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Karla Altmayer

Karla Altmayer

Just four years out of law school, Karla Altmayer has made a contribution to public interest law that few make in a lifetime. She spent two years as an Equal Justice Works fellow representing women farmworkers of Illinois who were victims of workplace sexual violence. Now, after co-founding the Coalition against Workplace Sexual Violence and representing adults in immigration removal proceedings as part of the National Immigrant Justice Center, she is off to her next project. Altmayer explained that she decided to develop Healing to Action, an organization aiming to empower low-wage female workers, because “women in poverty suffering from sexual and gender-based violence are missing from the national conversation.” Although she is now the one serving others, Altmayer knows she was provided great opportunity as a student at Northern Law. She stated that “if it wasn’t for NIU taking a chance on me and giving me a scholarship, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The Opportunity Scholarship award afforded me the opportunity to not only pursue my dream but to move out of poverty in order to help my community.”

What have you been up to since your time here at Northern Law? My experience in public interest as a law student significantly shaped what I do today. After graduating in 2012, I worked with LAF Chicago as an Equal Justice Works fellow, leading a state-wide project that focused on empowering women farmworkers who were victims of workplace sexual violence. Kirkland & Ellis, LLP and the Medtronic Foundation generously funded this two-year opportunity to represent farmworker women in rural Illinois and build a collaboration with local organizations to improve the response to women reporting violence. In addition to litigation, I co-founded the Coalition against Workplace Sexual Violence (CAWSV), a coalition that bridges the labor and anti-violence organizations to build power amongst survivors and give them a voice. After my fellowship, I was fortunate to join the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) where I represented adults in immigration removal proceedings for two years. Both opportunities really helped me develop an understanding of the intersection of violence, gender, and poverty that have led me to start a non-profit in Chicago.

What are you working on? My colleague Sheerine Alemzadeh and I are starting Healing to Action, an organization that will build upon the work we did collectively with our partners in CAWSV. Our aim is to build power amongst workers and provide a platform for low-wage working survivors to have their voices heard. We are really excited about this new and unknown journey, and grateful for the privilege to be able to do so.

Why did you become an attorney? Growing up in a home with limited privileges, I believed the law could be used to dismantle systems of oppression that disproportionately have a negative impact on low-wage working people of color. I still feel this way and continue to be motivated by this idea.

What are your professional goals? For the moment, I am focused on what’s in front of me: getting Healing to Action up and running. I feel fortunate that my passion has taken me where I am right now in life. After this, I am ready to go where the next challenge takes me.

How did NIU Law prepare you for your work? The faculty at NIU show true commitment to students. I feel so grateful to have had supportive professors that were willing to explain complex concepts, coach me through practice interviews, review proposals, and write letters of recommendation. These relationships have been instrumental in my development as an attorney.

What is your favorite memory of your time in law school? I loved mock trial, and being a member of Trial Advocacy Society helped me hone my litigation skills.

What is your advice to current law students? Don’t let the first year knock you down. Follow your passion and work hard towards it.

What has been the greatest challenge thus far in your career? Having a healthy work-life balance has been and continues to be challenging. But I’ve learned that the challenge will always be there, and I will always have to work towards striking that balance.

What has been most rewarding about your career so far? As an attorney, I have been entrusted with parts of client’s lives. Building that trust and bearing witness to each person’s life has been the most rewarding part of what I do. I am eternally grateful to all my clients.

This interview was conducted in Summer 2016. 

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Class Year: 2012

Current title and position: Co-Director, Healing to Action

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