News

My Impact: A Conversation with 2020 Fellow Robert Flores

/ Blog Post

My Impact is a conversation series from Equal Justice Works, using interviews with alumni to shine a light on what’s possible with an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. Marketing and Communications Assistant Miranda Sullivan spoke with Robert Flores, a 2018 Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps and a 2020 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program. As a Fellow, Robert was hosted by YMCA International Services.

For Robert Flores, working in public interest law is a commitment to the entire public interest community. His focus on immigrant communities affected by disasters is a testament to his philosophy. “There’s one fundamental truth to disasters,” said Robert. “[They] can make an already bad situation worse. So, for people who are already disadvantaged or are already struggling in one way, being affected by a disaster just exponentially makes things unbearable.”

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas in 2017, Robert was practicing immigration law at YMCA International Services. The office closed for a week due to flooding and when he returned, he noticed how members of the community were impacted by the hurricane. “It led to them not being able to afford the fee for the immigration office… so I began to do more and more fee waivers for our clients due to applying for temporary needs-based benefits or due to effects on their income or other financial hardships.”

Robert had the unique experience of serving in two Equal Justice Works Fellowship programs. From 2018 to 2020, he participated in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps, a program that placed lawyers throughout Texas and Florida to deliver critical legal services to underserved communities affected by recent hurricanes and tropical storms. Following this Fellowship, Robert joined the Disaster Resilience Program from 2020 to 2021, where he helped to fulfill the need for equitable legal services before, during, and after a disaster occurs.

Throughout these two Fellowships, Robert remained at his host organization, YMCA International Services, continuing to expand disaster resiliency within the immigrant and refugee communities and build stronger client relationships.  “It has made me more cognizant of people’s situation outside of the service that I am providing them,” he noted. “I had the opportunity to go to the immigration courts and actually speak to people in removal proceedings on a rotating basis… and [this allowed me to be] able to see trends, identify gaps, and identify things that were working and things that were not working… My immigration knowledge experience increased exponentially.”

Serving in these programs also allowed Robert to gain experience in other areas of law. “I was able to see civil law in a way that I hadn’t been able to see before [and] I was able to see how disaster effectiveness affects other legal processes,” he said. “I was able to understand the importance of title clearance, of FEMA appeals, and of insurance. I was able to see how people with disabilities are affected or systemically cut off from services and I would not have had that exposure without the Fellowship.”

I was able to see civil law in a way that I hadn't been able to see before [and] I was able to see how disaster effectiveness affects other legal processes.

Robert Flores /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

In his conversation with Miranda, Robert also shared the following advice for those looking to go into public interest law: “Start off with looking at what causes an emotional reaction from you right now. Whether that is good or bad, look at something that is exciting to you… and see if there is any way that you can get involved.”

“Public interest is an incredibly wide net. It can be anything from immigration to education rights, rights for people with disabilities, accessibility, reproductive rights. It’s a field that almost has no limits,” he added.

To learn more about Robert’s work helping immigrants and refugees prepare and recover from disasters, watch the full interview here.

Interested in kickstarting your own public interest law career? Visit here to apply for a 2023 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the September 13, 2022 deadline!

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow