Attorney Ad Litem, Bay Area Legal Services

Kristen LangI came to law school with a purpose, clearly stated in my personal statement and strongly felt in every fiber of my being. I wanted to advocate on behalf of at-risk youth to ensure they had the voice and necessary services to lead a successful and happy life. As a teacher in the South Bronx, I had seen injustice through the eyes of a child: removed from his home, moved out of his community, placed with a caregiver who did not speak his language, prevented from seeing his new baby brother, and completely failed by the system meant to ensure his well-being. It was his story and those of so many other students that led me to apply to YLS.

That passion remained at the fore of my work in law school. I spent two and a half years in the Education Adequacy Clinic, was a member of the Project for Law and Education at Yale, researched issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, and wrote on Head Start and Race to the Top. The diversity and flexibility of YLS afforded me so many incredible opportunities to gain experience and knowledge in the areas I loved.

Yet, in the swirl of “what comes next” anxiety between 2L and 3L year, I began to lose confidence in my purpose. Suddenly, it felt like everyone was either applying to clerkships or working for a firm. It seemed that maybe my best bet was to do what everyone else was doing. No one in my family or among my close friends had gone to law school. I felt I was always learning just a tad too late how things worked — maybe I should be seeking jobs in these fields too. I panicked and made some very half-hearted attempts to pursue these opportunities. Unsurprisingly, and thankfully, these did not pan out. The truth was that the practice of law was never an end to me, only a means; uncoupled from the issues about which I was passionate, it was of minimal interest as a career path.

At the start of my 3L year, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what I really wanted to do after law school, speaking with public interest staff, professors, and my friends. Quite quickly, I came back to the beginning. I drafted a fellowship project that melded my passions for education, at-risk children, and equal justice. I literally wrote my dream job and a Yale Public Interest Fellowship funded it.

My host organization was the L. David Shear Children’s Law Center of Bay Area Legal Services, Inc., in my hometown of Tampa. During my fellowship year, I handled a small caseload of about ten child clients in dependency court and worked on a project to increase the number of dependent youth enrolled in high quality early education in my community. As part of this project, I wrote an Early Education Advocacy Manual for our office; trained over 100 foster and adoptive parents on the importance of quality early education and how to identify programs offering this experience; and created a multidisciplinary collaborative with the goal of ensuring that all zero- to five-year-old dependent children in Hillsborough County would receive a high quality early education.