Equal Justice Works Now Accepting Nominations for Alumni Board Member

Equal Justice Works is excited to announce that we are accepting nominations from our Alumni and Fellow community to fill an open position for a recent alum to serve on our Board of Directors beginning in 2023 for a three-year term.

We recruit new board members to strengthen our organization’s effectiveness and secure the resources we need to fund our very ambitious agenda to create opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service.  

Our Board consists of national leaders from every corner of the profession: judges, corporate counsel, law firm partners, law students, alumni, academics, and public interest advocates. We recognize and appreciate that this diversity on our board is one of the organization’s strengths, and we appreciate that board members bring a variety of skills and capacities.    

We welcome and encourage our Alumni and Fellow community to participate in the nomination process for a recent alum—defined as an alum who has successfully completed an Equal Justice Works Fellowship within the past five years. For the current position eligibility, the nominee will have successfully completed their Fellowship in the period 2017 – 2021.  This board member will have full and equitable membership on the Board entailing the same rights, obligations, responsibilities, and expectations of every board member, including service for a three-year term. Self-nominations are accepted. 

We recognize and appreciate that diversity on our board is one of the organization’s strengths, and we appreciate that board members bring a variety of skills and capacities. In deciding whom to invite to join our board, we need to balance these skills and capacities with the organization’s needs. 

We seek a board member who exhibits the following characteristics:  

  • Commitment to the mission and goals of Equal Justice Works 
  • Willingness to give time and talent 
  • Willingness to contribute a personally significant gift (i.e., one of their top three charitable contributions) 
  • Willingness to ask others to contribute a gift 

We want the board overall to have members who bring/add: 

  • Networks or linkages to individuals and organizations which can help advance Equal Justice 
  • Works initiatives or fundraising goals 
  • Demonstrated executive leadership quotient/recognized public stature 
  • Strategic thinking skills 
  • Diversity  
  • Nonprofit Board expertise  
  • Experience working with complex organizations 

Click here to submit a nomination.  The application will close on July 20, 2022, and nominees who are selected to move forward in the process will be notified in October 2022.   

For more information about the application process, please reach out to [email protected]. Visit here to learn more about the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors.  

Photo of Vivian Martinez

Equal Justice Works is proud to announce that Vivian Martinez has joined the organization’s board of directors as its newest member. Vivian is a second-year law student and Public Interest Scholar at LMU Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“Equal Justice Works was founded by law students, and they are still core to our mission.  We provide public interest opportunities, training, and educational debt assistance to enable these students to pursue their public interest dreams while in law school and beyond,” said David Stern, executive director at Equal Justice Works. “We are honored to welcome Vivian to the Board. She is an accomplished young leader whose passion for public interest law and commitment to serving her community make her a perfect addition to our Board of Directors.”

At LMU Loyola Law School, Vivian stays active on campus by volunteering at the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic, where she provides direct representation to individuals who are unable to obtain immigration legal services elsewhere. At the Clinic, Vivian also collaborates with other law students on advocacy projects to advance the rights of immigrant communities of East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. In addition to her immigration advocacy work, Vivian is a member of La Raza de Loyola and the Disability Law Society at her school.

“As the first in my family to attend law school, I feel an enormous responsibility to channel my family’s strength as new Americans into action of my own,” said Vivian. “I am thrilled to grow the momentum of the Equal Justice Works mission and uplift diversity in the legal field for continuing generations of QTBIPOC law students and lawyers. It is my great privilege to contribute to the vision of advancing equal access to justice alongside the dedicated board and passionate staff at Equal Justice Works.”

I am thrilled to grow the momentum of the Equal Justice Works mission and uplift diversity in the legal field for continuing generations of QTBIPOC law students and lawyers.

