Sarah Anderson chose Vanderbilt for its national reach and the support it provides students who wish to practice public interest law. “Vanderbilt sends graduates all over the country, and I didn’t know where I wanted to live,” she said. “And, as an environmental studies major, I was interested in practicing law in the public interest.”
As a 1L, Anderson applied for the prestigious Peggy Browning Fellowship, which provides stipends to support law students who dedicate their summer to advancing workers rights. In 2019 she worked in Washington, D.C., as a Peggy Browning Fellow in the legal department at the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which organizes workers in the grocery, retail, packing and processing industries. “The attorneys I worked with were amazing,” she said, “and I learned so much about the National Labor Relation Act and how the National Labor Relations Board functions.”
Anderson always planned to go to law school. When she was an undergraduate at Northeastern University, she interned with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. An interview with an alumna helped cement her decision to attend Vanderbilt. “She was originally from the Northeast, like me, and moved to Nashville for law school. She spoke about how much she enjoyed her time at Vanderbilt and how the school’s reputation had opened doors for her. She also was interested in public interest and worked in legal aid after graduation. I knew I wanted to do public interest work, and it was great to talk with someone who took that path. The interview made Vanderbilt my first choice,” she said.
Anderson has found her classwork at Vanderbilt challenging. “1L year was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” she recalled. She is impressed by the quality of the faculty. “The professors are one of my favorite things about law school,” she said.
She notes that guest speakers and student organizations enhance the intellectual environment. “Speakers contribute to a strong intellectual climate at Vanderbilt. I have enjoyed learning about emerging issues in fields I have an interest in or just spending an hour hearing about an area of law I have never explored,” she said.
As a 2L, Anderson is volunteering with the Medical Legal Partnership at Shade Tree, a free medical clinic operated by Vanderbilt Medical School students. With guidance from retired attorney Kent Halkett ’81, law students meet with clinic patients to determine if they need legal assistance. “You hear the phrase that we need treat the whole patient,” she said. “When you talk to Shade Tree patients, you realize that their health problems don’t happen in a vacuum.”
As a 2L, she took Professor Michael Vandenbergh’s Environmental Law class. “We did a mock Superfund liability allocation negotiation—each student was assigned a potentially responsible party and attorneys experienced with these negotiations moderated our discussions,” she said. “It was really helpful to get feedback regarding how these cases typically resolve.”
Anderson focused on environmental studies in undergraduate but is now considering labor law based on her experience with the UFCW. “I’m intrigued by the intersection of environmental and labor issues, such as how certain sectors of particularly low-wage workers are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards on the job or how environmental degradation is often concentrated in working-class communities,” she said.