For Emma Hilbert, L’15, the concept of legal education boiled down to a combination of two passions: intellectual reasoning and community service. Today, she puts those skills to good use with the Texas Civil Rights Project. We talked to Emma about her career path.

Her Law School Experience

“One of the things that’s been consistently rewarding to me is this idea of service to the community,” said Hilbert. The Carrico Center for Pro Bono and Public Service was a natural fit, then, during her years at Richmond Law. In her consultations with Carrico Center Director Tara Casey, “It was a good problem to have that there were so many options [for pro bono service],” said Hilbert. “So I asked her: Who needs help?”

In response, Casey connected Hilbert with the Law School’s immigration assistance project. “It was something I’d never done before,” said Hilbert. “It was fulfilling, and interesting to learn more about the immigration system.” 

Her Career Path

Hilbert’s law school path led her to apply for a Bridge to Practice Fellowship, a prestigious placement program for recent graduates who are interested in pursuing careers in public service. Hilbert put her fellowship to good use with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond – where she had originally worked as an intern with the support of a Summer Public Service Fellowship and later as part of a clinical placement. After working with the Center’s Just Children program in the clinical placement, Hilbert transitioned to housing and eviction representation in her fellowship. 

When it came time for a more permanent placement, “I knew what kind of work I wanted to do,” said Hilbert, “but not necessarily where.” Although she’d already taken and passed the Virginia Bar Exam, she decided to cast a wide net. “So I applied just all over the country.”

Her Job Today

In her role as a staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Hilbert has focused most of her work on veteran assistance, voting rights, and racial and economic justice. “It’s a great opportunity to try a lot of different things,” said Hilbert. That same opportunity is a challenge, too, because it often means that “everything is new, everything is a first.”

Even so, it’s a job that comes with rewards – like “being able to … fulfill a need that very few groups are able to,” said Hilbert. Take, for example, her work with landowners on the Texas-Mexico border. Hilbert and her colleagues represent those clients who are having their land condemned for border wall construction. “We’re really the biggest presence in the valley currently representing those landowners,” said Hilbert. “Many landowners are low-income and don’t necessarily know about their rights in the eminent domain arena. And it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to represent them, and to help them stand up for their land and their home.”

Her Advice for Students

“Don’t be afraid to focus on things that you’re truly interested in,” said Hilbert. For her, that meant pro bono work and the Honor Council – despite pressure she felt to join a journal or a competition team. Hilbert advises students not to let that pressure – or geography – impact their career path or life beyond law school.  “Just pursue the opportunities that really interest you,” she adds. “It’s fun to see where that path will take you.”