Executive Director's Corner
Public Service, Passion for Change, Promise of Justice For All
October is the biggest month of the year for Equal Justice Works. Actually, it’s one week in October -- the week of October 21 -- when thousands of people from around the country will come together to learn, discuss, support, explore, mentor and be mentored, train and be trained about public service and public interest law. Students, Fellows, public interest employers, private lawyers, and our law school colleagues all come together to participate in at least one of our Fall Events:
-our Leadership Development Training, with three days of critical skills development for our 140 Equal Justice Works Fellows who are working on behalf of under-served communities such as veterans, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, and children;
-our Conference and Career Fair, where more than 1,200 law students from across the country come together to connect with nonprofit organizations, public interest law firms, government agencies, public defenders, and prosecutors – to learn skills, meet public interest leaders, and interview for jobs; and
-our Annual Dinner with 800 attendees where we raise the funds we need to run our programs and where we present our annual “Scales of Justice” award.
Our theme for this year is “Public Service, Passion for Change, and Promise of Justice for All.”
It was inspired by the man we are honoring this year – Cam Findlay, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Archer Daniels Midland Company. Cam is being recognized for his extraordinary commitment to pro bono and public service throughout his career.
Out of curiosity, I Googled “public service.” According to Wikipedia, “public service has the characteristics of a public good, and most are services which, according to prevailing social norms, are under-provided by the market…. People with a public service ethos are those who wish to give something to the wider public or community through their work.”
Cam Findlay embodies the public service ethos we hope every law student possesses when they graduate from law school.
It is a time to celebrate Equal Justice Works’ successes as we continue our mission to balance the scales of justice for the less fortunate in our society. We have an extraordinary community of people who share our “passion for change” and support “the promise of justice for all.” Thank you for being part of that community.
Fellows on the Front
Text-to-Give donors propel a public interest law career and help shape history
Carmen Iguina became passionate about access to counsel issues after working with clients in clinics and during summer internships while in law school. These experiences gave her firsthand exposure to advocating for individuals without legal aid.
With the help of donations from attendees at Equal Justice Works 25th Anniversary Gala in 2011, Carmen was able to pursue a public interest career path, which brought her to directly serve immigrant detainees with mental disabilities – a population vulnerable to inadequate legal representation in immigration court hearings. As Carmen’s Fellowship has progressed, it has become clear that those donations made a huge impact not only on Carmen, but on the lives of the clients she serves.
Working at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Carmen has already contributed to the historic court case, Franco-Gonzalez v. Holder,which granted legal representation to immigrant detainees with mental disabilities—and who are at risk for deportation—earlier this year. She prepared a preliminary injunction filed on behalf of seven clients. Carmen also sent letters to immigration courts, describing the rights and qualifications for legal representation on behalf of 70 detainees. Her efforts allowed her to co-counsel with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, Sullivan & Cromwell, Public Counsel, Mental Health Advocacy Services, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, ACLU of Arizona, and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
“It was an amazing experience to be a part of the Franco-Gonzalez v. Holder case,” Carmen said. “Not only did I work with a team of brilliant immigrants’ rights advocates, I became part of a truly historic moment – the first time a court recognized the right to legal representation for a group of immigrants in immigration proceedings. I can see how my work as an impact litigator can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of individuals.”
Today, Carmen is the primary contact for immigrant detainees across Arizona, California, and Washington states, which enables her to be in constant communication with them and their families. Carmen attributes her passion to serve other Latinos and other immigrants across the United States to her background as a Latina and her Puerto Rican roots.
“Now that I am an attorney, I think being a Latina allows me to connect with clients on a much deeper and more meaningful level. Having someone who can understand their language and relate to their culture and experiences goes a long way in establishing a trusting relationship between me and my clients,” she said.
Carmen expressed that being an Equal Justice Works Fellow allowed her to become part of a community when she joined the ACLU team. When she came on board, the ACLU of Southern California was working on an access to counsel case involving immigrant detainees with serious mental disabilities, which was a project started by another Equal Justice Works Fellow. In addition, she said she values the established relationships with previous Fellows and her ability to collaborate with current Fellows on their overlapping projects.