Vivian Martinez /
Equal Justice Works Board Member

Vivian’s passion for public interest law extends beyond campus. Following her first year of law school, Vivian helped to provide critical legal services for people living in rural communities as part of the Rural Summer Legal Corps, a partnership between Equal Justice Works and the Legal Services Corporation that supports law students in serving rural communities each summer. During her Student Fellowship, Vivian was hosted at California Rural Legal Assistance, where she assisted with employment and immigration matters for LGBTQ+ rural communities in the Central Coast and Central Valley.

“My experience as an RSLC Student Fellow was fundamental to my journey in public interest law,” said Vivian. “The LGBTQ+ Program provided me with the training and mentorship necessary for a strong foundation in inclusive and affirming client representation. I gained invaluable skills to strengthen collaboration between clients and their legal team. The partnership between Equal Justice Works and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., made my commitment to those most marginalized possible and allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of our legal system and its impact on LGBTQ+ rural communities.”

After law school, Vivian plans to pursue a career in public service where she can draw on her experience in holistic services to uplift immigrant communities.

Visit here to view a full list of Equal Justice Works Board of Directors.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP litigation partner Erin Johnston joins the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors.

a photo of Erin Johnston, Johnson
Photo of Erin Johnston

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Equal Justice Works, the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, today announced that Erin Johnston, a litigation partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, has been named to the organization’s board of directors.

“We are pleased to welcome Erin to the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors,” said David Stern, executive director at Equal Justice Works. “Her unwavering passion for pro bono work and serving communities is a passion we share at Equal Justice Works, and we look forward to drawing on her experience and knowledge to guide our vision for continued growth.”

A leader in the legal profession, Erin has been a powerful force in driving pro bono initiatives. At Kirkland & Ellis LLP, she has received the Pro Bono Service Award six times for her exceptional commitment. Erin has also been recognized by The Legal 500 U.S. for General Commercial Disputes, and was named a “Rising Star” in Business Litigation twice by Super Lawyers.

“It is a remarkable privilege to join the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors,” said Erin. “The impact of this organization on growing the field of young talent successfully pursuing public interest careers after law school is astounding, and the commitment of this Board to continued growth and excellence in this endeavor is unparalleled.  I’m honored to have the opportunity to contribute in every way I can.”

[Erin's] unwavering passion for pro bono work and serving communities is a passion we share at Equal Justice Works, and we look forward to drawing on her experience and knowledge to guide our vision for continued growth.

David Stern /
Executive Director
Equal Justice Works

At Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Erin represents Fortune 500 companies in complex business disputes in state and federal courts across the country. She has successfully handled products liability actions, contract disputes, class actions, securities and accounting fraud cases, antitrust matters, bankruptcy-related disputes, government investigations, and appeals. Erin also holds several leadership roles at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, including serving as chair of the Diversity Committee and the Women’s Leadership Initiative in the Washington, D.C., office.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP is one of the top law firm supporters of Equal Justice Works. Since 2012, Kirkland & Ellis LLP has invested more than $1 million to support 15 Equal Justice Works Fellowships.

The full list of Equal Justice Works Board of Directors members can be found here.

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About Equal Justice Works

Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. As the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, Equal Justice Works brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, nonprofit legal aid organizations, and supporters to promote public service and inspire a lifelong commitment to equal justice.

Contact
Heena Patel
Marketing and Communications Director
Email: [email protected]

Former Mayor of New Orleans and President and CEO of the National Urban League joins the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors

Photo of Marc H. Morial

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 29, 2021—Equal Justice Works, the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, today announced that Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans and president and CEO of the National Urban League, has been named to the organization’s board of directors.

“Marc embodies the spirit of service and we are honored to welcome him to our board of directors,” said David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works. “His passion for equal justice coupled with his strategic brilliance will be valuable as we advance our efforts to mobilize public service leaders who will bring justice to communities in need.”

Since 2003, Marc has served as president and CEO of the National Urban League (NUL), a civil rights organization dedicated to economic empowerment, equality, and social justice. Under his leadership, NUL has expanded the reach of its services through an empowerment agenda that focuses on closing the economic gap between white and Black Americans, as well as creating a framework to develop policies that serve low-income communities and communities of color.

