2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Sophia Wrench

The Project

Sophia (she/her/ella) will advance economic justice for low-income street vendors through direct legal services, community education, and policy advocacy.

Los Angeles County is home to over 50,000 street vendors, the majority of whom are women and people of color who earn only about $15,000 a year. Street vending is an economic driver for vendors’ families and their entire community, offering a path to build a business, create jobs, and circulate capital in disinvested neighborhoods. Despite many benefits of street vending, California has a long history of criminalizing and excluding street vendors from the economy with devastating consequences. Two recent California laws could make street vending easier and less expensive. Without the infrastructure of legal support to assist with implementation on a local level, however, the laws will be ineffective, and vendors will continue to struggle with navigating bureaucracy and potential criminalization. Economic inclusion is within reach for LA’s street vendors, but vendors need specific legal support to make this a reality.

Fellowship Plans

Sophia will build on her previous work during law school with Public Counsel and the Los Angeles Street Vending Coalition to expand grassroots vendor-centered advocacy. Sophia will provide direct services to vendors through representation in enforcement actions, hold health food permit clinics, and conduct Know Your Rights workshops. She will monitor and provide technical assistance to cities and counties related to the implementation of their local street vending regulations. Lastly, she will build out infrastructure projects around vending that were enabled by the passage of SB 972 in California, such as the expanded use of commercial kitchens as commissary kitchens and facilitating the development of a new vending cart prototype with direct vendor input.

Street vending is a way that low-income immigrants of color can sustain themselves in an economic system that is heavily weighted against them. Doing this work fulfills and motivates me because I am helping others succeed and build something of their own that can help break the cycle of poverty.

Sophia Wrench /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Tiffany (she/her/hers) will provide for the economic empowerment of women experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Wichita Falls, Texas and the surrounding rural communities through direct representation, on-site intake at service provider locations, and community outreach.

The Texas Homeless Network estimates that in 2019 more than 8,000 people experienced homelessness in 215 rural Texas counties; additionally, in a 2020 report, the Texas Tribune showed that rural homelessness in Texas was up 33%. COVID-19 continues to pose risks for those experiencing homelessness as social services have become more limited, and the economic effects of the pandemic have put more Americans at risk of homelessness. With this trend of increasing homelessness, it is important to note that women’s homelessness is highly associated with exacerbating factors such as domestic violence and sexual exploitation/harassment, violent victimization, human trafficking, and trauma—all of which deteriorate mental health. Rural, low-income Texans already have difficulty accessing basic legal services; furthermore, rural areas in Texas generally lack dedicated resources to find and aid those experiencing homelessness, leaving churches and faith-based organizations as some of the few community lifelines.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Tiffany will focus on homelessness and homelessness prevention for women in the rural communities served by the Wichita Falls office of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. She will create and maintain partnerships with local non-profit and faith-based organizations that serve women experiencing or at risk of homelessness through outreach and on-site community intake to make civil legal aid accessible to this population. Tiffany will remove barriers to employment and sustainable housing by handling expunctions and nondisclosures of criminal records and litigating civil protective orders. Additionally, she will conduct community surveys to collect data on the additional legal needs of these women.

I do not know what it is like to be a homeless woman living in rural Texas. I do know, however, that it is my calling to use my legal knowledge to transform society into one that uplifts the marginalized.

Tiffany Uke /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Brenda (she/her/hers) will launch an innovative CDFI-Legal Partnership (CDFI-LP) to provide immigration and small business legal services which address the nexus between immigration status and economic justice for immigrants in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s Latinx population is growing steadily while the state’s white population has begun to decline. However, the typical white family in Minnesota holds five times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. This disparity extends to Latinx-owned businesses. Most recently, immigrant entrepreneurs were significantly impacted by the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racial injustice. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, protests were centered in the heart of the immigrant business districts of Minneapolis in St. Paul, having the unintended consequences of property damage and extended business closures.

Immigration status directly impacts the stability felt by immigrant business owners and their family members. Gaining pathways to legal status and citizenship would allow entrepreneurs to invest more confidently in their future.

Fellowship Plans

This project will create a partnership between three non-profit organizations to serve clients more holistically and efficiently. The fellow will directly engage with Latinx entrepreneurs and their family members by providing legal intake, direct legal services, and referrals to staff attorneys and pro bono volunteers. Additionally, she will create a case study of this unique partnership and provide trainings to organizations and trade associations interested in replicating this model elsewhere.

As the granddaughter of immigrants, I felt a strong desire to serve immigrants who choose to make Minnesota their home. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has allowed me to use my CDFI background and firm belief in the power of community partnerships to serve the legal needs of Minnesota’s Latinx community.

Brenda Pfahnl /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Miles’ (he/him/his) project focuses on minimizing the crippling effects of heirs’ property on intergenerational wealth building in Middle Tennessee’s Black communities through free estate planning services, representation in partition litigation, and community education.

