After raising six children and working as a horticulturist for 25 years, Wendy Vawdrey was ready for a new challenge. She was searching for a way to re-enter the traditional workforce and she became interested in the court system during the foster care and adoption process she went through with two of her children. That interest led her to law school.
Vawdrey said one of the initial draws of the S.J. Quinney College of Law was the sustainable features and green design of the building itself.
“While working as a horticulturist, I basically lived in a greenhouse,” she said. “I was really worried about not having sunshine, natural light, and a nice view while being a law student. That’s not a problem in this building.”
The other deciding factor for Vawdrey was the school’s Pro Bono Initiative, a program that allows students to volunteer their time and utilize their new legal skills to help communities in need at 12 different legal clinics. Vawdrey was impressed with the organization of the program and the program’s focus on making pro bono work easy to schedule for law students.
During one of Vawdrey’s first volunteer experiences, she was assigned to work on a case with a young mother who was worried about losing custody of her baby.
“That was the first time I really realized that what I’m going to do when I graduate from law school is going to matter,” Vawdrey said. “In fact, what I’m doing right now matters.”
Vawdrey was paired with another law student and a practicing attorney for the case, but the client quickly made an immediate connection with Vawdrey, which allowed her to build a rapport.
“I realized that being a woman and a mother apparently gave me instant credibility,” Vawdrey said. “And even though I didn’t have all the answers for her, I was able to show support and give reassurance.”
Vawdrey has volunteered at all 12 pro bono clinics, and she has made a special effort to spend extra time at clinics that cater to legal issues she has had less experience with, such as the Veterans Clinic and the Rainbow Clinic, which assists on cases involving LGBTQ issues.
“I’ve realized that in the last 25 years that I’ve spent raising children, I’ve been in somewhat of a bubble,” she said. “The problems these clients are bringing to the clinics are a whole new set of issues that I didn’t have any experience with, so I chose to volunteer to get comfortable and familiar with the issues they face.”
Vawdrey is currently an intern at a criminal and immigration law firm and plans to continue working in criminal and immigration law after graduation. She credits the Pro Bono Initiative with helping her to prepare for a career after graduation.
“In the legal field, we take the word ‘practice’ for granted, but that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Vawdrey said. “And at the pro bono clinics, there’s room for practice. It’s a safe place to get experience and practice using your new skills.”
For more information about the S.J. Quinney College of Law Pro Bono Initiative, visit https://www.law.utah.edu/pro-bono-initiative/.