When Kayla Race began working as a policy researcher, she was most surprised by the politics of policy making.
“Looking back, it seems obvious,” said the S.J. Quinney College of Law student. “But when I was 22 it wasn’t something I had thought about previously.”
Race spent a two-year legislative term working as a researcher on the climate change committee in the Massachusetts legislature. That initial legislative term kicked off an eight-year career in environmental policy.
Working with two nonprofits in California, Race advocated for policies that would create cleaner air, less waste, more public transportation, and more trees planted. A focus of these policies was achieving environmental justice, which Race described as “working to resolve the host of disproportionate environmental health burdens faced by low-income communities of color.” She was also part of the effort to get the city of San Diego to commit to a plan of using 100% clean energy citywide.
These roles gave her in-depth insight into how laws about the environment are created and implemented.
“In spending so much time advocating for new policies, I saw how many laws were not really being enforced, particularly in certain neighborhoods,” she said. “That made me want to understand the legal framework behind the laws and what I could do to change that.”
Race’s commitment to environmental justice lead her to law school. Relocating to Utah was an easy decision for her, with the nearby Wasatch Mountains and the College of Law consistently ranking as a top 10 law school for environmental programs.
“I looked at the scholarship of the environmental professors and was really interested in what they were doing,” Race said. “And I also love the mountains, and Salt Lake City has unbeatable access to some of the best mountains in the world. So it was a combination of academic opportunity and recreational opportunity.”
Race’s background has prepared her well for legal research, and she chose to participate in the Utah Law Review, a student-published journal filled with legal scholarship. She was selected to be part of Utah Law Review based on her outstanding grades and a short article she submitted in the law review’s application process, and she was later elected to the editor-in-chief position by her peers.
Race and her team spent this past spring semester reviewing articles sent in by law professors from across the country. After deciding which articles to include, the team will edit and perfect the journal. Over the course of the next school year, five editions of the Utah Law Review will be released.
Though being editor-in-chief of the Utah Law Review is a significant time commitment, Race believes it is a valuable use of her time.
“It’s great skills building,” she said. “It’s improving my writing and the way that I think about legal scholarship by seeing how others are arguing their points and organizing their thoughts.”
This summer, Race split her time between Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, a law firm in downtown Salt Lake City, and Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to litigating environmental issues.
“In terms of my future, I’m still exploring my options,” Race said. “I hope to stay here in Utah and work on environmental law, and hopefully someone will give me that opportunity.”
Race will spend her first year after law school as a law clerk at the Utah Supreme Court.