2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Nketiah Berko

The Project

Nketiah (he/him/his) will provide legal representation and advocacy on behalf of Black residents in the D.C. metropolitan area at risk of losing family homes due to unclear or encumbered titles.

Black Americans disproportionately do not have a will or access to probate planning—which often leads to unclear or tangled property titles. So-called “heirs’ properties” are more vulnerable to deed scams, equity theft, and higher property tax bills. Tax and Medicaid liens similarly encumber estates, extracting equity and inhibiting intergenerational wealth transfers in low-income families. Black homeowners need legal resources to aid in the transfer of home and home equity across generations, as well as policy advocacy to challenge the various debts disproportionately saddled onto Black homes.

As a child of immigrants, Nketiah is committed to protecting Black families from physical displacement and promoting their economic advancement.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Nketiah will provide direct legal services to help heirs access loan modifications, pursue probate or a probate alternative, and address Medicaid and tax liens that put the family home at risk. He will also create informational guides to outline how families, both before or after a death, can smoothly pass down their homes. Finally, Nketiah will author a report detailing and making policy recommendations to remedy systemic property lien issues and racially disparate access to estate planning resources.

Media

Nketiah Berko Returns to NCLC as Equal Justice Works Fellow

By challenging the various encumbrances that render Black homes and Black wealth vulnerable to dispossession, I hope to help more Black families enjoy the long-denied security—both physical and financial—provided by homeownership.

Nketiah Berko /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Renee will advocate for immigrants and people with limited English proficiency in the Bay Area who are targeted by fraud and scams.

Scams skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they did not affect all communities equally. Scammers intentionally target immigrants and people with limited English proficiency (LEP) with threats and false promises of assistance. Immigrant and LEP victims of scams face barriers to attaining help because many institutions’ reporting procedures are accessible only in English and contacting law enforcement may put them or their family members at risk of immigration consequences.

Without consumer protection legal services focused on the unique needs of immigrants and LEP individuals, scammers will go unchecked and financial institutions will continue to look the other way, with devastating consequences for immigrant communities.

Renée believes that consumer rights are immigrants’ rights. She has a background in immigration law and consumer law, and she sees the potential of working at the intersection of these two fields to strengthen protections for immigrants in the Bay Area.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Renée will represent low-income immigrants and LEP individuals who have experienced scams, focusing on liability for financial institutions that fail to prevent or adequately investigate fraudulent activity. Working with a network of community partners throughout Alameda County, Renée will conduct outreach to targeted communities and share information about how people can spot, avoid, and recover from scams. Renée will operate community-based legal clinics to help victims of scams safely pursue consumer law remedies and will work closely with immigration attorneys to provide wraparound support to her clients.

Media

Welcoming Equal Justice Works Fellow Renée Coe

Working at Bay Area Legal Aid’s Consumer Rights Clinic, I saw firsthand the devastating impact that scams have on immigrants and their families. This Fellowship will give me the opportunity to provide consumer law services tailored to the specific needs of immigrant communities.

Renée Coe /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jennifer (she/her/hers) works to eliminate medical debt in Washington, D.C., with hopes to advance economic and racial equity through direct representation, policy advocacy, and hospital-based reform.

Medical debt is the largest source of debt Americans owe collections agencies. Residents of D.C. hold over $700 million in medical debt, with households of color in the area over 300% more likely to hold medical debt than their white neighbors. This medical debt leads to many negative financial and psychological consequences. Although D.C. has expanded Medicaid eligibility, many thousands of residents are still uninsured or under-insured and unable to pay steep medical bills, particularly in light of the impacts of COVID-19. No local legal service provider in D.C. currently focuses on addressing medical debt.

Fellowship Plans

Through her project, Jennifer will provide direct legal representation to D.C. residents holding medical debt. She will conduct community education sessions to mitigate future medical debt loads by helping community members access hospital financial assistance. She will advocate for increased protections for holders of medical debt under D.C. laws. Finally, Jennifer will collaborate with hospitals in the area to help them sell their written-off bad debt to RIP Medical Debt, which will then forgive the debt entirely.

Media

Tzedek DC’s Jennifer Holloway on CFPB Medical Debt Panel

Equal Justice Works Awards Medical Debt Fellowship at Tzedek DC

Re-thinking medical debt in D.C. is an important step forward in eliminating the racial wealth gap and advancing equity within our nation’s capital.