Before joining NUL, Marc served two terms as the mayor of New Orleans, during which time he focused on addressing the city’s unemployment and crime rates. While he was mayor, the city won the All-American City Award and the City Livability Award. He also served as president of the United States Conference of Mayors and as a Louisiana state senator. During his time as a state senator he was named Legislative Rookie of the Year, Education Senator of the Year, and Environmental Senator of the Year. He also received the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award for his legal services while a private lawyer.

“It is an honor to be selected as a member of the Board of Directors for Equal Justice Works,” Marc said. “Equal representation under the law is one of the nation’s highest ideals but one we too often fail to uphold. Few legal organizations have done more to defend the rights of underserved communities and develop future leaders in the public service sector. I look forward to being a part of this worthy mission.”

Equal representation under the law is one of the nation’s highest ideals but one we too often fail to uphold. Few legal organizations have done more to defend the rights of underserved communities and develop future leaders in the public service sector.

Marc H. Morial /
National Urban League

Marc has received numerous accolades including being recognized as one of the 100 most influential Black Americans by Ebony Magazine and as one of the Top 50 Nonprofit Executives by the NonProfit Times. He currently serves as an executive committee member of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Black Leadership Forum, and Leadership 18, and is a board member of the Muhammad Ali Center and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

The full list of Equal Justice Works Board of Directors members can be found here.

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About Equal Justice Works

Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. As the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, Equal Justice Works brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, nonprofit legal aid organizations, and supporters to promote public service and inspire a lifelong commitment to equal justice.

Contact
Heena Patel
Marketing and Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 202.466.3686

The following letter was recently sent from Deans Garry W. Jenkins and William M. Treanor as members of the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors, notifying law schools about an increase in annual membership dues.

Deans –

We are writing as members of the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors to share with you that in a little more than one year (the 2022-2023 academic year), the organization is increasing its annual membership dues from $2,000 to $3,000. This will be the first increase in more than 10 years. The value Equal Justice Works provides for law schools and public interest-minded students we believe is a worthwhile investment.

As Law School Deans, we are all committed to guiding and supporting the next generation of attorneys who will shape the future of justice in our nation. The mission of Equal Justice Works is to create opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service.

Approximately 90% of ABA-accredited law schools are members of Equal Justice Works, which provides students with access to valuable public interest resources and programs, including:

  • The largest annual national public interest law conference and career fair
  • Eligibility to apply to our flagship postgraduate fellowship programs
  • Summer job opportunities including paid student fellowship positions
  • Student debt and Public Service Loan Forgiveness webinars, trainings, and resources
  • Personalized virtual and in-person school presentations about how to pursue an Equal Justice Works Fellowship and public interest law career
  • Eligibility for our Regional Public Interest Awards, our Student Representative Program, and to serve on our National Advisory Committee

Through the generous support of member law schools, Equal Justice Works is able to offer these unique member benefits. While law school membership is a vital revenue source, Equal Justice Works also independently raises millions of dollars for summer and postgraduate fellowships for your students and graduates as well as to preserve Public Service Loan Forgiveness. As law school deans, we believe membership dues, even at its increased level, is a very good deal with a high return on investment.

From conversations within our community, we recognize that providing notice of this increase as early as possible is important and why we are announcing this increase a year in advance. This decision was made with careful consideration for member law schools and the value that we wish to continue to offer to you.

The value of your support can be seen in just a few examples of our shared impact:

  • At the 2020 Conference and Career Fair, more than 2,600 law students attended virtually, participating in over 3,700 prescheduled interviews with over 170 public interest employers.
  • Last year, 450 law students designed a fellowship project in partnership with a legal services organization, resulting in the selection of 85 Equal Justice Works Fellows.
  • In partnership with the Legal Services Corporation, the Rural Summer Legal Corps has been an incredible summer opportunity for law students to address the civil legal needs of rural communities. Over the last six years, 190 students spent their summer serving rural areas across our nation.

