Advancing justice and public good is an integral aspect of the University of Illinois College of Law’s mission and an important part of what drives our students as well. With ambition to work in environmental law and the 2021-22 school year drawing to a close, Geinda Smith ’23 turned to the Illinois Externships office to help him find a placement for the summer; fortunately, Rebecca Myhr Szajna, director of the legal externship program, had the perfect partner in mind.
For nearly a decade, the international legal nonprofit Family Agriculture Resources Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.) has provided legal services to older, rural farmers and landowners to help them keep family farms within their families and to reduce hunger in the farming community. In partnership with Illinois Law and the Environmental Defense Fund, based in Chicago, F.A.R.M.S. created an externship specifically to provide attorneys of color with employment and training opportunities.
This externship opportunity was created based on F.A.R.M.S. CEO Jillian Hishaw’s struggle to find similar opportunities as a young lawyer and was a perfect fit for Geinda Smith. Working with renowned environmental lawyer Professor Warren Lavey and EDF Lead Attorney Christie Hicks, Smith was able to observe and take part in the legal process with the Pembroke Environmental Justice Coalition on a case in Pembroke, Illinois, protecting elder Black landowners’ property in eminent domain litigation.
“This included a behind the scenes look at the filing of an appellate brief opposing construction of a natural gas pipeline and participation in informational meetings and presentations with landowners about renewable energy options,” Smith said. “[We helped] local landowners in Pembroke navigate the pros-and-cons of bringing natural gas infrastructure to their city.”
“This externship has helped me recognize the importance of serving in accordance with the specific needs and asks of the client and community one is serving,” he added.
The University of Illinois College of Law is proud to partner with EDF and F.A.R.M.S. to provide training and real-world experience in environmental law for our students. To learn more about F.A.R.M.S, visit their website at www.30000acres.org.