Erin J. Wyatt
So many people need help. It feels good to have the energy and passion—and now the skills—to help them.”
Undergrad: BA in Anthropology, University of Utah
Career before law school: whitewater river guide, sustainability organizer
Erin Wyatt is excited about bringing her legal training to a career in the nonprofit world. "There are so many ways to use a law degree," she explains. "Law school teaches you new skills in writing and research, and because law governs our lives in many ways, knowing how it works is valuable to such diverse fields." The Utah native plans to move to Seattle, take the Washington or Alaska bar exam, and work in a community-oriented nonprofit.
Wyatt was originally drawn to VLS's environmental law program-not surprising for a former whitewater river guide and sustainability organizer. But a different path opened up as she involved herself in campus and community life. "Environmental law is important, but I found my personality is more suited to talking with people and helping them take on smaller-scale issues," she says. Two summer clerkships helped her do just that. In Salt Lake City, she clerked for a firm holding a public defender contract and met with clients in the state prison in addition to drawing up legal documents. With Alaska Legal Services Corporation in Juneau, researching and drafting motions were just part of her job-she also gave free legal advice to senior citizens in a remote Native village.
Perhaps her most formative law school experience, says Wyatt, was working as a student clinician in the South Royalton Legal Clinic, Vermont's largest poverty law clinic. "It was amazing that after two years of law school, I could go beyond hypotheticals and use my skills to help resolve real people's problems." Working alongside leading clinical professors also taught Wyatt how to manage the emotional toll of such work. "You learn you can't go into a case thinking you're a magician. Sometimes people make bad decisions, but they're their own decisions. You have to just let go and be grateful for what you have and for how you can help." Wyatt herself had very little while growing up in rural Utah: "What I'm doing is rooted in my own background," she notes. "We were poor-we made it through, but there was really no help available when we needed it."
At VLS Wyatt found numerous opportunities outside the clinic to help her fellow students and residents of the Upper Valley. She held two executive positions with the Student Bar Association, organized campus social events, and was the force behind community blood drives, food drives, and community service projects that benefited local children. No wonder that at the 2012 Commencement Ceremonies the Vermont Law School Alumni Association recognized her outstanding contributions with the Alumni Award.
Wyatt's optimistic about what's next. "My philosophy is, 'go where your interests are, but be open to new paths.' I'd like to start or direct a nonprofit that uses community outreach and education to bring people together." She adds, "So many people need help. It feels good to have the energy and passion-and now the skills-to help them."