As fellow Deans, we know these are challenging times and we are faced with many tough choices about allocation of resources. We also know that the benefits to our students, to our communities, and to our justice system are well worth the contribution we make to support Equal Justice Works. We are grateful for your continued commitment to public service and hopeful for your continued support of this vital organization.

Sincerely,

Garry W. Jenkins
Dean and William S. Pattee Professor of Law
University of Minnesota Law School

William M. Treanor
Executive Vice President,
Dean of the Law Center, and Professor of Law
Georgetown University Law Center

WASHINGTON, D.C., FEBRUARY 24, 2020—Equal Justice Works, the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, today announced that the Honorable James E. Graves, Jr., Michael J. Harding, Garry W. Jenkins, and Steve McManus have been named to the organization’s board of directors.

“We are delighted to welcome these talented leaders to our Board,” said David Stern, executive director at Equal Justice Works. “Their combined knowledge, expertise, and energy will help the organization advance its work to mobilize more passionate public service leaders who can respond to the slew of challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Photo of The Hon. James E. Graves, Jr.

The Honorable James Earl Graves, Jr., is a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Judge Graves is the first African American judge from Mississippi on the Fifth Circuit, having previously served as a judge in the Mississippi court system for 20 years, including 10 years on the Mississippi Supreme Court. Before becoming a judge, he worked as legal counsel for both the Health Law Division and the Human Services Division of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, and as a Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Mississippi. Judge Graves has also spent much of his career active in the education field, having held the position of adjunct professor at Millsaps College, Tougaloo College, and Jackson State University. Judge Graves began his legal career as a staff attorney at Central Mississippi Legal Services.

“It is an honor to serve on the board of Equal Justice Works,” said Judge Graves. “I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and working hard to assist in achieving the goals and carrying out the mission of this dynamic and vital organization.”

Photo of Michael J. Harding

Michael J. Harding is a first-year law student at Villanova University, where he is also a Public Interest Scholar. Mr. Harding has a clear passion for public interest law, as shown by his work both on campus and in the community. He is currently chair of the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee representing the Mid-Atlantic region and served as a Student Fellow in the Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps. He also participates in The Appellate Project’s mentorship program, which enables Black and brown law students to meaningfully engage with and learn from appellate practitioners about effective advocacy in our nation’s highest courts. Mr. Harding has previously worked with Justice at Work and The Public Interest Law Center, two Philadelphia-based public interest nonprofit organizations. He was also a Fulbright Scholar at Universidad Diego Portales and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Chile.

“I entered law school guided by the belief that lawyers can be stewards of righteous democracy by harnessing the law’s potential for goodness to ensure our lived experiences—especially those of us pushed to society’s margins—are more fair and fruitful,” said Mr. Harding. “I’m eager to play a role in the broader narrative of young people committed to pursuing social justice by celebrating and leveraging diversity of thought, perspective, and experience. Equal Justice Works provides a unique platform to help transform students’ passion for service into a lifetime committed to realizing this mission. I’m deeply humbled to join the Board of such an incredible organization and, frankly, I’m ready to get to work.”

Photo of Garry W. Jenkins

Garry W. Jenkins is dean and William S. Pattee Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. Before his post at Minnesota Law, he was associate dean for academic affairs and John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor of Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Prior to entering academia, Dean Jenkins practiced at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and was chief operating officer and general counsel of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. Dean Jenkins began his career as a clerk for Judge Timothy K. Lewis of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He currently serves on several nonprofit boards, including the Law School Admission Council, Haverford College, and the Guthrie Theater.

“I’m thrilled to join the board of one of the nation’s most vital legal nonprofits, which advances careers in public interest law and policy,” said Dean Jenkins. “The opportunities provided through Equal Justice Works promote justice for communities and people in need while simultaneously developing a new generation of lawyer-leaders. I look forward to supporting the growth and success of such an innovative and impactful organization.”

