Study by the midnight sun

Study in Alaska Program provides unique view of state's legal issues

Brian Augenthaler admits it was the chance to experience the wonder of summer in Alaska that drew him to register for the law school's study away program in Anchorage.

In addition to studying and working, students enjoy Alaska activities like fishing. From left, Yair Inspektor, Brian Augenthaler, Adam Woodford, Jeremy Lehman and Kim Tsaousis.

He definitely savored the opportunity - halibut fishing, whitewater rafting, camping, backpacking in Denali National Park, visiting a musk ox farm and dogsled kennels and attending a baseball game under the midnight sun. But he says he gained much more than that through a course on Native issues and environmental law and internships with a Superior Court Judge and the FBI office in Anchorage.

"From a professional standpoint, working for a judge was invaluable, and working at the FBI in Anchorage offered me a whole different sort of experience," said Augenthaler, a 2L. "The class provided a one-of-a-kind survey of legal issues unique to Alaska. Since my return to Seattle I have discussed a number of things I learned in the course with my friends and colleagues."

Augenthaler was so taken by the experience he is interviewing for jobs up north - which is part of what university officials and internship supervisors hope will happen.

"Our hope is to introduce future attorneys to the unique aspects of what we do here and that we see some students thinking about coming back and practicing," said Michael Driscoll, the provost at the University of Alaska Anchorage, which partners with the School of Law to offer the program. "That's a major value here."

Now in its eighth year, the summer program is a definitive success, providing students with a legal education in the areas of Alaska Native law and environmental law and practical experience though a variety of summer internships.

The School of Law has many outreach programs with the state of Alaska, which has no law school. Among them are the Color of Justice Program, which brings diverse students from across the state together for exciting workshops and activities designed to encourage them to consider legal and judicial careers, and alumni outreach.

George Sundborg, father of University President Steve Sundborg, who paved the way for Alaska statehood, and his wife Mary, established the Alaska endowment, which supports, among other activities, the Alaska Fund, which provides scholarships to Alaska students to attend Seattle University School of Law.

But the Summer in Alaska Program is the most substantive. Stephanie Nichols '06 directs the Study Law in Alaska Program and is an adjunct professor for the Alaska Natives and Environmental Law course. She grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, and was a recipient of a Sundborg Scholarship. Returning every summer to teach and work with students is gratifying for her.

"This program offers law students an opportunity to engage in substantive legal work in a state where unique issues exist," she said.

Plus, students get to see the majestic mountains and experience all the outdoor activities during the longest days of the year. The program is open to students from other law schools, but the majority come from Seattle University School of Law.

The University of Alaska Anchorage provides classroom space and housing, and makes parts of the course available to undergrads interested in law.

"We are blessed with the opportunity to have this strong partnership with Seattle University," Driscoll said.

The students work at a variety of internships with the city, judges and agencies.

"I had an amazing experience working in a legal community that was both inviting and active," said 2L Yair Inspektor, who worked with the Alaska Immigration and Justice Project.

Many interns have been placed over the years with the Municipality of Anchorage, working for either the civil or criminal division of the city's law department. Students get to work with prosecutors on misdemeanor cases and with lawyers on a variety of civil matters.

Rhonda Fehlen Westover, the deputy municipal attorney who oversees the program for the city, said the internships provide great experience for students and great service to the city. About half of the city's summer interns come from the law school's program.

"It's a wonderful program. We find the students to be bright, energetic and well-prepared," she said. "Some of them write better than some attorneys in our office."

Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides has had summer interns from the law school for many years. She said interning with her court gives students a chance to see if clerking is the right path for them and gives them actual experience they can't get in the classroom.

"It really brings the law to life," she said. "Students really appreciate the additional knowledge. It gives them a whole different perspective," she said.

She has found students from the law school to be well-prepared for the amount of writing and analysis they have to do.

"I think that the Seattle U students have been better prepared than the others for legal writing," she said.

Her 2009 summer intern Kim Tsaousis impressed her.

"She did a wonderful job. I would have kept her if I could have."

Joannides said that kind of endorsement means a lot to potential employers and provides another benefit for students entering what can be a difficult job market:

"There are still jobs in Alaska," Judge Joannides said. "Firms and judges are looking for people who are dedicated and hard workers. If they work hard, a summer internship here is a great door-opener."

The School of Law is accepting applications for next year's program. More information.

By Katherine Hedland Hansen

Winter 2009-10