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Legal Services Attorney

Ashley Waddell Tingstad
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Legal Services Attorney

I studied Comp Lit and my languages were English and Spanish. I also studied some French and became fluent in French after college when I lived in France for a year and worked as an English Assistant. One of my professors told me in undergrad that the most important skill I could learn in college was to write well. That statement proved true. I learned how to write as a Comp Lit undergraduate; as such, I learned how to order my thoughts. This basic skill has set me apart.

After my post-college year in France, I returned to the U.S. and joined the Teach for America Houston corps, where I taught bilingual pre-kindergarten and fourth grade. I was one of a very small number of corps members (at the time) who spoke both English and Spanish fluently. I was able to communicate more easily with my students' parents, and I was one of a few trailblazers in bilingual education for Teach for America. I was the first facilitator for peer-led content trainings in bilingual elementary education for TFA corps members in Houston.

I then went to law school at Georgetown, where several of my activities and internships hinged on my language abilities. For example, I represented unaccompanied minors in immigration detention in Arizona during my first summer, and Spanish language fluency was mandatory. Most importantly, though, I stepped into law school a strong writer. I did so well in my first year legal writing course that I was chosen to be a "law fellow" or T.A. for the course the following year. As I reviewed other law student's papers, I was truly surprised to learn that many of them struggled with effective writing. In the legal profession, strong writing skills are absolutely mandatory. The best writers get the best grades (because all exams are essay-based), the best clerkships, and the best jobs. The best writers send cover letters that stand out from the rest. They win grants, publish more and compose client letters that inspire confidence in their work. And writing, at least for me, takes a tremendous amount of effort. My skills were hard-won. I feel that my greatest growth as a writer took place first at Penn State in the Comp Lit department, and second in law school.

I graduated from law school, magna cum laude, in 2011. Since then, I clerked for a judge in the District of Columbia and held a Skadden Fellowship for two years at The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Spanish language fluency was invaluable for my work at Legal Aid, as I represented many Spanish-speaking clients. I was able to more easily gain their trust, understand the nuances of their stories, and represent them fairly and accurately. I also learned that legal services organizations value Spanish language ability (and other high-needs languages, depending on demographics) as this enables attorneys to provide the best representation to their clients while reducing interpretation and translation costs