Equal Justice at Work: July 2011
Guiding Young Lawyers to Public Service
Equal Justice Works was founded on a very simple yet powerful premise: early public interest experiences by law students will lead to a lifelong commitment to justice.
This year, Equal Justice Works Summer Corps program has provided 656 law students — our largest class ever — with seminal public interest experiences. Projects include working in communities devastated by the spring tornadoes; assisting homeless veterans to obtain housing and access benefits; and advising low-income youth of their medical and legal rights to secure the services they need.
Through their service, our Summer Corps members gain valuable, hands-on legal experience that is not obtained in the classroom. For many, this summer has illustrated the power of using their legal skills to help individuals and communities otherwise locked out of our justice system.
Whether these law students eventually practice law in the corporate, law firm or public interest sector, it is our hope that their Summer Corps service fosters a commitment to ensuring that the most vulnerable should have access to quality representation.
For the rest of the summer, we will be sharing stories of select Summer Corps members on our website, blog and social media outlets. I encourage you to follow their stories and share your own experience that sparked your commitment to public interest work.
The Legal Fall Out from Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
While some law students use the summer months as a break from writing briefs, Haley Warden is busy researching and writing memos to help service men and women facing legal recourse after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). A Summer Corps member serving at Washington, D.C.’s Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), Haley is assisting service members and veterans facing discharge and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. During her first few weeks, Haley has already helped several veterans and service members change their military discharges from dishonorable to honorable.
At SLDN, Haley is focused on the legal issues that will remain or arise after DADT is repealed. Her research will be used to develop a guide for LGBT service members and their families exploring statutory benefits for same sex marriages. The guide will also instruct clients on accessing benefits as well as outline potential challenges.
Haley entered law school knowing she wanted to pursue public interest law after a semester abroad in China, where she witnessed limited access to justice. Though she knew she wanted to utilize her legal education and the U.S. legal system for positive change, she was still unsure about what her focus would be until her Summer Corps experience. Her summer of service has allowed Haley to find an issue that she is passionate about as well as given her valuable exposure to client advocacy work. “Summer Corps has been a wonderful experience and I am thankful to Equal Justice Works and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for the chance to advocate for social justice and equality on behalf of these service men and women,” said Haley.
Thanks to her experience this summer, Haley plans to apply for an externship at a law firm focused on non-traditional families and the legal issues they face.
Haley is just one of this year's Summer Corps Standouts. To read more stories about Summer Corps Standouts and their work, please visit the Equal Justice Works blog.
Summer Corps Internship Leads to a Public Interest Career
When John Busby applied to become an Equal Justice Works Summer Corps member in 2007, he wasn’t thinking that his 300 hours of service at Legal Assistance of Western New York would be the beginning of his career. Like many young, eager law students, John knew he wanted to make a difference in the world but didn’t know where to start. His summer of service was the eye-opening experience he needed to define his career goals. “I realized through Summer Corps that you don’t have to save the whole world, but you can help society one person at a time,” said John.
As a Summer Corps member, John gained a skill set that became the foundation of his career as well as made him aware of the importance of public interest. “During that summer, I gained a profound respect for public interest lawyers and the work they do. I knew it was something I wanted to do too,” said John.
When he graduated three years later, John was surprised and excited to be chosen as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow serving at the same organization he served with as a Summer Corps member in 2007. Today, John manages a caseload and works to build capacity through recruitment of pro bono attorneys. He also oversees law students that work on projects benefiting low-income populations.
What is John’s advice to current Summer Corps members? “Use this summer as an opportunity to get into the facts - once you find the facts, apply the law as a tool.”
John is just one example of how Summer Corps members utilize their experiences to jump start their own public interest careers. Equal Justice Works alum Morgan Williams started his public interest career as a Summer Corps member before working as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. Morgan went on to serve on the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors and has stayed on at his host organization, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, where he now serves as General Counsel. In 2009, Jessica Stein spent her summer as an Equal Justice Works Summer Corps member, working to establish the Homeless Experience Legal Protection Project (H.E.L.P.) in Hartford, Connecticut. Her Summer Corps project earned her the 2010 Equal Justice Works Exemplary Public Service Award for a Student and helped her secure a clerkship with The Honorable Bethany J. Alvord of the Connecticut Appellate Court after graduating in May. Jessica hopes to continue in public interest and plans to pursue Equal Justice Works Fellowship opportunities to further provide direct legal representation and make a difference in her community.
To learn more about Equal Justice Works Summer Corps and the work of current Summer Corps members, please visit the Summer Corps webpage.
Equal Justice Works has partnered with EARN, the nation’s leading microsavings provider, to launch MyDebtStory.com, a unique resource and communication tool for those struggling with educational debt. MyDebtStory.com provides a nonpartisan public forum for student loan borrowers to join the national conversation on the growing education debt crisis.
MyDebtStory.com aligns with Equal Justice Works’ mission of creating pathways to public interest legal professions through a number of initiatives, including educational debt relief and outreach to law students, law schools and lawyers working in public interest. Education debt has now surpassed the nation’s credit card debt, and is expected to top one trillion dollars this year. Many people fear that college debt will be the next economic crisis in the U.S. as students are forced to take out enormous loans that become a financial burden for years.
MyDebtStory.com is an opportunity for current and past student borrowers to share their education debt stories in video or written form. MyDebtStory.com features dozens of testimonial videos where people describe their wide array of experiences with student debt, and the number of video stories is growing quickly. Tell your story on MyDebtStory.com and win $5,000 to pay your student debt! EARN is offering a $5,000 prize to pay down debt to the video that gets the most votes by July 31, 2011. What are you waiting for?
To share you student debt story, please visit www.MyDebtStory.com.
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