Miles’s project uses estate planning to help narrow the Black-white wealth gap in Middle Tennessee. Homeownership is the primary method of wealth-building in the United States, but Black Americans own homes at lower rates than other racial groups, and their homes are disproportionately held in heirs’ property. Heirs’ property is a form of joint ownership created when property owners die without an estate plan, which minimizes the owners’ home equity and makes their property vulnerable to a forced sale. Miles’s project will help community members prevent heirs’ property, maximize equity, and advocate for procedural rights in actions to force sale.

Miles was raised in Sumner County, Tennessee where many of his neighbors and family members own heirs’ property. His firsthand familiarity with the vulnerabilities of heirs’ property ownership has motivated him to pursue community-based legal work to minimize its harmful effects on families’ capacity to build intergenerational wealth.

Fellowship Plans

To promote understanding of how heirs’ property ownership diminishes wealth, Miles will conduct community education clinics throughout Middle Tennessee’s Black communities. By providing free estate planning services to (non-heirs) property owners, Miles will also help prevent the promulgation of heirs’ property and help Black property owners begin a legacy of estate planning in their families. For families that own heirs’ property, Miles will facilitate succession plans and advocate for robust procedural rights during partition litigation.


Miles Malbrough ’22 To Address Estate Planning in Nashville’s Black Community as Equal Justice Works Fellow

The racial wealth gap undergirds countless racial inequities in the United States. I am thrilled at the opportunity to help Black communities build wealth through better access to legal services.

Miles Malbrough /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mikayla (she/her/hers) will represent clients and educate members of the community on heirs’ property issues to help underserved communities build generational wealth through land and property ownership.

Heirs’ property occurs when an individual dies without a will. When there is no will, families who inherit the land lack a clear title to the land, which developers then use to their advantage to purchase the land, often without the knowledge of all the family members. Heirs’ property disproportionately affects African Americans and has resulted in a loss of vast amounts of land.

Growing up in South Carolina, Mikayla has seen many Black families lose their lands over the years and the demographics and cultures of cities rapidly change. After attending law school, Mikayla believes that, through the legal system, traditionally underserved communities can fight to keep their land and preserve their culture.

Fellowship Plans

Mikayla will represent clients in traditionally underserved communities in matters such as will writing and estate planning. Mikayla will also conduct educational seminars regarding heirs’ property and the importance of land preservation. At the end of her fellowship, Mikayla plans to compose a symposium where she will invite experts and scholars in heirs’ property and land loss issues to come and speak about heirs’ property in their respective regions.


Law school research helped recent graduate land prestigious fellowship

As a mixed-race woman from the south, minority land ownership is important to me. My ancestors were not allowed to own property- but instead were property. Through this fellowship, I plan to address the racist history of the American legal system.

Mikayla Mangle /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alexis’s (she/her) project with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program will challenge and reform occupational licensing regimes that exclude women of color from gainful employment based on criminal arrest or conviction history.

Nearly one in three working-age adults have criminal records in the United States, and one in four jobs require a license from the government. Many people are summarily denied licenses because of past convictions or arrests, even when that history has no relationship to their ability to work in that industry competently and safely. Eliminating these restrictions will allow women of color who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system to have expanded access to employment.

Throughout her career working to end the criminalization of poverty, Alexis has spoken with many people stuck in cycles of poverty and incarceration due to an unjust system of laws and regulations that makes it extremely difficult to find gainful employment. Eliminating these discriminatory occupational licensing restrictions will break these cycles by ensuring people have every opportunity to support themselves and their families.

Fellowship Plans

Alexis will challenge current occupational licensing restrictions through litigation and storytelling advocacy. She will partner with re-entry organizations to share stories of people who have struggled to find employment due to these harmful licensing restrictions. Amplifying these important stories will demonstrate the devastating impact these restrictions have on people of color. Alexis will also bring litigation to strike down restrictions that disproportionately exclude women of color.

Equitable access to employment is essential for living a productive, successful life in this country. Removing unnecessary and unfair occupational licensing restrictions has the potential to open millions of jobs to millions of people.

Alexis Alvarez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Juan (he/his/him) equipped low-income entrepreneurs and community-based organizations with the legal tools to help build a more equitable small business economy that moves capital and power into the hands of Los Angeles communities of color.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended Los Angeles’s small business economy. And like the virus’s health impacts, its economic effects have disproportionately harmed communities of color and continue to exacerbate systemic racism. In LA’s Asian ethnic enclaves, many family-owned, immigrant businesses were unable to navigate recovery programs, with more and faster relief services directed to majority white, west-side areas. In South LA, predominantly low-income Black and Latino communities were kept from financial assistance and the last to have accessible testing sites–months after the breakout. In East LA, street vendors were excluded from relief programs and forced to rely on small cash grants provided by nonprofits for basic sustenance and survival.

Juan’s love of the immigrant community that carried him forward—the ingenuity, resilience, and joyful magic—fueled his passion to fight for racial and economic justice at Public Counsel in Los Angeles.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Juan:

  • Provided transactional legal assistance to help minority-owned small businesses access recovery and survive financial hardship
  • Expanded the capacity of community-based organizations to develop new ownership models for cooperative economic success
  • Engaged in policy advocacy through narrative and visual arts platforms that elevate the voices of low-income entrepreneurs of color


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I’m excited to join a growing coalition of advocates that will shift power in ways that uplift the stories of people like my parents—Mexican working-class immigrants that have lived an entire life serving and making others feel more at home.

