew from my childhood in the Central Valley, where I attended a Spanish-immersion elementary school named for Cesar Chavez. I learned a lot about farmworker history and got to know the children of seasonal workers when my school hosted them periodically. This early awareness of labor history shaped my political sensibilities and encouraged me to tailor my time in law school to learning how to help empower people in the workplace.

How do you think the NLG could better support law students? How about law students in places like Davis, where there isn’t a staffed office or a large NLG lawyer community?

In this economic climate, law students are nervous about the future. Burdened with debt, many who came in with lofty goals wind up choosing jobs that will pay the bills. They need to know that there are viable career options out there other than Big Law. I feel that NLG could make a big impact by expanding its mentorship program and providing a guiding light how not to squander a legal education and rather, use it to fight for social change.

What do you hope to accomplish on the NLGSF executive board?

I want to help make Progressive Lawyering Day on September 21st at UC Hastings a huge success. When I was a first year student, PLD was an invaluable, formative experience. The Guild attorneys and other students I met, and the panels I attended gave me direction, reminded me why I went to law school and made me feel like I had a found a community I wanted to belong to. Beyond that, I also want to increase law student membership and inspire our members at law school chapters to devote their lives to social justice.

What political work do you think the NLG should be focused on right now and why?

I think the NLG should keep up the pressure for the release of Lynne Stewart. I’m really proud to be part of an organization that holds the safeguard of freedom of speech and that looks out for its own.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Sí, se puede!