Student Highlight: Halinka Zolcik Lands Elite Fellowship Position

Third-year law student Halinka Zolcik has been awarded a fellowship position with the DSC_2680_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.”

Suzan Pritchett joined the College of Law faculty as an Assistant Professor and the Director of the International Human Rights Clinic in the fall of 2014. Prior to joining the permanent faculty, she was a Visiting Professor and the Robert J. Golten Fellow at the College of Law, where she co-directed the Center for International Law and Advocacy. Professor Pritchett has also worked in private practice representing clients in federal immigration matters. In addition to her clinical and scholastic endeavors, Pritchett is the foremost expert on immigration law in the state of Wyoming and has been a dedicated leader in internationalization efforts within the University of Wyoming.  

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.

Exploring Externships

The externship program at the UW College of Law is a great way for students to gain real-world experience while also earning course credit towards their law degree. The College of Law benefits from a robust number of externship opportunities throughout Wyoming and the region, providing our students with the skills they need in order to be successful in their careers. The externship program also allows them to sample the many pathways that exist within the legal profession.

One of the most recent externship opportunities is with the City Attorney’s Office here in Laramie. There, students have the opportunity to see attorneys in action on a number of cases in violation of Laramie’s municipal code.

Holli Austin-Belaski, the Assistant City and Prosecuting Attorney, has been the supervisor for the participating UW extern students.

“The City of Laramie Attorney’s Office is thrilled to support the externship program at the UW College of Law,” she says. “Extern students in our office get the opportunity to research current legal issues and observe the legal proceedings in the Laramie Municipal Court – including scheduling conferences, arraignments, bench trials and jury trials.”

dsc_2347The first student to extern in their office was Nathalia Collins (J.D. ’16). Originally from Venezuela, Collins moved to the United States when she was 8 years old and was raised in south Florida. She graduated from Florida State University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social sciences.  Impressed by the number of practical opportunities available at Wyoming, she chose to attend the College of Law knowing that she would gain on the job training along with her education.

“The experience in the City Attorney’s Office was fantastic,” says Collins. “I was able to watch a lot of arraignments, motions hearings, continuances, and change of pleadings.  Concurrent with my externship I also took trial practice so I was able to use the skills that I learned in that class and apply them to the bench trials that I eventually got to do in Municipal Court.”

From start to finish, Collins completed eight bench trials on her own, and had a 100% conviction rate. Having the time in court was an invaluable experience. She feels that the experience really set her apart from many of her peers, and has provided her with confidence that will help her in practice.

“Now that I know how to conduct a bench trial I won’t feel scared or intimidated,” she says. “It allows you to do real work under an attorney and they’ll show you how to do things, and tell you if you make a mistake or do something wrong.”

The experience in the courtroom paid off for Collins. Since graduating, she is now clerking for the Honorable Richard A. Simonton in the 7th Judicial District of Montana.

Currently externing in the Office is second-year law student Ryan Gallagher.  Gallagher is originally from Boston, Mass. He came to Wyoming after completing his undergraduate degree at St. Joseph College in Maine.dsc_3519

According the Austin-Belaski, Gallagher has already researched extensive issues relating to DWUI sentencing, he has researched a constitutional issue, and has observed numerous trials.

“Working in the City of Laramie Attorney’s Office has been a really rewarding experience for me already,” says Gallagher. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with Ms. Austin-Belaski on some arraignments, and some research that was sent to the Supreme Court. I feel like I’ve already learned so much, and look forward to being able to try a case in the future.”

Gallagher also pointed out another important lesson gained from the externship that is often overlooked, the importance of a healthy work-life balance.

Holli Austin-Belaski is a 2008 graduate of the College of Law. She worked at a private law firm in Laramie as an associate attorney before joining the Trent Law Firm, LLC in Laramie as a partner for nearly 3 years. She briefly left the practice of law to focus on her family, but began working at Corthell & King in 2013. She took the position at the City Attorney’s Office in October 2015.

“Everyone in the office is really family-oriented so it’s been really refreshing to see how the attorneys balance their work and home-life efficiently,” says Gallagher. “It’s really easy to get caught up in the work and the example that the attorneys set in making their families a priority too is a lesson that can’t be found in a law book.”

In addition to the externship, Ryan has been busy during his law school career. He has participated in the Richard E. Day Client Counseling Competition, the Negotiations Competition, the Delta Theta Phi law fraternity, and he runs the law school sports teams. Additionally, he will be participating in the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic in the spring.

The College of Law has an extensive list of externship partners, and is grateful to participating organizations and offices for their guidance and instruction. Students consistently report positive feedback about their externship experience and have flourished from opportunities like the City Attorney’s Office.  It is the hope that the feeling is mutual.

“I have been impressed with all of the students that have externed with me,” says Austin –Belaski. “Our office will continue to support the externship program and look forward to continuing to work with the students in the program.”


Student Argues Before the Wyoming Supreme Court

On Wednesday, November 16, 2016 Sierra Collver argued a case before the Wyoming Supreme Court as part of the Prosecution Assistance Program. Sierra Collver represented the State of Wyoming against Edward Christopher Barrowes (No. S-16-0155).

As part of the Prosecution Assistance Program, Sierra worked with members of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office under the supervision of Professor Darrell Jackson on the case.

