Protecting the earth: Law student spearheads Environmental Law Society

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

After earning her undergrad degree in social work from Eastern Michigan University, Jackie Snyder-Powdhar spent three years in the field of domestic violence.

"I witnessed a lot of kids being placed with the abuser and not the victim," she says. "In the majority of these cases, the victim couldn't afford adequate legal representation."

When Western Michigan University Cooley Law School's Family Law Assistance Project held meetings at the shelter where she worked, Snyder-Powdhar saw the impact lawyers could make in people's lives, sparking her interest in a career in law. A job as a receptionist at the Law Center for Social Security Rights in Southfield provided the push to apply to law school.

"I watched lawyers help people that had nothing to get social security benefits and it changed their lives," she says. "I wanted to make an impact on the world like that."

She headed to WMU-Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, where in her first term as a 1L student, Professor Mark Cooney conducted a torts writing lab and used a Clean Water Act essay to demonstrate how to write the IRAC format effectively.

"I wanted to keep reading the essay," she says. "Then I started looking into environmental law and found myself doing research for hours-I just wanted to know more."

By her third term, she had set her sights on Environmental Law as her specialty and-with help from Cooney and Audra Foster, a director at the law school-restarted the Environmental Law Society (ELS).

"I really enjoy being president because we make the group about things we're interested in, and I get to lead a group and explore different interests," she says. "It's a great learning experience and has taught me how to delegate effectively."

Activities have included a panel on "Careers in Environmental Law"; a bake sale with proceeds to the Flint Water crisis; two Oakland County Parks cleanup days; co-hosting a seminar on "Due Diligence" with the Oakland County Bar Association's Energy, Sustainability, and Environmental Law Committee; and a "Lunch and Learn" session with Meghan Prindle from the Legacy Land Conservatory.

This year, the society plans to bring in different types of environmental lawyers as guest speakers.

"With the current political climate, students are concerned about environmental issues Michigan is facing, so we would like some lawyers in the field to help us understand," she says. "Our other main goal is to continue participation in environmental clean up days because students like seeing their impact on the environment."

After attending an October 2015 mixer of the OCBA Energy, Sustainability, and Environmental Law Committee (ESEC), she attended her first meeting, and now serves as secretary.

"I learned so much, now every meeting I go to is the highlight of my week," she says. "Joining the ESEC is probably the most important thing I've done in law school."

Her work has resulted in the Auburn Hills campus being offered the first law-student chapter of the Air & Waste Management Association.

"The connection would mean we get the opportunity to explore more of Environmental Law, but it also would be a huge accomplishment for our group because we're still pretty new and this community support would help keep us established," she says. "It would also create a way for future Cooley students to start the process of learning about environmental law and getting involved in the community."

Snyder-Powdhar also serves as clerk for the OCBA American Inns of Court Team.

"Teams take a fact pattern to explore different legal solutions, then teach what they learned," she explains. "My team did our presentation in January and it was a lot of fun. I enjoy learning and the Inns community is all about learning."

Her role as associate editor of the Journal of Clinical & Practical Law has helped strengthen her writing skills.

"It's a lot of work, but after every assignment I see my writing improving and I enjoy knowing my work is going towards producing something great," she says.

After being mentored by a 3L student in her 1L year, Snyder-Powdhar is now helping create that community for others.

"Being an ambassador helps me pass the torch and I love talking to people," she says.

She also serves as a student representative for the Themis Bar Review program.

"It's been very helpful, because I have access to their materials to help me study, and I get to meet students and talk to them about taking the bar," she says. "The program teaches to my learning style, and I wanted to encourage students to pick a bar preparation program based on how they learn."

The Ypsilanti native makes her home in Garden City with her husband Brandon, where she enjoys running, snowboarding, hiking, and singing as well as crocheting, knitting and crafting. She is heavily involved in Cooley charity events, including the Thanksgiving program Making Meals Happen, and FUNDS-Financing the Undergraduate Needs of Detroit Scholars; this year's event, that includes her father's barbershop quartet, is set for May 20.

"Taking part in charity events gives me an outlet for my creative side," she says. "I get to suggest ideas and ways to spark involvement in them."