By Jane Whitehead. Krista Selnau, Suffolk University Law School Class of 2012, has been named one of 57 postgraduate Equal Justice Works Fellows for 2013-2015. “I am honored and thrilled to have been chosen,” says Selnau, 26, who currently serves as an AmeriCorps Attorney for Legal Aid of Arkansas in Northwest Arkansas.
The competitive fellowship, sponsored by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Walmart, will enable Selnau to develop her “dream job” in the form of a public interest law project based at Legal Aid of Arkansas Medical-Legal Partnership at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, Ark. Her mission will be to work with medical staff and social workers to support low-income children and families who attend the hospital’s Hematology/Oncology clinic to ensure they get the benefits and legal services they need.
Selnau knows the challenges that face children with life-changing illnesses. At age nine, as a fourth-grader in Bristol, Conn., she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a kind of bone cancer for which the treatment was chemotherapy and the amputation of her left leg at the knee. Through her experiences at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang summer camp in Ashford, Conn., for children with chronic and terminal illnesses, first as a camper and later as a cabin counselor, Selnau started thinking about how she could help “kids with disabilities and their families, who are having a really hard time coping.”
Throughout her undergraduate career at Curry College in Milton, Mass., where she double-majored in English and Politics and History, Selnau kept in mind the idea of becoming an advocate for this hard-pressed population. “I thought law school would be a great way to do that if I could find my way into public interest law,” she says.
A press internship in the office of the late Senator Edward Kennedy in 2008-2009 introduced Selnau to the Senator’s deep and wide-ranging interests across the field of health policy, and helped confirm her direction. “Through that experience I saw first hand that you could really use a law background to make a difference not only for one person, but on a broader scale,” she says.
With its strong public interest law focus, Suffolk University Law School was a natural fit for Selnau. As a law student she worked for a year with Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a non-profit that focuses on the special education needs of children with autism. But the internship “that really put the pieces together” for her was a summer stint as an Equal Justice Works/Equal Justice America Legal Fellow at Boston Medical Center’s Medical Legal Partnership. Managing her own caseload and working with low-income families on issues including income support, food stamp denials and special education needs “really cemented in my mind exactly what I wanted to use my skills for,” says Selnau.
Selnau’s first sight of Arkansas came three weeks after she’d accepted her current job with Legal Aid of Arkansas, in September 2012. Fayetteville turned out to be in a pretty, mountainous part of the state, and to boast one of the best libraries Selnau has ever encountered. (When she’s not unwinding with various forms of yoga, she’s catching up on modern literary classics, including Gabriel García Márquez and Don DeLillo.)
One of Selnau’s first tasks when she starts her new Fellowship in Fall 2013 will be to develop a legal “check-up” for new patients and families entering the Hematology/Oncology clinic at Little Rock’s Children’s Hospital; a short set of questions about social and economic issues to help target support for non-clinical needs right from the start of treatment.
Selnau has no illusions about the hurdles ahead. “It’s really frustrating when people have gotten stuck in the bureaucracy,” she says. But she knows the upside too: “When you win a case,” she says, “and you see how it affects the family, it’s just rewarding to see that you’re helping someone not only in the moment but maybe for the rest of their lives.”