2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Elissa Gray

The Project

Elissa (she/her/hers) will increase access to writ review for low-income domestic violence survivors facing harmful orders that lack adequate remedies through direct representation, resource development, and community partnerships.

Survivors of domestic violence use the civil court system to request legal orders (such as writ petitions) that can improve their safety and security. However, when reviewing these requests, judges can misunderstand the law, choose to misapply the law, or fall prey to biases. This leaves survivors to deal with the effects of dangerous legal decisions and a lack of protection. Survivors need appellate level intervention to challenge harmful orders—and they often need it immediately, as they are unable to wait years for a direct appeal. Therefore, the necessary remedy is a writ petition, but writ review for domestic violence survivors is an underdeveloped area of law and largely inaccessible.

Elissa’s personal and professional experience with survivor advocacy motivates her to ensure survivors have meaningful choices through the law.

Fellowship Plans

Elissa will advocate for the improved safety and well-being of domestic violence survivors by making writs an alternative and more feasible appellate remedy. Elissa will design a screening, assessment, and direct representation framework for writ cases, expanding on the Family Violence Appellate Project’s successful model for direct appeals. She will then use that framework and her case outcomes to develop and distribute external resources to advocates and survivors across California. At every stage, Elissa will collaborate with community partners to ensure the effectiveness and accessibility of her project.

Media

Greenberg Traurig Sponsors Record 201st Equal Justice Works Fellow

I grew up supporting survivors because they are my family, my friends, and my loved ones. This project allows me to continue that advocacy by developing tools and offering support for survivors to empower themselves in the legal system.

Elissa Gray /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Maria Fernanda (she/her/hers) will represent and advise low-income immigrant women and children placed in time-restricted proceedings in Immigration Court while pursuing impact litigation to ensure systemic failings in these proceedings are addressed.

The Dedicated Docket is a program that places thousands of low-income immigrant families in time-restricted proceedings: Their cases must be adjudicated within 300 days of their first hearing before an immigration judge. This is an impossibly short timeframe to locate an attorney, gather necessary supporting evidence, and prepare legal arguments. The families, who predominantly speak a language other than English and have no legal training, must face the convoluted immigration system without a legal advocate. These families are five times less likely to win their cases compared to those who are represented by an attorney.

Fellowship Plans

Maria Fernanda will provide direct representation to immigrants on the Dedicated Docket and conduct outreach to pro se litigants. She will also explore impact litigation to stop the Department of Justice from continuing to implement the Dedicated Docket. Finally, she will directly represent women and children who have been ordered removed by reopening their cases to assert asylum based on novel arguments; for example, by arguing that the truncated nature of the Dedicated Docket proceedings violates basic due process rights.

Media

Maria F. Garcia-syngros ’22 Is Named a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

I am incredibly honored to be an Equal Justice Works Fellow. This Fellowship has allowed me to meet a need in the immigration system that would otherwise go unaddressed.

Maria F. Garcia-Syngros /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Evelyn will provide pro se record sealing resources to low-income individuals in Harris County, Texas through an innovative, technology-driven tool.

The free, public self-help website ClearYourRecordHarrisCounty.org, launched by The Beacon in August 2021, and made possible through funding from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, allows any individual with a Harris County criminal record to determine eligibility to seal their record through nondisclosure and navigate through the step-by-step process of self-filing in Harris County.

There are approximately 400,000 individuals with Harris County criminal records who are eligible to have all or part of their record sealed. This Fellowship project is focused on connecting with those individuals whose records are preventing them from accessing housing, employment, and educational opportunities. In doing so, the project seeks to address the racial and economic disparities reflected in the criminal justice system.

Fellowship Plans

Evelyn will help users navigate ClearYourRecordHarrisCounty.org and the pro se process, and she will track and troubleshoot common barriers in navigating the site. She will provide direct representation for ancillary civil legal issues to wholly remove individuals’ legal obstacles to employment and housing. Through case manager workshops and clinics, she will also help community organizations and pro bono attorneys assist users in completing the forms for filing. The long-term goal of the project is to increase the number of pro se filings and to work with courts and government entities to improve procedures for pro se filers in Harris County.

For people who do not have much, a criminal record becomes the weight that keeps them from accessing all the basic things that help one thrive in life: an education, a good job, and a place to live. By removing legal barriers, this project creates opportunity and gives people in need a chance to overcome other obstacles in their lives.

Evelyn Garcia Lopez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Tomi engages in legal design to create an eviction self-help tool kit to include roadmaps, videos, and fillable forms for both counties which have adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act and those which have not, and to hold statewide community clinics to assist self-help tenants facing eviction to know their rights and reduce default judgements.

