Elizabeth Fata Carpenter, J.D. '16 and Olivia Johnson, 2L
Second-year law student Olivia Johnson and Miami Law alumna Elizabeth Fata Carpenter, J.D.' 16, are walking a similar path, with Carpenter in the lead and Johnson learning the curves and switchbacks. Their two roads intersected at Miami Law's HOPE Public Interest Resource Center as current Miami Scholar met Miami Scholar alum, with a mutual passion for environmental justice and policy reform. They connected through the miracle of social media and were shepherded through the matchmaking of HOPE's director Assistant Dean Marni Lennon.
"I reached out to Elizabeth after seeing a Facebook post shared by HOPE of her receiving recognition from the Village of El Portal," said Johnson, a former English teacher and Rookie Teacher of the Year. "I was really interested in her work with Everglades Law Center and with El Portal, so Dean Lennon connected the two of us."
The mentor/mentee construct played well and the Everglades Law Center, the nonprofit law firm dedicated to representing the public interest in environmental and land use matters, benefited in a smorgasbord of work.
"Olivia was wonderful to work with, both as a future attorney applying her professional and legal skills, and as a person," said Carpenter, managing attorney for the Southern Everglades at the ELC. "We tried to expose Olivia to a wide variety of work that ELC is involved in, from litigation to government advocacy, to policy development. She remained engaged and inquisitive even through the most complicated (and long) of government meetings. She also worked extensively with us to get a program focusing on storm water issues off the ground and running. We all know she will make a fantastic lawyer and advocate."
A native Floridian, Carpenter grew up along the Indian River Lagoon in Palm City. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida. At Miami Law, the magna cum laude was awarded Order of the Coif and was managing editor of the International and Comparative Law Review and a member of the Charles C. Papy Moot Court Board. She also served as a fellow in the Environmental Justice Clinic.
Before joining the Everglades Law Center, Carpenter provided environmental education at Oregon Caves National Monument, worked with salmon aquaculture in Kodiak, Alaska, and implemented environmental justice efforts in Miami-Dade County. She also spent three years litigating complex business and commercial matters as an associate attorney at Cozen O'Connor.
Carpenter is the chair of the Village of El Portal's Sustainability & Resiliency Task Force, represents the Village of El Portal as a member of the Project Delivery Team for a Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, and is the 2020 Village of El Portal Citizen of the Year.
Johnson, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, said the experience was impactful. "Elizabeth gave me so much responsibility through Everglades work and also allowed me to sit in on different meetings where she thought I might have interest," Johnson said. "It was an amazing opportunity to be exposed to such a wide variety of law and policy. Elizabeth was also just a perfect person to ask advice from about applying for jobs, deciding on classes, etcetera."
At the intersection of HOPE
Miami Law's HOPE Public Interest Resource Center is the starting point for law students committed to advocacy and service. HOPE (Helping Others Through Pro Bono Efforts), founded in 1998, provides individualized guidance to help students identify programs, clinics, projects, courses, and opportunities at the law school and beyond.
"The HOPE public interest program is truly an amazing support system for law students and was instrumental in forging my career path through both mentoring and fostering connections," said Carpenter. "All of the faculty in the HOPE office are outstanding mentors."
The center builds on topical and timely issues to create opportunities for law students to provide legal services and support those most in need.
"HOPE is such an amazing resource and does such a good job of highlighting all the different points of public interest law," said Johnson. "I was not sure what I wanted to pursue, but Dean Lennon and the HOPE office as a whole gave me the resources to explore environmental work.
"I'm particularly proud of being a Miami Scholar and the HOPE connection that introduced me to Elizabeth. I'm also really proud of the Environmental Justice Clinic's work, and I would never have recognized my interest in it if it weren't for the HOPE office, Elizabeth's passion for environmental law, and connecting environmental law to the greater Miami public interest landscape," Johnson said.
The EJC connection
The Environmental Justice Clinic advocates for and empowers marginalized communities by combining civil rights, environmental, poverty, and public health law with community lawyering principles, addressing practices stemming from systemic inequality, and promoting policy solutions to achieve structural change.
"As a member of Miami Scholars, my biggest mentor at Miami Law has been Dean Lennon," said Johnson. "I think she does a particularly amazing job, though, of connecting us with former scholars in fields in which we are interested. I was curious about environmental law before my 1L summer, but not sure, and Dean Lennon went out of her way to connect me with Elizabeth as a resource. Now I'm in the Environmental Justice Clinic with Abigail Fleming and Theresa Pinto, who have also been amazing resources and mentors this year."
Miami Law connections build networks
Carpenter and Johnson took advantage of the services and networks they found at Miami Law, including through the Career Development Office.
"Miami Law definitely helped me secure my internship with Everglades Law Center," said Johnson. "I reached out to Elizabeth initially as just a mentorship type check-in, but that did evolve into an internship opportunity. Elizabeth also encouraged me to apply for on-campus interviews, which I probably never would have done, and now I have a summer associate position lined up for next summer as well."
The CDO is committed to assisting students and graduates of the University of Miami School of Law with their job search and professional development needs. The CDO offers comprehensive services and resources for students and alumni.
"My career advisor directed me to do OCI's, and through that process, I secured a job at Cozen O'Connor, where I had an incredible experience learning how to litigate," said Carpenter. "My internships at ELC and my ongoing pro bono work with ELC then allowed me to take those litigation skills and apply them to protecting the environment.
"I chose to go to law school because I wanted to fight to protect our communities and environment in the face of destructive private interests and climate change. Miami law was the perfect fit for this goal because of its incredible public interest program, amazing faculty, and location as ground zero for climate change," said Carpenter.