“So, I decided that I wanted to become an environmental attorney.”
That was the conclusion Mia Hammersley came to when she realized that in order to put her master of science in water policy degree to work and create meaningful and lasting change in water management, she would need to address the core of the issues in the field—the water law framework.
She chose University of Arizona Law to pursue her JD because she wanted to learn about the legal issues impacting her local community. Although her undergraduate years were spent in Switzerland, she grew up in Flagstaff and calls Arizona home.
“My Yaqui and Tigua ancestors have lived in what is now the borderlands region since time immemorial, and I feel very connected to this region and its history,” she adds.
During her time at Arizona Law, Hammersley participated in the Tribal Justice Clinic and the newly launched Natural Resource Use & Management Clinic, which she says gave her the opportunity to apply knowledge from the classroom to real-world legal issues.
“In the Tribal Justice Clinic, I was able to assist with the drafting of an amicus brief for submission to the Supreme Court of the United States and work directly with tribes across the country,” says Hammersley. “In the Natural Resource Use & Management Clinic, I had the opportunity to work with a diverse set of stakeholders and hone my knowledge of Arizona’s environmental law issues.”
Hammersley is also one of the founding members of the Justice Advocates Coalition (JAC), a student-formed initiative, founded in 2017, with the goal of both empowering marginalized communities and supporting law students pursuing careers in public interest law.
“When I was a 2L, a few of my classmates and I decided to start fundraising to establish a summer fellowship fund that students who accept unpaid positions with public interest organizations could apply for to receive a small living stipend,” she explains. “What started off as a long-term goal quickly became a reality due to the hard work of our student group and the enthusiastic support we received from the faculty and the administration.”
She says the fundraiser that Arizona Law co-hosted with JAC during the 2017 homecoming week is one of her favorite memories. The event celebrated the legacy of public service created by alumni and continued by current students.
“It was wonderful to see our legal community come together to support us that evening,” says Hammersley. “Thanks to that continued support, we have fundraised over $41,000 in the past year for our fellowship fund.”
Hammersley says anyone thinking about attending law school should remember that there are many communities in need.
“Law, at its core, is about public service, and anyone considering pursuing a legal career, particularly here at Arizona Law, should not underestimate the positive impact that they can have even just as a law student,” she says. “At Arizona Law, there are many opportunities to engage in community lawyering and work with vulnerable communities through volunteering, externships and clinics.”
After graduation, Hammersley heads to Washington D.C. to begin what she calls her dream job: working as a legal fellow with nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice (Their slogan: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer”).
“In this position, I will be using both litigation and advocacy tools to protect communities that have been disproportionately exposed to or affected by environmental health threats,” says Hammersley. “This may include addressing issues concerning air, water, waste, toxic chemicals and civil rights. I am very excited to be starting my career with Earthjustice, even though my long-term goal is to return to Arizona.”
She says she will miss the people at Arizona Law after she graduates, saying her peers have become some of her best friends, and faculty and staff have become her friends and mentors.
“But I know that I have created lifelong connections and will always have a community here to come back to,” Hammersley says.