Photo of Steve McManus

Steve McManus is senior vice president and general counsel for State Farm® Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Mr. McManus has spent his entire legal career at State Farm, starting law school after he joined the company. At State Farm, he has spearheaded several pro bono initiatives, including the Inclusion Initiative, through which corporate law departments commit to increasing their spending with women- and minority-owned law firms. An outstanding leader in the legal community, Mr. McManus serves on a range of boards and committees including Civil Justice Reform Group, National Center for State Courts General Counsel Committee, Washington Legal Foundation Legal Policy Advisory Board, Rand Institute for Civil Justice Board of Advisors, and General Counsel 50, among others. Mr. McManus previously served as a member of the Equal Justice Works Board of Counselors. 

“In order to sustain our democracy, we need to uphold the rule of law. Upholding the rule of law requires that the law be inclusive of all citizens and serve to protect all citizens and society as a whole,” said Steve McManus. “It’s an honor to work with Equal Justice Works to advance its mission of creating a just society. Justice is an essential objective of the legal profession and Equal Justice Works seeks to bring justice to where it is most needed in our nation.”

The full list of Equal Justice Board of Directors members can be found here.

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About Equal Justice Works

Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. As the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, Equal Justice Works brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, nonprofit legal aid organizations, and supporters to promote public service and inspire a lifelong commitment to equal justice.

Contact
Heena Patel
Marketing and Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 202.466.3686

WASHINGTON, D.C., NOVEMBER 18, 2020—Equal Justice Works, the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, today announced that Ernest LaMont Greer, Jami Wintz Mckeon, and L. Song Richardson have been named to the organization’s board of directors.

“We are honored to welcome to our Board these highly respected leaders who share our commitment to public service and equal justice,” said David Stern, executive director at Equal Justice Works. “Each new member brings tremendous experience and insight from their respective fields that will help strengthen our work to mobilize passionate public service leaders who can support communities in the face of COVID-19, racial injustice, and other pressing legal issues.”

Photo of Ernest LaMont Greer

Ernest LaMont Greer is co-president of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, where he plays a key role in the strategic direction of the firm and firmwide day-to-day operations. He previously served as vice president of the firm, co-chair of the U.S. Strategic Committee, and Atlanta Managing Shareholder. An outstanding leader and champion for his community, Ernest serves on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations—Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Atlanta History Center, Achieve Atlanta, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Atlanta Police Foundation, and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Greenberg Traurig has sponsored more Equal Justice Works Fellows than any other firm. Since 1999, the firm has invested more than $13 million to support more than 170 Equal Justice Works Fellowships.

“I’m excited to work with my fellow board members to continue to public service and equal justice for all,” Ernest said. “In my practice and through my various roles at Greenberg Traurig, I have always been dedicated to creating an environment where every attorney feels included in all levels of the organization. Becoming a member of the Equal Justice Works board provides the perfect opportunity to continue promoting a diverse, equal legal industry on an even larger scale.

Photo of Jami Wintz McKeon

Jami Wintz Mckeon is the Chair of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, the largest law firm in the world led by a woman. Prior to assuming the role of chair, Ms. McKeon held many different management positions at Morgan Lewis, including as a member of the firm’s Advisory Board, Compensation Committee and leader of the Litigation Practice. She has served on several nonprofit boards and has received numerous awards and recognitions for her commitment to pro bono and diversity. At Morgan Lewis, she has spearheaded a number of pro bono initiatives, achieving 100% participation in the firm’s global 20-hour pro bono challenge, and most recently established and co-leads the firm’s Mobilizing for Equality Task Force.

“The passion Equal Justice Works demonstrates in everything they do for our underserved communities is a passion we share at Morgan Lewis,” said Jami. “We both are dedicated to the pursuit of equal justice for all, and committed to doing all we can to manifest lasting change. I am honored and humbled to join this wonderful and respected board at such a critical time. It has never been more important that we all work together.”

