Oct. 4, 2021 - Armin Salek recently received the Outstanding Young Lawyer Award from the Texas Young Lawyers Association in recognition for his efforts to train aspiring attorneys while equipping local communities with free legal services.
“It’s very exciting to know that I have the support of my legal network and to know that they are fighting for the Youth Justice Alliance and advocating for us to get the support we need to expand this nonprofit,” Salek, a 2016 alumnus of the University of Houston Law Center said.
Salek, the executive director of the Youth Justice Alliance, said his goal is for the organization to “become a sustainable and lasting nonprofit that could help spread legal education and free legal services across Austin and beyond.”
The Youth Justice Alliance was launched in 2017 as the Akins Eagle Aid Clinic at Akins Early College High School in Austin. The first high school legal aid clinic in the country, the Akins Eagle Aid Clinic has provided hundreds of hours of free legal service to clients in Austin, including lower-income families and school staff, from teachers and security officers to custodians.
Under Salek’s instruction and guidance, students work directly on legal cases that meet community needs. Students work directly with clients, while also learning about issues such as confidentiality, the role of attorneys, and how to build trust with a client, especially as a high school student.
“Not only are students sharing their own tools and language skills, there’s this piece where they are making a difference in their community,” Salek said.
In Salek’s experience, most law students either grew up with an attorney in the family or knew someone who was an attorney. But not every student has an opportunity to grow up around lawyers, much less know how to become one. The Youth Justice Alliance teaches students about the legal field and also equips them with essential skills they will need as an attorney.
“My focus is we don’t want to play catch-up, we want to put our students ahead,” Salek said. “Through the Youth Justice Alliance, not only are students as equipped as their peers, but they could be better equipped after they’re done with the program.
“They’ve competed at the highest level of trial, understand the legal duties of an attorney, and have direct experience with clients and judges.”
Salek’s previous experiences working in an immigration clinic, legal clinic, and immigration firms opened his eyes to the “need for diverse attorneys and diverse legal professionals that could communicate with the communities they were serving.”
“If you want to serve people effectively, you have to be able to communicate. One advantage our clinic has over most clinics and legal aid providers is we have incredible diversity in terms of
our student population,” Salek said. “If we wanted to serve a client in Arabic, we could. If we wanted to serve a client in Mandarin or Spanish, we have that in-house. We’re never waiting for someone to be ready to translate, we have access to those resources.”
Salek said he still keeps in touch with the first 11 students to join the Akins Eagle Aid Clinic. One of the students is currently applying to law school and received a scholarship to get into their dream law school. Another student recently received a scholarship to attend a program at Duke University for aspiring attorneys.
“Even if they don’t decide to go down the legal track, we’re proud of how this program has helped them,” Salek said.
Salek’s passion for educating students wasn’t something he was aware of until law school. When Salek graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree in government and sociology, he originally planned to use his legal education to become a criminal defense attorney. But by his third year at the Law Center, Salek said he had two experiences that transformed his future
During the fall semester of his 3L year, Salek worked with foreign LL.M. students and had his first opportunity to teach law.
“I absolutely loved it,” Salek said. “It was incredible working with students around the world.”
The following spring semester, Ellen Marrus – the Royce Till Professor of Law and Director of the UH Law Center’s Center for Children, Law & Policy – launched the UHLC Street Law Program that worked with Houston ISD students.
“It completely transformed my career,” Salek said. “I didn’t expect to become a teacher after law school at all, but going through the process of getting to know students and attending their graduation–that was a very powerful process for me.”