My legal career is just beginning, but my association with the legal system has been nearly lifelong. Some of my earliest memories were visiting my father in jail.
A meth lab exploded in the basement of my childhood home when I was 12. As I sat in the police car with my brother, I watched as my father be arrested. I was also watching any hope for a “normal” life fade away. I wasn’t present when my mother was arrested a few days later.
The following years were a parade of multiple foster homes; visits to prisons; interviews with child protection workers, doctors, newspapers, and law enforcement; and attending conferences, hearings, and trials – all while supporting my two younger siblings and being the new foster kid at school.
My priority became protecting and advocating for my siblings, but I never seriously considered becoming a profession advocate. The stats weren’t in my favor: Foster kids living in poverty with parents battling addiction don’t get higher education degrees.
Only about 50 percent of former foster youth graduate high school, compared to the national average of nearly 90 percent. Only three percent earn a college degree and less than one percent earn degrees beyond that.
The child welfare system is stretched beyond capacity and places too many poor and Black and Brown children in foster care who could be kept at home safely. Children are shuffled between institutions and foster homes, further traumatizing families. These failures are why those education percentages are so low and why as many as 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have also been in the child welfare system.
I’m lucky. I graduated high school in the care of my biological parents. But the addiction, poverty, mental illness, and lack of health care, positive mentors, and education– they don’t disappear. They continue to follow me. I spent several years of my young adulthood searching for a purpose before realizing my gift: School came natural to me, and I always had a passion for advocating for children and families. After earning a bachelor’s in social work, I realized law school was something I could do.
I learned I was pregnant just after being accepted to Mitchell Hamline – how’s that for clarifying my purpose around children and families? I started law school 20 weeks pregnant, knowing I was breaking the cycle for my daughter. I pursued a child welfare certificate with my J.D. and had opportunities to work with staff at the school to help create programs to assist first generation students – like me – navigate the challenges and barriers.
As it happens, I also graduated law school this year 20 weeks pregnant! My second daughter was born just days after I learned I passed the bar exam.
Now that I have wrapped up maternity leave (without having to study contract and property law!), I have begun my dream legal career as a family law attorney at Gjesdahl Law—a firm focused on compassionate legal service to family members in times of crisis, need, or transition.
In some ways, my journey is just beginning; in other ways, this is simply the next chapter – a chapter fueled by my love for my girls and a desire to make the law better for so many people.
Kirsty Liedman ‘21 is an associate attorney at Gjesdahl Law in Moorhead, Minnesota. Her story was recently told in a story for The Forum and WDAY. This article first appeared in our Spring 2022 alumni magazine, Mitchell Hamline Law.