Third-year law student Halinka Zolcik has been awarded a fellowship position with the Immigration Justice Corps, one of the most prestigious legal fellowship positions in the country.
The Immigration Justice Corps is a fellowship program that was created by Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in partnership with the Robin Hood Foundation. The two-year fellowship matches the country’s most talented law school graduates with top host organizations in New York City and surrounding areas to serve as legal advocates in immigration.
The Fellowship is awarded to a mere twenty-five individuals out of hundreds of applications. Those coveted positions are reserved for the best of the best embarking on a career in immigration law, and are usually filled with graduates from Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown. Zolcik is the first student from the University of Wyoming to be considered for the program.
Born in Prague, Czech Republic, Zolcik and her family immigrated to the United States as a small child. She grew up in Gillette, Wyoming. As a first-generation immigrant, she was drawn to the field through her own experience. She chose to attend the University of Wyoming College of Law for it’s robust clinical programs and the opportunity to gain practical skills, a decision that has proven to be instrumental to her success.
She currently serves as the Student Director in the International Human Rights Clinic at the College of Law. In this capacity, she carries a caseload of clients seeking help through the U.S. immigration system under the supervision of the Faculty Director, Professor Suzan Pritchett.
With Pritchett at the helm, the Clinic has expanded from asylum cases into other forms of humanitarian relief efforts including special immigrant juvenile status, U visas, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) advisement issues, green card process adjustment, and family based petitions.
Working in the clinic, Zolcik has gained valuable experience on a variety of immigration issues. She has already appeared in the Denver Immigration Court five times this semester, and has performed every aspect of representing a client from start to finish. The Clinic is also how she learned of the Fellowship opportunity.
“Halinka is an exceptional student,” says Pritchett. “I encouraged her to apply for the Fellowship because I was confident that she would be a strong contender for one of the positions. Her hands-on experience in the IHR Clinic has guaranteed that she is ready to hit the ground running in a fast-paced advocacy environment, and I think that was a major factor in her selection for the fellowship position.”
The application process for the Fellowship was long and rigorous. Zolcik had to submit numerous essays, letters of recommendation, and go through multiple rounds of interviews. With a carefully crafted portfolio of all her work in the Clinic, she blew the interview panel away.
“The interviewers on the panel didn’t know anything about Wyoming. They were surprised that we do immigration work here, and also by the breadth and depth of the work that we do in the Clinic,” she comments. “In Wyoming you can get this experience that rivals other clinical programs on an international level. The panel said they had never seen a current law student with that much experience.”
Among her many talents, Zolcik is also an accomplished linguist, fluent in five languages – English, Czech, Polish, French and Spanish. Utilizing her skills often in the Clinic, it was also an ability that proved useful in the application process.
“During the interview, members of the panel would randomly switch to Spanish just to test that I actually spoke multiple languages,” she says. “It really throws you off to immediately switch languages, so it was a very intimidating experience.”
Professor Pritchett stresses how impressive this achievement really is.
“Not only was Halinka up against students from some of the most competitive law schools in the country, she was also up against recent graduates that have already served as immigration court clerks and federal law clerks for the past two-years,” says Pritchett. “The fact that her abilities and experience at Wyoming can rival those other people is not something that should be taken lightly.”
Zolcik credits her success to Professor Pritchett, the International Human Rights Clinic, and her education at the College of Law.
“I am so grateful for the clinic experience,” she says. “Here we are able to take on numerous clients and have the incredible supervision of Professor Pritchett. Additionally, the small class sizes allowed me to do multiple things like the Clinic, while still being able to excel academically.”
Zolcik also acknowledges the Trial Practice Program as a contributing factor to her advocacy abilities. Through the course, she was able to polish her trial skills and feel confident in a courtroom.
“Halinka is a really good lawyer in a difficult multi-cultural lawyering environment,” notes Pritchett. “Navigating the different needs of each client, overcoming language barriers, and interpreting the legal system and communicating that to the clients so they feel well represented is a challenge. Halinka is very skilled. She advocates for her clients with compassion, but also shows real strength both in her written advocacy and in the courtroom.”
Zolcik has been paired with Prisoners Legal Services of New York as her host organization. She’ll begin the Fellowship in September after sitting for the Bar Exam.
Though Zolcik is the first ever Wyoming student to be accepted into the Immigration Justice Corps, the College of Law hopes that she is the first of many, and is exceedingly proud to produce such capable and skilled graduates.