Tomi’s history of volunteering in prisons and working with justice-involved individuals inspired her to seek out access to justice work. Being born and raised in rural Tennessee also motivated her to pursue opportunities to bring programs and services to under-resourced areas.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Tomi has:

  • Provided full representation to 12 clients and brief services and/or advice to 80 individuals
  • Acquired $100,000 in Tennessee Housing Development Agency COVID-19 Rental Relief program assistance funds for clients in local counties
  • Represented clients in the rollout collaboration for a pilot eviction prevention program with the L.E.G.A.C.Y. Housing Resource Diversionary Court, the Metropolitan Development Housing Agency, the Metropolitan Action Commission, and Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands (LAS)
  • Created reasonable accommodation videos regarding service and assistance animals for local government
  • Delivered a community education presentation on COVID-19 rental relief programs statewide, reaching over 250 individuals
  • Presented at the 2021 National Legal Aid & Defender Association Conference in Nashville on the topic of Amplifying Civil Legal Aid through Collaborations and Partnerships
  • Assisted with client calls on the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) Helpline and with resources on the TALS Help4TN website

Next Steps

In the next few months, Tomi plans to:

  • Finalize the digital housing roadmap that incorporates fillable legal forms to assist pro se tenants in eviction prevention
  • Increase reach and functionality of the LAS Reentry application and the consistent availability of expungement services
  • Prepare and deliver a presentation regarding the impact of roadmaps on housing stability legal services at the TALS Equal Justice University Conference
  • Provide direct representation to clients in housing court and landlord negotiations

Media

UT Knoxville Advisory Board Recommends Zero Percent Tuition Increase

Graduate selected to serve public interest law fellowship

As a first-generation college student, I am passionate about seeing families equipped and empowered to rise and develop supportive programming within communities.

Tomi Robb /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ty advocated on behalf of indigent individuals in some of Mississippi’s most underserved communities by helping pro se litigants navigate the court system.

Ty’s Fellowship sought to address the desperate need of indigent litigants for civil legal representation, without which they are driven to economic subjugation. The Legal Services Corporation estimates that there is only one free lawyer for every 6,415 indigent citizens in America. With studies suggesting that litigation with representation increases a litigant’s odds by 75%, there is a growing cycle of failure for the poor and marginalized. This is particularly true in Mississippi, a state with a poverty rate of 19% (nearly 8% higher than the rest of the country) and over 50% of the population in liquid asset poverty.

Ty is dedicated to public service and committed to developing resources to help underserved communities.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Ty:

  • Implemented the Justice Court Navigator program in six counties throughout the Mississippi Delta
  • Established regular office hours in county courthouses, offering advice to indigent litigants and serving over 750 individuals
  • Trained local law students, interns, and volunteer community members to serve as Justice Court Navigators
  • Assisted indigent litigants with understanding the justice court system and winning their cases
  • Attended over 730 court cases gathering statistics regarding litigants in low-income communities
  • Gave eight presentations to six County Boards of Supervisors and the Congressional Representative of MS-02
  • As a result of his presence and relationships in Delta communities, was approached by Black farmworkers about lost employment opportunities and racial discrimination, leading to MCJ’s representation of a group of farmworkers in federal litigation

Next Steps

Ty plans to remain at the Mississippi Center for Justice and continue advocating for low-income communities. He will expand the program to additional communities and will offer more presentations to local officials and organizations about the need for equal access to the justice system.

Media 

Second Class Workers: Assessing H2 Visa Programs Impact on Workers

Congress Hears About Plight of Black Delta Farmers Featured in Mississippi Today Investigation

Georgetown’s Class of 2020 Graduates: Where Are They Now?

The Black American Cotton Labourers Losing Their Jobs to White South Africans in the Mississippi Delta

Black Farmworkers Say They Lost Jobs to Foreigners Who Were Paid More

Board of Supervisors Approve Justice Court Navigator Program

The Inspiration

The Project

Tahira served indigent clients in a wide variety of legal issues including housing, family, SSI/SSD, unemployment compensation, public benefits, and prisoner re-entry.

The Project

Elizabeth worked with Montana Legal Services Association in their Housing Law Unit to address the housing issues of low-income clients. Elizabeth provided training for law students and pro bono attorneys who wanted to get involved. Additionally, Elizabeth provided direct services to MLSA’s housing clients, by giving legal advice through MLSA’s Helpline; working with pro se clients through MLSA’s Self-Help Law Project; and directly representing clients in housing cases.

The Project

Anthony partnered with legal service providers to develop pro bono initiatives for the under-served parishes in rural areas. Anthony also organized, trained, managed and attended legal clinics to deliver legal advice using volunteer law students and pro bono attorneys at various locations. The project also allowed Anthony to organize campus-based events at LSU and Southern Law Centers to build relationships with student groups, professors and law school administrators to raise awareness of my work and rural legal service needs.

I found that the work could be challenging and extraordinarily fulfilling, and that experience is what prompted me to attend law school.

Anthony Sartorio /
2010 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Lori designed the Self Help Law Project, an effort to design and implement strategies to address the growing needs of pro se litigants. Through the development, coordination, and delivery of self-help resources and community education programs, this project provides a much-needed resource to low-income Montanans and access to justice where there previously was none.