Law student awarded post-graduation fellowship to help veterans
Air Force veteran Kimberly Adams, after graduation from Wayne State University Law School this spring, will be using her legal skills and the insights she’s gained from her life’s experience to help other veterans through an Equal Justice Fellowship.
She recently learned that she had won the fellowship for her project, Boots on the Ground, which “will be instrumental in helping veterans and their families gain the legal services and support services they need to become self-sufficient, as well as promote community and pro bono involvement with helping our veterans, as well,” she said.
She competed with more than 500 other applicants to gain the post-graduate fellowship, and she’s not only thrilled, but already hard at work on her own time to get the project rolling.
Adams has felt a calling to practice public interest law since she was a child, but she followed quite a few other paths before she found her way into law school. She served in the Air Force from 1985-90, and then went on to a series of different jobs, including eight years as an EMT on an ambulance in a high poverty area of Nashville, Tenn. She moved to Ohio, where she had grown up, and earned certification as a respiratory therapist, and moved to New York, where she earned a degree in women and gender studies at State University of New York-Brockport.
From there, she found Wayne Law, and has been attending the school’s evening program while she works full-time as a respiratory therapist at Sinai-Grace Hospital in northwest Detroit. She’s seen plenty of hardship there, too.
Law school exams aren’t too stressful when you “go to work and you see kids who’ve been shot and people who can’t afford their meds,” Adams said. “For me, working in health care, especially in an impoverished neighborhood, keeps you balanced as to what’s important.”
Her experience, her down-to-earth approach and her sense of mission have served her well. She’s earned a number of public interest fellowships as a law student, and now she’ll get a chance to administer her Boots on the Ground project, working with Akron Community Legal Aid Services in Ohio.
“I already have a managing attorney who will guide me, and the host organization is extremely committed to the project,” Adams said. “We’ll be working with a communications group to start developing outreach, and we’re trying to bring the University of Akron Law School on board, too. I’ll be meeting with individuals at the VA Medical Center to find out what services they provide, and with local bar associations and legal firms to teach them about the issues veterans have and bring them on board to help with the project.”
Boots on the Ground will start with eight counties in Ohio, from the Akron area to the West Virginia state line. Adams is sponsored by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, an organization that focuses on ensuring that resources, programs and services exist statewide to serve the unmet civil legal needs of Ohio's low-income population. Administering the project will mean “a lot of legal work and community engagement work,” Adams said. “It’s a legal job, but it’s more than that. That’s why I really like the project.”
She feels tremendous empathy for military veterans who may have sustained hardship through their service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and through their attempts to “assimilate back into society,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done, not only with veterans but with their families. We really have to reach out to them and let them know there are things available to them. I can’t relate to every story everybody has, but I’m a veteran, I have a military family, and I know many active military families. I think I can relate to them and listen and pick out the things they need.”
Many veterans in need have legal issues in areas such as housing, benefits, employment and education, she said, but “if you can’t communicate with them, you’ll never get to the legal issues,” Adams said. “Sometimes it’s a pride issue. Nobody really wants a handout, but a lot of people want a hand up. When people hear ‘no’ enough times, they get gun-shy about asking for things. We will combine legal advocacy and access to support services.”
The mission of Equal Justice Works is “to create a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice.” That suits Adams to a T, and so does her education at Wayne Law, where her goal to practice public interest law has been “well nurtured,” she said.
“If you’re going to be an effective lawyer, you have to be able to represent anybody,” Adams said. “I think this place helps you learn that. It’s been a wonderful journey here.”
Information about Adams’ Boots on the Ground project can be found on Twitter at #BOOTSPROJECT13.