National Lawyers Guild chapter honors law student

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Wayne State University Law School third-year student Kathleen Garbacz was honored Saturday, Feb. 7, as an Outstanding Law Student of the Year by the National Lawyers Guild Detroit and Michigan Chapter.

Now a Detroit resident, Garbacz grew up as a self-described “rebellious and under-achieving” kid in Clinton Township. She discovered politically active punk banks in middle school and was powerfully influenced by the message in the music to become the social activist she is today.

“She’s a great comrade in struggle,” said Nicholas Klaus, her friend, fellow law student and fellow activist with the WSU chapter of the guild. He’s the national student vice president of the organization and the one who nominated Garbacz for this year’s award. Klaus and Wayne Law alumna Eliza Qualls Perez Facio won the honor last year.

“Without Kathleen, the WSU-NLG chapter would not be as successful as it is today,” Klaus said. “She was integral in getting it off the ground our 1L year … I think everyone who knows her also understands that the success of the WSU-NLG is owed in large part to her brilliance and wit. Every battle I’ve been part of, she’s been in. She’s on the board of (Wayne Law’s) The Journal of Law and Society and the WSU-NLG. She’s on the annual dinner committee, the regional planning committee and she’s working two jobs. Oh, and she sprinkles some classes in there.”

Garbacz works for civil rights law firm Goodman and Hurwitz PC and for the United Auto Workers Office of General Counsel.

“It’s a struggle to keep up most days,” said Garbacz of this last year of law school. “My planner is my best friend. I try to spend a few minutes on Sundays planning out my week. I also try to carve out personal time.”

She looks forward to a career representing workers with a plaintiff-side labor law firm.

“I’m most interested in issues of economic justice,” Garbacz said. “What first drew me to the guild was its mission statement: ‘We seek to unite the lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people, to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests.’ What kept me involved was the membership. There’s such a respect for the clients and activists that the guild represents.”

A political science and English graduate of Western Michigan University, she knew that law school was the right place for her to pursue her passion for social justice. And going to Wayne Law kept her close to her family and gave her a chance to achieve her goals.

During law school, she has served as a student attorney with Wayne Law’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Clinic and as an intern and volunteer with the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice in Detroit.

“Joining both the Wayne Law community and the progressive legal community has been great,” Garbacz said. “I’ve met so many amazing and inspirational people.

She advises new law students to find a mentor.

“There will be more than a few times in law school where you feel completely overwhelmed and inadequate,” Garbacz said. “Young lawyers have been there and can relate. Sometimes, all you need to know is that someone else survived it.”