Juan Espinoza Muñoz /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Madison (she/her/hers) represents low-­income individuals exposed to lead in housing, in collaboration with community partners and private attorneys, strategically targeting portfolio landlords to achieve the highest impact.

Illinois has one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the country. Lead exposure in housing—the most common type of lead exposure for children—disproportionately burdens communities of color and people living in poverty. Lead exposure in children can cause life­long brain damage that impacts communities for generations. In housing, lead can be abated, and even small reductions in lead exposure can make a difference, preventing future harm.

Madison knew that she wanted to pursue justice for marginalized communities before she knew she wanted to a lawyer. Madison’s work is rooted in the belief that marginalized communities are knowledgeable, capable, and worthy of human rights. She hopes to use her voice and privilege to uplift those without the opportunities she has been given.

Fellowship Plans

Madison will directly represent low-­income families in Chicago who have been exposed to lead due to unsafe housing conditions with community ­informed impactful legal solutions. Madison will target portfolio landlords and landlords with repeat offenses. She will identify these bad actors by collaborating with community organizations in the areas most affected by lead. She will also work with community organizations to identify potential clients and directly represent these organizations. In pursuing these lawsuits, Madison will collaborate with pro bono and private attorneys, seeking holistic outcomes for her clients and creating a toolkit to provide comprehensive, enduring services.


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Making Our Communities More Equitable

I know what it is like to look around the room, as a small child and as an adult, and realize that no one is going to defend you, even if you are right. Tenants living in under resourced communities have the knowledge and strength to evaluate their needs, but an avenue for justice is missing.

Madison Wiegand Brown /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Sam (he/him/his) increased access to traditional transactional legal services for low-income, BIPOC, and women entrepreneurs and helped them navigate the legal barriers to raising capital through accessible securities offerings.

Despite accounting for more than 50% of New York City’s population, Black and Latinx individuals own less than 10% of New York City businesses. Black or Latinx individuals that are able to start a business are pushed toward lower-financed ventures with lower survival rates. In fact, these entrepreneurs are three times more likely to have growth and profitability negatively impacted by a lack of capital than white entrepreneurs. However, the specialized nature of securities law means that for most under-resourced businesses, finding and/or paying the cost of legal counsel is a barrier to access.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Sam:

  • Helped under-resourced businesses grow, create jobs, and build community wealth
  • Counseled clients on avenues to raise funds through accessible, exempt securities offerings
  • Prepared all necessary legal documents and undertook any necessary compliance filings
  • Worked with Start Small’s in-house finance and marketing teams to effectively design, structure, and market the offerings
  • Created an education program to inform entrepreneurs and the public about local securities offerings.


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I want the businesses in the community to reflect the people of the community, while at the same time making sure that entrepreneurs can pay themselves a reasonable salary, hire the help they need, and build for the future.

Sam Karlin /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Emmy tackled barriers to occupational licensing for workers with criminal records by representing clients with records through the licensing process, presenting rights education for impacted people and other stakeholders, and advocating for licensing policy change in the community and legislature.

Forty percent of Georgia residents have a criminal record, and 14% of jobs in Georgia require an occupational license. Licensure involves a background check, but the background-check eligibility rules are unclear, and licensing boards have wide discretion to consider arrest records, old or expunged convictions, and non-convictions like diversion programs and deferred adjudications. For these reasons, having a record severely hinders workers from pursuing and obtaining work in licensed fields. Workers with records—who are disproportionately Black and brown—deserve fair access to occupational licenses and licensed jobs.

As a Southerner, Emmy feels strongly about opposing injustice in her home region, especially the consequences of the racially oppressive and unjust criminal legal system. She is thankful to Georgia Justice Project for sharing these values and is thrilled to work with Georgians with criminal records to expand access to employment and economic stability for all Georgians.

Fellowship Highlights

During her two-year Fellowship, Emmy:

  • Educated directly impacted people on their rights in the licensing process and common barriers to licensure, through Know Your Rights presentations and event flyers
  • Represented 20 clients in licensing proceedings—helping clients pursue, obtain, and retain occupational licenses despite criminal record
  • Advised 100 individuals on their eligibility and rights
  • Convened an occupational licensing policy task force with state legislators, state agencies, and policy organizations
  • Organized and educated a licensing policy coalition of workforce organizations, educational institutions, service providers, local and national policy advocates, and professional associations
  • Connected with state licensing boards and agencies about licensing policy reform and developing more opportunities for applicants with criminal records
  • Researched policy reforms and potential impact litigation strategy

Next Steps

Emmy will continue representing licensing clients and advocating for policy reform as a Staff Attorney at Georgia Justice Project. She looks forward to more legislative progress that will benefit her clients and remove arbitrary obstacles to licensing in Georgia.


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As I serve clients at Georgia Justice Project who face irrational, unjust barriers to employment, stability, and reentry, I hope to amplify their voices and stories as examples of those fighting for change and justice in Georgia and across the South.

Emmy Williams /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow