Law student passionate about public interest law


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

With a father who is a patent attorney and a mother who is an artist, Katherine Olds started her career path with a BFA, magna cum laude, from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and now is studying for her J.D. at Wayne State University Law School.

“Law always seemed like a natural choice—my dad adores his job and I’m just like him—but I fought it for a while,” Olds says. “I’ve always really enjoyed the arts and assumed I’d like to work in an artistic field. It turns out I prefer to keep art as a relaxing hobby, though in law school I often rely on skills I developed both in art school and in pursuing artistic endeavors outside of my education.”

Her particular interest is public interest law, and a Public Interest Law Fellowship will take Olds this summer to the Detroit Justice Center (DJC) a nonprofit law firm with a mission to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and just cities.

“I’m looking forward to doing whatever I can to fight against mass incarceration, and it will be an amazing learning experience in how to be a movement lawyer,” she says.

Olds has never considered any alternative to a career in public interest law.

“To be able to get this education has been such an immense privilege, and I want to be able to share my privilege anyway I can,” she says.

“A huge catalyst in getting me to law school at a relatively later age, 28, was the feeling I wanted to help people who need help while simultaneously feeling lost and helpless regarding how to do that. Law happens to be where my interests and skills are, so it seems like the best way for me to give back to the world in any small or large way I can.”

In her 2018 internship at the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office in Detroit, Olds assisted her supervising attorney with juvenile lifer cases.

“Our clients had been in prison since they were juveniles, and for many of them they spent decades assuming they would never have a chance to get out. Now they had an opportunity to leave prison and live the rest of their lives,” she says. “SADO really helped form my views about our criminal justice system and it was working there that I began to really question whether anyone ever deserves to be in prison or if we need to figure something else out.”

Olds, who also has interned at Goodman & Hurwitz in Detroit, and worked as a proofreader at her father’s firm, Carlson, Gaskey, & Olds PC in Birmingham, sees herself becoming a public defender, although a recent externship in Detroit with the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice piqued her interest in workers’ rights issues.

A rising 3L, Olds during her second year was vice president of student affairs for the Women’s Law Caucus, and treasurer for the Wayne Law chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, often attending protests to observe and protect First Amendment rights of protestors. She also served as an assistant editor for the Wayne Law Review.

“Sometimes it was difficult to balance the heavy waves of the Law Review with classes and work, but I really loved the Wayne Law Review and I’m so excited to serve as the managing editor this coming year,” she says.

“When I was working on my note or editing an article, I was able to slip into an almost meditative state that does not seem to come up doing homework for other classes. I would stress about the time commitment, but once I would get started it was really relaxing and rewarding.”

A native of Huntington Woods, Olds is enjoying life in the Motor City, with the freedom to walk, run or bike around. After living in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she found it difficult to find space to enjoy solitude, she relishes the big-city feel of Detroit with its pockets that feel like a smaller city.

“I can walk down residential streets without coming across more than a handful of people,” she says, adding that she enjoys the downtown location of the law school. “I’d like to stay in the area, so being so close to the Detroit legal community has been a great opportunity to meet and network with Detroit attorneys.”

Her leisure time interests include crocheting and embroidery, screen-printing and intaglio printmaking, as well as sketch writing and developing and performing character monologues.

She has been doing improv for seven years, a once-a-week commitment that requires zero preparation.

“It’s been really nice and has saved my sanity at times, because no matter what’s going on with my classes or organizations, I have that one night every week that I save for activities completely unrelated to law school,” she says.