Photo of L. Song Richardson

L. Song Richardson is the Dean and Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law). She is a leading expert on the impact of implicit racial and gender biases in a variety of contexts, including emerging technologies. Prior to UCI Law, Dean Richardson was a partner at a boutique criminal law firm and worked as a state and federal public defender. She was also an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Dean Richardson is a member of the American Law Institute and currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Association of American Law Schools.

“I am incredibly grateful to be joining the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors, and to be working alongside such an impressive group of individuals,” said Dean Richardson. “It is an honor to support the organization’s efforts to bring equal access to justice to underserved people and communities across the country and to create more opportunities for law students and lawyers to serve these communities.”

The full list of Equal Justice Board of Directors members can be found here.

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About Equal Justice Works

Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. As the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, Equal Justice Works brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, nonprofit legal aid organizations, and supporters to promote public service and inspire a lifelong commitment to equal justice.

Contact
Heena Patel
Marketing and Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 202.466.3686

Photo of Joshua Medina

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. For our fourth installment, we spoke with Joshua Medina, 2016 Fellow hosted by the University of Alabama School of Law, staff attorney and pro bono coordinator at the National Crime Victim Law Institute, and current member of the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors.

In 2015, Alabama had the fastest-growing population of unaccompanied minor immigrants eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), but no one to provide low- or no-cost legal services to them. As a 2016 Fellow at the University of Alabama School of Law, Joshua Medina provided direct immigration legal services to these children, building an extensive network of partner attorneys and organizations to assist along the way.

“After I arrived in Alabama [for my Fellowship], I looked around and quickly realized I was the only nonprofit immigration attorney in the state,” said Joshua. “I learned that, as Fellows, we need to create space for our marginalized clients.” He spoke with us about making that space, and expanding that vision into a full-fledged legal career.

Following his Fellowship, Joshua transitioned to his current position as a staff attorney and pro bono coordinator at the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI), which he called “a dream scenario.”

“I saw myself in NCVLI’s mission in a big way.” In fact, Joshua shared, NCVLI served as a major inspiration for the framework of his Fellowship project, drawing from their national model of empowering clients to shape his work at the state level.

In addition to his dual role at NCVLI, Joshua also serves as a member of the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors—the very first Fellow alum to do so. “It lets me serve alongside passionate and talented people to facilitate opportunities for students and for Fellows to learn and grow and thrive in a space where they’re serving others,” he said.

Acknowledging the unique and difficult circumstances in which 2020 law school graduates must begin their careers, Joshua offered one final piece of advice: “commit to understanding and seeking the justice your clients envision for themselves,” he said.

To learn more about becoming a 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow and kickstart your public interest law career, visit here.

By Walter Jean-Jacques, a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School and a member of the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors. Walter will join the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as a Notre Dame Public Interest Law Fellow in September 2020.

Photo of Walter Jean-Jacques in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

As a young Black man entering the law field, these past few weeks have been filled with a variety of emotions. I have grown up in a police state all my life.

When I was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1992, my hometown was deemed the auto-theft capital of the world. Young Black men and women from Newark already carried a stigma just by the color of their skin and the generalization given to the nature of our city. Unfortunately, this stigma has followed me since my parents carried me out of the hospital. For example, when I tell people that I am from Newark, they tend to look at me with disgust, as if my existence equates to a nature of inferiority. When I watched the video of George Floyd’s murder, I was struck with heavy emotion. It reminded me that Mr. Floyd was seen as being inferior simply because he was Black. It reminded me of the inferiority Breonna Taylor experienced as she was murdered in her own home.

I have felt a sense of hopelessness, but also a sense of empowerment. I am excited to be a Black attorney working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and focusing on racial justice litigation. Now, more than ever, people are educating themselves on the economic, political, educational, and criminal inequities that many African Americans continue to face in our society. We must continue to march, protest, and speak up against racial injustice, and be inspired as lawyers to take up a career focused on fighting for civil rights and combating inequities of all kinds.

