A Bridge to Service

March 15, 2021
Recent alums connect with public service via Bridge to Practice Fellowships

Created in 2012 with the goal to serve as a launch pad to career success, the Bridge to Practice Fellowship Program awards recent graduates with a four-month stipend to fund an unpaid position in government or public interest law. Alums have used the fellowship to fund positions everywhere from an international criminal tribunal in The Hague to the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill.

We’re checking in with some recent Bridge to Practice alumni to see how the Fellowship has impacted their legal careers.

Nicole Gibson, L’20

Nicole Gibson, L’20, knew she wanted to be a lawyer from an early age. She also knew that her passion was in the field of criminal law. So her 2L internship with the Petersburg Public Defender’s Office was the perfect professional introduction.

Following graduation, Gibson landed back in the Public Defender’s Office thanks in part to a Bridge to Practice Fellowship. “It was a really good transition,” she said. “I was able to slide right in.” Gibson received an offer for full-time employment, and started as an assistant public defender in January 2021.

Transitioning from law school to life as a full-time attorney has provided a learning curve for Gibson. She’s spent her initial months working on traffic dockets and DUIs, spending time with clients both in court and in jail. In that work, Gibson feels the weight and responsibility of being a new lawyer. “You’re learning with people’s lives,” she explained. “I don’t want to mess this up.”

Luckily, her colleagues have been an exceptional support network. “Everyone I work with has been such a great mentor,” said Gibson. “You’re on a team of people who want to help you learn.”

Without any income, “it would have been impossible to do the internship” which eventually landed her the job, said Gibson. The Bridge to Practice Fellowship “is such a great support structure,” said Gibson – who appreciates not just the financial support, but also the regular check-ins from program director Professor Tara Casey. “She is really the best!” said Gibson.

Jonathan Walter, L’20

As a student completing his law school career during the pandemic, “May 2020 was a stressful time, to say the least,” said Jonathan Walter, L’20. With the status of the bar exam up in the air and many positions in flux as firms navigated remote working environments, the Summer 2020 months provided a good deal of uncertainty for recent graduates. 

For Walter, the Bridge to Practice Fellowship helped add a level of certainty by offering four months of funding for a public service or non-profit position. The fellowship was attractive to Walter because of the flexibility it provided, opening the door to a variety of opportunities in the government and public policy sectors that attracted him. Walter put his fellowship to use at Public Knowledge, a D.C.-based nonprofit that “promotes freedom of expression, an open internet, and access to affordable communications tools and creative works.” 

Public Knowledge “has a fantastic mentorship program,” said Walter. “They really care a lot about making sure the interns and fellows have a positive experience and have the opportunity to do substantive work.” Plus, through his Public Knowledge network, Walter discovered “this really great tech policy advocacy community that’s very tight knit and doing some really impactful, interesting work,” he said. 

That network-building and experience with Public Knowledge set Walter up for success in his new position as the Media & Democracy Program Fellow at Common Cause, another D.C. nonprofit where Walter focuses on four key issues: broadband access, media consolidation, platform accountability, and net neutrality. Working in coalitions with a number of different tech policy advocacy organizations and civil rights groups, much of Walter’s work focuses on advocating for policy change. That might include drafting an op-ed on an important Supreme Court case, sending email campaigns to encourage members to take action on a variety of issues, or meeting with Congressional staff to advocate for their legislative priorities. 

When it comes to getting his start in this field, the fellowship proved useful not just for Walter, but for his employer, as well. “The Bridge to Practice Fellowship is really helpful for a lot of nonprofits who generally are pretty resource starved,” he said – making a fellow with external funding a more attractive candidate. “It’s truly a mutually beneficial experience.”