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Equal Justice Works believes that a just society requires access to justice under the law for all of its citizens, regardless of income or background. Public interest lawyers are the best way to close the justice gap and use the legal system to protect and uplift individuals and communities. We empower law students and young lawyers to serve the most vulnerable among us across the country, including veterans, children, people with disabilities, immigrants, victims of trafficking and abuse, low-income communities, and more. In addition to our several highly competitive Fellowship programs, we offer resources for law students to manage their debt, eliminating financial barriers to the pursuit of public interest careers.
The economic downturn starting in 2008 had a profound impact on the legal profession. Big law firms laid off lawyers and deferred hiring new associates. Entering law school classes dropped from 50,000 five years ago to roughly 36,000 today. Legal aid programs suffered enormous cuts in funding even though the legal needs of low-income communities grew dramatically.
At the same time, Equal Justice Works entered a period of historic growth. We have expanded quickly by adding new staff, launching multiple new postgraduate Fellowship programs, and developing new channels to reach diverse audiences in promoting our programs and articulating the social need to close the justice gap by mobilizing talented young lawyers. In the last three years we launched four major, federally funded postgraduate Fellowship programs, increasing the number of Fellows in the field from 150 in 2013 to nearly 300 in 2016. As well, we have nearly doubled the number of companies and organizations sponsoring our privately funded Fellows, going from 34 in 2011-2012 to 60 in 2013-2014.
Our recent growth spurt is reflective of the marked progress that we have been making since our inception. Founded by law students 1986, our membership began with just 12 law student groups; today, nearly all ABA-accredited law programs – 190 schools – are members. When we began, there were 16 law schools with Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) in the United States; there are more than 100 today. The appetite for public service among law students and graduates continues to grow, and with 85 percent of alumni remaining in public interest law after their projects are completed, we are proud to say that our continuum of programs launches public interest law careers. Our successful strategies for this ambitious level of growth require leaders who are innovative, resourceful, and hungry for new ideas and new challenges.