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Albany Law School 2L Teagan Dolan took a roundabout journey to the state capital. But her paths wove together at the right time, leading the way to a single destination: law school.
Growing up in Kentucky, she saw the effects of the coal industry on the economy, the population, and the planet. She then completed her undergraduate degree in environmental studies at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 2015, which solidified her interest in protecting the environment. Then, she completed two years with AmeriCorps in California and North Carolina, where she saw different parts of the country and came to understand the varying issues facing residents. A move to Vermont to work in environmental consulting, and later with a law firm, secured her interest in fighting for others. A significant amount of her work related to access to clean water and the issues that surround it—many of which intertwine with the legal system.
“I love science, but I really loved the access to justice—the advocacy portion of it,” she said. “The more time I spent in the environmental sector—a lot of the work I did was related to advocacy—I realized that what I liked about environmental work was the human element of it. So much of what I was doing or cared about was advocating for environmental justice because people were wronged.”
She chose Albany Law School for its proximity to government agencies, courts, and more.
“It’s really valuable to be so close to where so many big decisions are happening,” she said.
This summer, she was one of 36 Albany Law School students who volunteered to participate in the COVID Response Corps—a partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York—which formed in response to the increased need for legal help amid the pandemic.
She was placed in the housing unit. There, she analyzed the complex and constant changes being made to laws, breaking down various relief packages and executive orders, and communicating what those meant for Legal Aid’s clients. With many in danger of losing their housing during an incredibly difficult time, the experience gave Dolan a chance not only to learn but to make an impact right away.
“The law is always changing, but this was something new every week. That part was exciting. I was able to break down legislation into memos for the attorney I was working with to figure out what this meant for our clients,” she said. “Being in the middle of a pandemic is really less than ideal—not that there is an ideal time for it—but the implications were going to be so much more severe.”
Her supervising attorney, David Crossman ’17, served as a valuable mentor, especially at the height of the pandemic, when legal service agencies were anticipating a wave of housing cases.
Though Dolan and Crossman have only met through video conferencing platforms, the one-on-one access to a practicing attorney offered Dolan an unexpected chance to learn the basics of housing law.
“We were able to have a lot more conversations surrounding the law. I read some key cases that were kind of foundational in landlord-tenant law. We were then able to talk one on one about what I was reading and learning,” she said.
She stayed with Legal Aid for the fall semester, where the work continues as laws keep changing. On campus, she’s also involved with the Student Bar Association and the Anthony V. Cardona '70 Moot Court Program, where she serves on the executive board. Student activities have taken a mostly virtual format this semester, and the groups are working to make their programming accessible to all.
“When I’m advocating for people to have clean drinking water out of their tap, that really piqued this interest and passion for me. I’ve always felt this call to help out the underdog. Working in the environmental field is the way I did that. But I realized it was the people part of it,” she said. “I would encourage any law student to work at a legal services agency. It really humbles you. Spending time at Legal Aid will teach you the human aspect of lawyering.”