Jennifer Holloway /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Molly (she/her/hers) will increase housing stability for low-income renters of Southeast Louisiana by targeting rent debt, a significant barrier to obtaining safe housing.

The pandemic caused millions of tenants to fall behind on rent through no fault of their own. Following the expiration of eviction protections, many tenants are now faced with wage and bank account garnishments, diminished credit ratings, and losing access to safe and stable housing. The situation is particularly acute in Southeast Louisiana, where Hurricane Ida badly damaged an already insufficient supply of affordable housing.

Fellowship Plans

Molly will represent tenants who have been sued for alleged rent debt or have had debt referred to collection agencies. She plans to bring claims under federal consumer protection statutes against landlords and debt buyers engaging in abusive practices. Molly will also help renters understand their rights to dispute inaccurate credit reporting and supplement tenancy applications under a new Louisiana state law (HB 374). Finally, she will work in a coalition with housing advocacy groups for state and local policy solutions to the rent debt crisis in Louisiana.

Protecting tenants is essential to a just and equitable recovery from the pandemic. We must ensure that the most vulnerable tenants before the pandemic do not experience the most severe consequences in the years to come.

Molly Gordon /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Caroline (she/her/hers) will use consumer protection laws to advocate on behalf of low-income individuals affected by the criminal legal system through direct representation, education, and policy reform.

Fines, fees, and criminal justice debt exacerbate the harms of involvement with the criminal legal system. Courts impose monetary sanctions for the vast majority of criminal convictions, which, even for minor offenses, can amount to thousands of dollars due to late fees and interest. Individuals and their families are also preyed upon by private actors who profit off of the criminal legal system, including bail agents, prison telecommunications providers, and criminal background screening companies, many of which perform background checks inaccurately or unlawfully. These harmful practices disproportionately impact people of color and impede individuals’ abilities to secure housing, obtain employment, and build wealth.

Caroline is motivated to join the National Consumer Law Center’s team as a Fellow so that she can harness consumer law as one means of addressing the deep and varied harms propagated by the criminal legal system.

Fellowship Plans

Caroline will use consumer law to advocate on behalf of low-income individuals harmed by the criminal legal system. She will represent individuals who have been injured by criminal background screening companies that unlawfully report their criminal records to prospective landlords and employers. She will also develop litigation materials to help legal services providers more effectively advocate on behalf of clients with these kinds of claims. Additionally, she will advocate for policy reform and produce a report on fines and fees associated with alternative forms of punishment, such as electronic monitoring.

Media

New Report Examines the Harm of Tenant Screening on Renters

Making Phone Calls From Prison Is Now Free in Massachusetts

Interning with the National Consumer Law Center exposed me to the ways predatory financial interests lengthen and compound criminal-system involvement for already-marginalized individuals and their loved ones.

Caroline Cohn /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Latasha will provide free civil legal aid in disaster-prone areas to ensure vital legal services are accessible, comprehensive, and responsive to the unique needs of individuals, families, and communities to rebuild lives, stabilize neighborhoods and create resilience.

The needs addressed by her project include the various unmet needs of disaster survivors in being informed of their legal rights and options for resources in the areas of housing, consumer, and government and community programs. Since some of the many unmet needs of disaster survivors in housing include landlord/tenant issues related to housing conditions, evictions, and repairs, these are areas that she will focus her efforts on. Some other unmet needs that she intends to address include a variety of consumer rights issues, especially in the realm of contractor abuses or failures to provide agreed-upon work or contractor liens where work was not completed as agreed.

Latasha has been especially inspired by disaster resiliency because, until her exposure to this area of law, she did not realize just how vast of a range there was in unmet legal needs following a disaster. She has always had a passion for housing and consumer rights legal issues. Her connection to disaster involved members of her own family who were affected by a significant storm in the Atlanta area back in 2018. In this case, her mother’s house was blown into pieces, and her mom and family were displaced with nothing short of a few days’ assistance from a community partner. It was in this personal instance of turmoil that she realized just how dismayed a family could become when hit by a disaster and sudden tragedy.

Fellowship Plans

Latasha plans to provide free civil legal aid in disaster-prone areas to ensure vital legal services are accessible to the unique needs of individuals, families, and communities affected by the disaster. Some of the significant activities intended to accomplish these goals include providing direct legal services, delivering outreach and education to underserved communities through “Know Your Rights” presentations and collaborating with partners, other legal aid organizations, and cohort Fellows to serve communities impacted by the disaster.

Latasha previously served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps.

