Alumni Magazine for the University of Wisconsin Law School
News & Notes: Student Spotlight
Student Spotlight: Five Things We Love about Leslie Freehill
Through UW Law’s dual-degree program, Leslie Freehill is earning her JD and a master’s in science all at once, and combining her passion for law and agriculture.
She’s not afraid of a little hard work.
“After getting my degree in agronomy, I worked on organic farms in Iowa and then in Maine. It was really fun — and a lot of work. “A typical day would start very early. There were 16 hogs and a couple of beef cattle, and I was in charge of feeding them. The hogs intimidated me, so I had a strategy of distracting them at one end of their huge pen, running in with the feed, and jumping back over the fence before they could get to me. The bulk of the operation in Maine was a community supported agriculture vegetable box, so the rest of the day would be either harvesting or weeding or planting, and packing up boxes of vegetables for people to come and pick up.”
Her interest in attending law school grew out of seeds. “I worked as a horticulturalist at Seed Savers Exchange, the largest nongovernmental seed bank in the United States. Seed Savers began in the 1970s in Iowa, as an exchange among a few people dedicated to preserving seed stock. It has grown rapidly in recent years, with the food movement and concerns about losing the genetic diversity of our seed crops. “Seed Savers is where I first thought about going to law school. It’s a member of a kind of conservation organization called a land trust, which works to protect natural areas like wetlands and farmlands. I got really interested in land trusts there, and I noticed that some of them have an attorney on staff.”
She believes that — in the legal studies ecosystem — it pays to diversify. “I got the advice early on that I should take opportunities in law school to try new things. With that in mind, I signed up for the Neighborhood Law Clinic, even though I’m on more of an environment/agriculture track. It became one of my favorite, most useful learning experiences in law school. You hit the ground running in a clinic: you’re filing motions, filing lawsuits, interviewing clients, figuring out what the law is and how it applies.”
She’s a dual threat who learned her way around the lab and the law.
“The potential to do the dual degree is what made me decide to come to Madison. Other places may have larger environmental law departments, but UW is one of the only law programs that partners with the environmental studies program on campus, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. I have noticed a gap between the number of people who understand science and the people who are shaping the law or applying it. My hope is to become a person who can bridge those two areas.”
She’s measuring the gap between farm and table for Milwaukee-area growers and eaters.
“Food law researchers have looked extensively within the urban cores of post industrial cities, but for my master’s thesis, I’ll use what I’ve learned about land use and zoning to examine the laws and policies of the suburban fringe of Milwaukee. These places have a lot of potential because there’s more open space, yet we’re still trying to understand how they could be bigger players in getting healthful food into Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods. My research will be a small piece of a huge, cross-campus USDA grant at UW-Madison.”