“Arguing before the Supreme Court can be really challenging,” says Collver. “I had a lot of support from everyone involved in the Attorney General’s Office. Professor Jackson and our student director, Kevin Farrelly, spent a lot of extra time working with me to make sure I was ready. Overall it was a really rewarding experience.”

Collver is a third-year law student and is a native of Riverton, Wyoming. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wyoming in Psychology and Criminal Justice. She has participated in the Prosecution Clinic since January of 2016 and worked in an externship for the Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney.

In the spring, she will work in the Defender Aid Program.

“I think that it is really important to get training on both sides of criminal law,” she says. “I enjoy criminal litigation and I think the experience on both sides will make me a better attorney wherever I end up.”

With a Supreme Court Argument under her belt, Collver is already ahead of the curve. The College of Law is extremely proud of her accomplishment and the great work done in the Prosecution Assistance Program.sierra

Student Highlight: Kendra Winslow and Externship Jury Trial

DSC_2327-4Over the course of the last semester, the externship program at the University of Wyoming College of Law has seen a significant boom in participation from both students and outside agencies to provide hands-on experience for law students during their legal education. This thriving program provides an alternative way for students to gain experience in the legal profession outside of the clinical opportunities. In addition to the mentorship and educational value inside each employment site, students gain course credit through the law school by satisfying classroom assignments in conjunction with their placement.

For students that take advantage of the externship program, the benefits can be unparalleled. One such student recently had the opportunity to try a jury trial in front of the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District…and won.

This spring, second-year law student Kendra Winslow has been an extern in the Office of the District Attorney, First Judicial District, in Cheyenne. She has been working under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney, Ben Sherman, a 2012 graduate of the University of Wyoming College of Law. Sherman primarily handles drug cases in Circuit Court.

“From the first day of my externship, my supervisor has had me speaking in court and taking a very active role in the proceedings,” she says. “My daily role in the office has included attending court to represent the state in jail proceedings, initial appearances, motion hearings, traffic court, and bench trials when they are scheduled. My externship has been a crash course in prosecutorial duties. I have learned to make charging decisions, determine bond amounts for defendants, interview victims and witnesses, and most importantly, I have begun to learn important trial skills.”

While Winslow has gained some extremely valuable practical experience through her externship, the pinnacle of her experience would most certainly have to be participating in a jury trial with Sherman in March 2016.

Winslow was included on all aspects of the trial, from preparation and pre-trial conferences to the actual courtroom litigation. According to Sherman, the office wanted to make sure that she was gaining the experience she needed, and was confident that she was capable of stepping up to the task.

“Kendra did a fantastic job in the jury trial,” says Sherman. “She did everything she was supposed to do perfectly and we hold her in very high regard.”

During the trial, Winslow performed the opening statement, the direct examination of the victim in case, the direct examinations of officers involved in the case, as well as the 911 operator. She also performed the cross examination of one of the witnesses for the defense. Following the result of the trial, Winslow was also able to get feedback from jurors, as well as the presiding Judge on the case about her performance.

“The experience of trial was very interesting and educational, and it was made even more rewarding when the jury returned a guilty verdict in the State’s favor” she says. “I learned so much from being able to work a case through from beginning to end, and from observing my supervising attorney in court. I feel very fortunate that through the College of Law and the externship program, I have been able to have this opportunity and gain so much courtroom experience as a 2L.”

Winslow is from Longmont, Colo. She earned her undergraduate degree from UW in Criminal Justice. So far in her law school career, she has also been involved in the International Human Rights Clinic and worked last summer in Cambodia on a project involving the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. She has also been active in the Inns of Court every month in Cheyenne, a perfect example of a proactive student taking advantage of all of the opportunities the College of Law affords.

“I just didn’t expect to get this much experience in law school and I’m so excited to go into practice with all of it under my belt,” she says. “I feel as a younger law student I don’t have all the work and life experience that maybe an older law student might have, so for me it has been really important just to latch on to all of those opportunities and make myself as marketable as possible.”

Winslow applied for the externship in the District Attorney’s office with the assistance of the Director of Career Services, Ashli Tomisich. Stepping into the role to coordinate the externship program, Tomisich is tasked with interfacing between the students and the employers to facilitate a successful placement. She provides the continuity of communication between the law school and interested outside agencies to make sure that both the needs of the employer and the student are met and that they are ideally matched.

Additionally, she is responsible for coordinating and grading assignments that the students are required to fulfill through their placement for course credit. The objective of the assignments is to create a meaningful dialogue between the student and the employer related to and including career choices, ethical issues, and mentorship.

“I really enjoyed the assignments, it made it so I was able to formulate a great relationship with my supervisor and Ashli was really helpful giving advice,” praises Winslow. “It was wonderful to have that kind of support built into the program going out for the first time into the legal field.”

These externship placements provide invaluable insight and practical experience into the world of law, while the students are still in school. UW has an impressive list of externship positions and hopes to continue to grow the program in the future. The intangible benefits gained through time and mentorship will continue to help graduates make meaningful contributions to the Bar as soon as they begin to practice.

The College of Law is extremely proud of all that Winslow has accomplished during one short semester of law school and hope that other students will seize the same opportunities!