Additionally, as a Black man on the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors, I promise to continue to advocate on behalf of law students and lawyers who are passionate about serving their communities and committed to addressing critical Issues affecting equal access to justice. We are all crucial members in the movement for racial justice, and we need to understand how vital our roles are as leaders of change. I encourage you to not only say “Black Lives Matter,” but embody this mentality with every facet of your legal career.  We are the leaders of this generation and we must continue fighting for Black Lives, so that Black children from cities like Newark, have advocates who will be relentless in ensuring that their lives are not inferior.

Ivan K. Fong, senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary of the 3M Company, has been focused on helping 3M navigate its response to the novel coronavirus. He recently took a brief break from work to chat with Equal Justice Works about his accomplished legal career, including his new role as the chair of the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors.

You are trained as a chemical engineer. At what point did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in law? Was there a particular personal experience that helped influence this decision to shift your career path? 

Photo of Ivan Fong

In my junior year of college, I took a class on the Supreme Court, serendipitously taught by a political science professor who inspired me and opened my mind to a world outside of math, science and engineering. I found myself spending more time on that course than I did on my engineering classes. I recall going to see him at the end of the semester to let him know how much I enjoyed his class. It was then that he suggested that I consider going to law or public policy school. Until that moment, I was headed toward a PhD in chemical engineering. Coming from an immigrant family, no one in my extended family is a lawyer, even to this day. So, going to law school was not really on my radar screen. Yet here was someone I admired and respected, planting the seed of an idea that would change my life and career.

I spent the following summer in Washington, D.C. as an intern in a program designed for engineering students interested in public policy. Through the internship, I was able to work with others on issues at the intersection of law, science, engineering and policy. That experience validated for me the need for people who have a technical background to work in law and policy. Even then, though, I was unsure the law was for me, so I ended up applying only to a few law schools, looking for a sign that this was the path I was being called to take. Luckily, I was admitted, ended up enjoying law school, and the rest is history.

After graduating from Stanford Law School, you clerked for the late Judge Abner J. Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court. What lessons learned from working so closely with these legal legends have you applied to your career?

I am deeply indebted to both Judge Mikva and Justice O’Connor for the many life and career lessons they taught me. As a former Congressman, Judge Mikva was gregarious, a raconteur and always remembered details about the people he met. He exemplified the old saying, “People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” And every month, Justice O’Connor would round up her law clerks to go on an outing. We went to museums, we went to the movies, we had a picnic lunch amidst the cherry blossoms and we even went camping and hiking with her. As crazy busy as we all were, she reminded us through her actions that we all need to make time to “stop and smell the roses,” create memories and have fun. It sounds corny, but it worked.

As a member of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, you have been a longtime advocate of building a more open and diverse legal profession. Can you share with us how 3M is working to improve the pipeline of diverse legal talent at the company?  

Photo of David Stern (left) and Ivan Fong (right)

3M’s legal department is focused on D&I throughout the process of recruiting, developing and retaining our talent. In the area of recruitment, we want to make sure we build an attractive employment brand, cast a wide net and bring forward diverse candidate slates. During the selection process, we endeavor to minimize implicit biases by employing structured panel interviews, in which three or four people jointly interview candidates by asking them the same, competency-based questions, to avoid the human tendency to rate candidates by how much you “like” the person. Focusing on experiential questions helps ensure that the interview focuses on identifying the skills and capabilities needed to fill the role.

As we build and work toward a more inclusive law department, I am committed to developing and retaining our talent. We have an active D&I Committee that does everything from measuring our D&I maturity to hosting lunches about D&I topics to publishing an annual D&I report. This year’s report focuses on how members of our legal department feel about belonging, being listened to and welcomed for who they are. I regularly review our D&I metrics and talk about why a diverse and inclusive legal department is important to me and to our company. We also sponsor numerous leadership development programs every year, and we encourage participation in and leadership of 3M’s employee resource network groups. Last year and this year, we are paying special attention in our legal department to issues relating to mental health, wellness and well-being.