The Project

Kristen promoted economic justice for survivors of domestic violence and other vulnerable populations through direct representation and community trainings on debt collection.

Nearly every victim of domestic violence suffers from some form of financial abuse. The rise of easily accessible credit cards has rapidly increased financial abuse through consumer credit, also known as coerced debt. By knowing the victim’s personal information, an abuser can destroy a victim’s credit score by opening unauthorized credit cards in the victim’s name and then hiding the bills. Damaged credit scores impede a victim’s ability to access necessary resources for leaving an abusive relationship such as obtaining housing, a vehicle, and even employment.

Kristen’s experience as a teacher and organizer grounded her commitment to advocating for economic justice for survivors of domestic violence and their families.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Kristen represented consumers in small claims court and developed a coerced debt defense. She trained volunteer attorneys and domestic violence advocates to help victims identify and address financial abuse. Through representation in debt collection proceedings, challenges to credit reporting issues, and community programming, this project ensured that victims were not unjustly separated from the economic resources necessary to secure their independence.

Media

Bor-Zale, Nawab and Warren Awarded Equal Justice Works Fellowships

I am honored to join the work of GBLS in helping survivors of domestic violence regain financial stability.

Kristen Bor-Zale /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Laura organizes clinics that address the unmet, pressing legal needs of people living in the Trans-Pecos region of far west Texas; during these clinics, TRLA offers holistic legal services to clients and establishes referral networks in remote communities.

Access to justice is an urgent issue for this rural area’s low-income population, who live across 31,000 square miles of high Chihuahuan desert. Laura will increase TRLA’s presence in hard-to-reach areas by conducting clinics that address recurring legal issues she has identified. By developing contacts in these areas, Laura strengthens TRLA’s referral networks, which connect TRLA’s holistic legal services to very rural communities.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is the only legal aid organization that provides direct services to this vast area. TRLA’s office in Alpine, consisting of just two attorneys, is still a two-hour drive for many clients. Access to justice is a pressing need for low-income residents in this area.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Laura has:

  • Connected with community leaders and advocates to identify recurring, unmet legal needs in the Trans-Pecos region
  • Researched procedures for protesting property tax appraisals and then used social media and weekly newspapers to provide information and education to low-income homeowners
  • Provided direct representation to survivors of domestic violence in the Trans-Pecos area

Next Steps

In the next year, Laura plans to:

  • Organize pro se assisted divorce clinics in areas where TRLA historically has low levels of engagement
  • Develop a needs assessment for clinic participants that will enable TRLA to provide holistic legal services
  • Further develop referral networks in rural communities where TRLA is not well-known
  • Continue representing clients in family law matters

I grew up in a small town in rural Colorado, and my previous experience living in the Trans-Pecos area inspired my decision to go to law school. Access to justice in remote areas is a unique and pressing need that I am excited to address.

Laura Tucker /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Claire assisted severely debt-burdened borrowers in California in managing and discharging their federal student loan debts, and particularly addressed abusive practices by predatory for-profit colleges and student loan servicers.

Fellowship Plan

Federal student loan debt has grown tremendously in the U.S. in recent years: currently, there are approximately 45 million people holding $1.7 trillion in such debts. Approximately one-third will not be able to make their payments, the majority of whom attended for-profit colleges. This crisis is particularly acute for low-income communities and people of color, who are targeted through aggressive advertising and marketing. Borrowers’ legal rights to various types of federal student debt discharge and to more optimal repayment plans are under-enforced and insufficiently vindicated. Education should be a key to social mobility, personal development, and achieving one’s life aspirations. The industries that have exploited this promise in pursuit of private profits harm students and society at large and must be held accountable

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Claire has:

  • Assisted approximately 160 clients with managing student loan repayment and defaults; applying for student loan forgiveness; and student loan servicing issues
  • Obtained federal student loan discharges for clients totaling over $200,000; and $10,460 in refunds from the California Student Tuition Recovery Fund
  • Worked in conjunction with co-counsel on litigation challenging the Department of Education’s unlawful handling of borrower defense to repayment applications

Next Steps

Claire will continue to advocate for robust consumer protection for student loan borrowers at the Student Borrower Protection Center, based in Washington D.C.

Media

Education Department Officials Secretly Rigged Process to Deny Borrower Defense Applications For Debt Relief, Project on Predatory Student Lending

College Enrollment Drops, Student Debt Grows: Will Debt Cancellation Help?

Andrea Campos, like many others, is struggling to stay financially afloat with student loans

The Inspiration