New lawyer on the block

UMLC adds to its team fighting for freedom and constitutional rights in Minnesota.

When Allie Howell left the University of Notre Dame’s law school in 2021, she knew she wanted to work at a public interest firm taking on conservative, pro-freedom cases. But she never thought it would happen as soon as it did. Just over a year after graduating at the top of her class, in September 2023, Howell accepted a position as the Upper Midwest Law Center’s (UMLC) new trial and appellate counsel.

“Everyone wants to do litigation about the Constitution, so openings in that area are few and far between. I always assumed I would have to go to a bigger firm for a few years and do standard litigation until an opportunity opened up. I was really blessed that UMLC was looking to expand and that I got in touch when I did,” says Howell.

Originally from Michigan, Howell earned her undergraduate degree in economics and mathematics from Hillsdale College, where she was active in a number of student groups and interned with both the Manhattan Institute and Reason Magazine. These experiences gave her a chance to connect firsthand with small business owners and were instrumental, she says, in showing her “how much harm bad government policy can do.”

The first half of Howell’s time at the University of Notre Dame was relatively traditional — she studied, interned with the Institute for Justice, and joined the Federalist Society, a group of conservative, libertarian, and moderate law students that promotes open discussion of legal issues. But during her second year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, sending students home until the fall of 2020. Howell returned to campus for her third and final year, but the pandemic restrictions on campus “made it basically impossible to ever interact with another person.”

After finishing her degree in the spring of 2021, Howell embarked on the first stage of her career: judicial clerkships. She spent two years clerking, first on the Seventh Circuit in Milwaukee and then on the Eighth Circuit in Minneapolis. She saw cases ranging from intellectual property rights and contract disputes to criminal appeals, and enjoyed the inside perspective on how decisions are made. But Howell had decided early on to use her degree for a meaningful purpose. Too many lawyers, she says, benefit financially from a complex legal system that is intentionally difficult for the average citizen to navigate.

“There are many lawyers who do more harm than good,” says Howell. “Laws are often written by lawyers, for lawyers, and that makes it really hard for everyday people to do business and to protect and safeguard their property and constitutional rights.”

With this in mind, Howell started researching public interest law firms in Minnesota. She wasn’t tied to Minneapolis when she began her judicial clerkship — in fact, she had accepted the position before ever visiting the city — but now she wanted to stay in the area, if possible. Luckily, UMLC was looking to expand.

“We’re delighted to welcome Alexandra to UMLC,” says Doug Seaton, president and founder of the organization. “Her passion for defending constitutional freedoms and unwavering commitment to justice align perfectly with our mission… her expertise and enthusiasm will strengthen our team and the impact we make.”

Since joining UMLC in early September, Howell has already worked on several prominent cases, most recently the “Don’t Say Felon” case (which was highlighted in the last issue of Thinking Minnesota). “UMLC is very busy, especially right now… so there’s always a lot to do,” says Howell. “I get to see the full picture of how a case goes from start to finish, which can take years. Some of our cases were opened several years ago and there’s still work to be done on them.”

With just four attorneys on staff, UMLC is kept very busy. One of the biggest shocks for Howell was the sheer number of lawyers they go up against.

“Oftentimes with our work, you’ll see a small group working on a case versus a whole team of lawyers, whether it’s in the Minnesota Attorney General’s office or a private firm — a real David and Goliath story.”

In Howell’s opinion, UMLC will play a crucial role in keeping the political and ideological battle for Minnesota fair and balanced.

“I think this last legislative session and the DFL trifecta showed that liberal policies unopposed will bulldoze their way through the state. Without UMLC or similar groups, there is nothing to stop an agenda that most people find deeply unpopular and problematic.”