Carmen said she feels “lucky to join them in thinking about how we can continue to expand legal services and access rights to other vulnerable immigrant groups.”
AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary
Equal Justice Works and AmeriCorps have partnered to create a lasting impact in communities across the United States. Together, the two have expanded legal services to low-income and underserved communities by facilitating volunteer opportunities and resolving critical legal problems that prevent people from having decent jobs, safe housing, and stable family lives.
Supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service(CNCS), the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship program – the only national legal program to be funded by AmeriCorps – was created in 1993 to address gaps in the legal aid community through pro bono management and direct representation.
As AmeriCorps celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Equal Justice Works recognizes the more than 500 AmeriCorps Legal Fellows (full-time attorneys) and thousands of law students who have provided legal services to thousands of people across the country on a variety of issues, including veterans assistance, foreclosure prevention, and disaster relief.
In 2010, with support from CNCS, Equal Justice Works launched a veterans legal advocacy pilot project to test the concept that AmeriCorps lawyers and law student members could significantly improve the lives of low-income and homeless veterans. In three years, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellows have served more than 10,000 veterans and have secured concrete benefits worth more than $3.3 million.
When the mortgage foreclosure crisis hit in 2009, Equal Justice Works and AmeriCorps placed 30 AmeriCorps Legal Fellows across the country to provide legal assistance to those facing financial challenges due to the recession. In three years, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellows prevented foreclosure for 2,342 families in crisis in states hardest hit by this economic crisis and helped save an additional 365 homes from foreclosure
AmeriCorps Legal Fellows have been the “first responders” of the legal community after many significant natural and environmental disasters– including Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, the Joplin tornado, and Superstorm Sandy – and have helped survivors recover their livelihoods and overcome the many legal obstacles they faced.
AmeriCorps Legal Fellows provided direct legal assistance to 5,411 individuals affected by Hurricane Katrina.
In response to the BP oil spill disaster and the devastating tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, AmeriCorps Legal Fellows were deployed to help survivors recover their livelihoods and overcome the many legal obstacles facing these residents. In the 2011-2012 service year, fellows represented 1,488 disaster victims with their legal issues.
In December 2012 and January 2013, three AmeriCorps Legal Fellows were assigned to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. They assisted 613 hurricane victims to access FEMA grants and private insurance and to secure safe housing, helping those affected by Sandy rebuild their lives.
We look forward to continuing our work with AmeriCorps for many years to come!
Student Debt Treats (No Tricks Here!)
Welcome to October! Halloween is on its way and, as always, Equal Justice Works is giving out free student debt webinars. They’re like candy bars, but filled with nutritious information on student debt instead of gooey chocolate, nuts and caramel. Luckily you don’t have to choose. You can have a candy bar and view a webinar at the same time. Just don’t get chocolate on the keyboard if you ask us a question.
Last month we had the opportunity to make in person visits to three great law schools: Chase College of Law, the University of Cincinnati School of Law and the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. It was an opportunity to talk in-depth with their amazing students about powerful federal programs like Pay As You Earnand Public Service Loan Forgiveness that can help them manage their debt while they pursue their careers. If you would like to arrange a visit to your law school, contact Isaac at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The big news for student loan borrowers is the White House’s plan to make college more affordable. As we reported in the Student Loan Ranger, the most beneficial proposal is allowing all borrowers to enroll in Pay As You Earn.
Pay As You Earn is the new income-driven repayment plan that caps payments at 10 percent of a borrower's income and provides for forgiveness after 20 years. Currently only “new borrowers” – those who borrowed their first federal loan on or after Oct. 1, 2007 and received a new loan on or after Oct. 1, 2011 – are eligible for the plan.
This is a much needed step forward, but it will require Congress to take action. If you and everyone you know want to make a real impact and help students repay their loans rather than go into default, urge your Representative and Senators to write and pass legislation opening up Pay As You Earn to every borrower.