In a 2019 interview with Minnesota Lawyer, you spoke about your commitment to pro bono work, calling it “one of the most rewarding things I’ve done as a lawyer.” Under your watch, the pro bono program at 3M has been highly active—in 2018, 3M attorneys and support personnel logged more than 2,500 volunteer hours. Why is pro bono work important to you and what advice do you have for a company that wants to provide more pro bono service opportunities for employees?

One year when our kids were young, Halloween fell on a day that I had to be out of town for a pro bono case, one in which we were representing an inmate named David on death row. I had to decide between going trick-or-treating with our children or working on David’s case. I ended up going to Mississippi to meet with David and to attend a hearing on his behalf.

Some time after that hearing, after we negotiated an agreement with the prosecutor that resulted in a life sentence for our client, I received a note from David, saying something like, “I know, Ivan, how much you wanted to be with your children on Halloween, and I just wanted to let you know how much it meant to me that you were there for me to help with my case. I just wanted to let you know that you made a difference for me.”

Photo of David Stern, Ivan Fong, and former Equal Justice Works Board Chair Randy Milch at the 2019 Annual Dinner

I always remember that letter when I think of why I value pro bono work. As lawyers, we have a professional responsibility to improve how justice is administered, and we can do that by doing legal work for those who cannot afford a lawyer. It is extremely difficult for most lay people to navigate the legal system without legal assistance. To me, there is no shortage of work that can and should be done.

My advice for a legal department is to start where you are and keep building. Set up a pro bono committee, develop some simple policies, partner with local civil legal aid associations and visibly support those who are doing pro bono work. At 3M, we encourage people to spend up to 15% of their time on projects that do not require a manager’s approval. And we publish a report every year that recognizes and celebrates the terrific pro bono legal work we do.

3M has cosponsored three Equal Justice Works Fellows based in Minnesota. What motivated the company to support these public service leaders and how have their projects aligned with the company’s public interest goals?

We have been extremely fortunate to have had several exceptional Equal Justice Works Fellows — Colleen Kelly, Kerry McGuire, and Timothy Sanders. Their work has been aligned with the company’s goals to serve veterans, to work with our medical community and to serve our immigrant population. And within our legal department, the Fellows inspire our lawyers and legal professionals to do more pro bono. It’s been an unqualified success, and we look forward to bringing more Fellows onboard in the future.

You’ve had such an impressive career both in the public and private sectors. How do you distinguish yourself in order to be selected for these roles of increasing responsibility? What are skills you have developed from working in both the public and the private sectors?

 I’ve had the privilege and great fortune to have been in private practice, in government and now in-house. None of it was planned. Rather, I found myself attracted to opportunities to do interesting work with outstanding people. I like to learn and try new things, while staying true to my values. As the son of immigrants, I was drawn to public service as a way to give back to the country that has been so good to me and my family. Those experiences have enriched my life and career in ways seen and unseen.

Now here at 3M, I could not be more proud of the work we are doing to supply critical protective equipment and other medical supplies to our front-line doctors, nurses and emergency workers who are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. I love being part of a company and legal department that is purpose-driven, agile, resilient, innovative, collaborative and a great place to work!

Lastly, you were appointed as the chair of the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors this year. Why did you initially decide to become involved with Equal Justice Works, and what do you hope to accomplish during your tenure as chair?

I became involved with Equal Justice Works for a very simple reason: I am deeply committed to the mission of creating opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. It can be difficult for recent graduates to find their first public interest job straight out of law school. I believe that Equal Justice Works Fellowships offer that opportunity for those who are dedicated to public interest law to jumpstart their careers and stay in public interest. As board chair, I hope to help strengthen Equal Justice Work’s mission and highlight the importance and continued relevance of that mission — today and into the future. Now, more than ever, we as a legal community must support public interest law and lawyers. The COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to produce a multitude of legal issues, and we have a responsibility to ensure that there are creative, passionate and skilled lawyers answering the needs of their communities.

Now, more than ever, we as a legal community must support public interest law and lawyers.

Ivan Fong /
Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary
The 3M Company