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Equal Justice Works Blog

February 27, 2015

2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow Vanessa Stine is implementing her Fellowship project at Friends of Farmworkers in Philadelphia. She is providing direct representation, advocacy, and community education to immigrants affected by predatory and fraudulent legal assistance schemes – a major problem that had not been adequately addressed in Pennsylvania before she began her work. We caught up with Vanessa to learn about how she is empowering her clients through collaborative legal assistance. 

What are some of the legal needs of your current immigrant clients?

Low-wage immigrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation on a number of fronts – as workers and consumers. My Fellowship project provides legal assistance to low-wage immigrant consumers who have been victims of predatory and fraudulent immigration services in Pennsylvania.

Can you give some examples of what these fraudulent schemes look like?

Immigration services fraud can take many forms. Scammers may falsely represent themselves as attorneys, immigration agents, or immigration specialists. Fraudsters prey on vulnerable immigrants, who are desperate to legalize their status, by inaccurately advertising immigration relief. Scammers often file erroneous and incomplete applications, which can result in the separation of families as victims get swept up into deportation proceedings. These schemes can be financially devastating for low-wage workers who save for months, or even years, for immigration assistance. The workers struggle to feed their families and pay their bills, and they are often left without any savings – or in debt – after these scams.

February 20, 2015

This guest blog post is submitted by 2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow, John Paul Cimino. His Equal Justice Works Fellowship is sponsored by Northrop Grumman and Covington & Burling LLP. Read about his project on defending the rights of military service members as the director of William and Mary Law School, Helping Military Families Through Higher Education.

Over the past year and a half, I have listened to countless veterans explain how injuries and illnesses related to their military service have affected their lives. While each story is unique, they all share a common thread: every one of them felt overwhelmed by the process of obtaining the benefits they are entitled to.  The complexity of this process is exacerbated by the limited sources of assistance available to veterans.

Public interest lawyers often talk about the “justice gap,” a phrase typically used to describe the gap between the high cost of legal services and what many are actually able to pay for those services. As an Equal Justice Works Fellow, I often speak before lawyers in various settings about the need for pro bono assistance for veterans. I usually begin these discussions by pointing out that the justice gap in veterans’ benefits law is different in kind from the justice gap in other areas of law. It is different because it exists largely by design and does not discriminate on the basis of wealth.

February 18, 2015

This is a guest blog post from Equal Justice Works’ Senior Manager of Pro Bono, Mia Sussman. She attended a luncheon hosted by Baker & McKenzie, which honored eight Equal Justice Works Fellows making an impact on communities in Chicago, IL. The Fellows received the opportunity to showcase their Fellowship projects and accompanying  pro bono opportunities which provide critical legal aid in the Chicago area. Mia captures the highlights of the unique event below, which took place on January 28, 2015.

Fifty stories above Millennium Park, members of the Chicago legal community gathered to hear about the impact of eight Equal Justice Works Fellows at a luncheon hosted by Baker & McKenzie, a generous Fellowship sponsor and great pro bono collaborator with Equal Justice Works. I, along with Angela Vigil, Baker & McKenzie’s Partner/Director of Pro Bono and Community Service, North America, provided introductory remarks about the innovative work of Graham Bowman (2013), Kate Gladson (2014), Beth Karpiak (2013), Maya Dimant Lentz (2014), Lee Robbins (2014), Aimee Rodriguez (2013), Sarah Staudt (2013), and Ginger Tanton (2014).

February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day is coming up, but we know you don't want to put a ring on your student loans. Even if you can't love them, here are six good reasons to value your loans.

February 13, 2015

2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow Kristen Tullos is currently at Atlanta Legal Aid Society, providing legal services to economically struggling homeowners in the Atlanta metropolitan region. Her Fellowship project is sponsored by Ford & Harrison LLP and The Home Depot. Equal Justice Works recently caught up with her to discuss how she helps homeowners access the services that they need.

What communities does your Equal Justice Works Fellowship serve?

I represent low-income homeowners at risk of foreclosure. As the foreclosure crisis deepened, I was appalled by how unfairly homeowners were being treated by banks and the devastating  impact foreclosures were having on lower-income and minority communities, especially those in the metropolitan Atlanta region. In recent years, Georgia homeowners have faced high rates of foreclosure and unemployment, which lead to the state receiving a $339 million federal grant in 2010 to create HomeSafe Georgia, a state-run foreclosure prevention program.

February 6, 2015

Shea Crosby is currently a member of the 2014 Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship class, under the Employment Opportunity Legal Corps initiative. She works with Legal Aid of Arkansas to help seal criminal records for workers gaining re-entry into the workforce. Equal Justice Works sat down with Shea to learn more about her work on the ground since she began her Fellowship last fall.  

How do you help close the justice gap as part of your AmeriCorps Employment Opportunity Legal Corps Fellowship?

My host organization is Legal Aid of Arkansas(LAA), which was already helping workers seal criminal records. I’ve been given the opportunity to expand those legal services. Much has been accomplished in my first quarter of the Fellowship year, including securing orders to seal criminal records for 80 clients and receiving a waiver for a filing fee for an indigent client who was told no waivers would be given. My project also allowed me to provide information to a potential employer that resulted in lifting a ban to employment for a client, and to negotiate a settlement for a wrongful employment termination of a client who already had an order to seal signed many years ago.

February 3, 2015

A new report from The College Board, "Trends in College Pricing 2014," has good and bad news for students and their families. The good news is that the rate of net tuition growth is slowing. The bad news is that non-tuition costs (room and board, transportation, books and supplies, etc.) remain a financial challenge for many prospective students especially given that non-tuition expenses still do not vary based on family income. This is unfortunate because, as the report notes, these cost of living expenses remain a significant impediment for far too many students.

January 27, 2015

2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow Robin Richardson is currently at the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project. Sponsored by the Friends & Family of Philip M. Stern, Robin identifies, represents, and advocates for indigent victims of sex trafficking in New York City. We recently caught up with Robin to learn more about her work.

What type of work have you done throughout your Equal Justice Works Fellowship?

My Fellowship is aimed at eliminating barriers to employment for people who have engaged in the sex industry. For victims of trafficking in New York, that means vacating their criminal convictions, helping them obtain legal status, and fighting illegal criminal conviction-based employment discrimination. I offer my New York clients all of these services.

January 26, 2015

Law students: are you interested in a public interest opportunity through which you can gain valuable career experience while closing the justice gap for disadvantaged communities?

Equal Justice Works’ program, AmeriCorps JD, is looking for law students to provide legal service on behalf of veterans, disadvantaged workers, and disaster victims. Eligible law students must dedicate 300 hours of service to a qualifying legal project with legal aid organizations, law clinics, and state or local government agencies.The deadline for applications is February 6, 2015.   

January 15, 2015

Sarah Mateja is a member of the 2013 Equal Justice WorksAmeriCorps JD class. Currently, she is serving Veterans struggling with substance abuse issues at the Allegheny County Veterans Treatment Court.  Sarah, a law student at Duquesne University School of Law, manages the clinical aspect of the court, which divert qualified Veterans from jail to treatment programs. Equal Justice Works interviewed Sarah to learn more about her experiences