My Impact: A Conversation with 2014 Fellow Annie Lee

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. Program Specialist Sarah Jasper spoke with Annie Lee, a 2014 Fellow in the Design-Your-Own Fellowship Program and chair of the Alumni Advisory Council. As a Fellow, Annie was hosted by the National Center for Youth Law.

Annie Lee began her professional career as a history teacher in the Bronx—a role that gave her firsthand insight into the obstacles facing her students, which inspired her pivot to public interest lawyering on behalf of underserved students. “What I realized in my time teaching is that [students] faced so many barriers outside of our classroom and our school,” Annie explained. “I was really interested in trying to address some of those, and so that’s why I went to law school.”

Early in her legal career, Annie learned to leverage resources, her network, and the experiences available to her to become a strong advocate. These skills proved useful when she chose to pursue an Equal Justice Works Design-Your-Own Fellowship. Throughout the application process, Annie relied on her public interest peers, who helped her navigate the complexities of law school, define her Fellowship, and clarify what she wanted her long-term public interest career to look like. She highly recommends that potential Fellows do the same and lean on their networks to maintain strong connections in the public interest community.

In 2014, Annie began her Equal Justice Works Fellowship, where she worked with the National Center for Youth Law to improve educational outcomes for foster youth. “People view foster youth as a child welfare issue [without acknowledging] the other aspects of [a] child’s life,” explained Annie, “including schooling.” Her Fellowship also advocated for increased transparency in how school districts utilized their funding, and directly represented students in special education and in school disciplinary matters.

Throughout the conversation, Annie emphasized the value of collaboration. She recommends reaching out to others in the public interest community for help, citing the work she did with her host organization to define the focus of her Fellowship during the application stage. “It’s not just on you to figure out this new idea,” Annie stated. “You can work with other people to… take that pressure off yourself.”

Annie was able to have a smooth transition from her Fellowship into the next step of her career by having a conversation about new opportunities with her supervisor at her host organization. For those who are not sure what next steps to take after their Fellowship, Annie advised: “life is not linear… there is no right next step—it is whatever step you choose. Choosing one thing for the immediate future does not necessarily foreclose other things.”

Through her extensive public interest experience in varying roles, Annie has developed a lot of advice for those who are starting out in public interest, including what steps were most helpful to get her to where she is today. One important step is setting boundaries and remembering to care for yourself, as well as your clients, to avoid burnout. To set helpful boundaries, Annie recommended reaching out to people you trust at your place of employment and asking them about their experience. Having this conversation with your employer will give you a good idea of what to expect as an employee.

Annie also advised current law students who are looking for inspiration for their project to join clinics related to their interests. “It is the best learning experience… far better than any doctrinal class you can [take],” said Annie. She so highly recommends clinics to young professionals because her experience in a clinic clarified her path forward in two ways: it showed her what content area of law she wanted to focus on, and it let her test out which kinds of legal tasks she found to be the most engaging.

Annie’s last bit of advice for anyone looking into a career in public interest was to leverage the experiences available to you in law school. “Clinics, externships, summer internships… [use these] to figure out the content that you’d like to work in, the skills you’d like to build, and the geographical region that you want to be in.” One of the most helpful tools along the way, besides her Fellowship experience, was her network, which she began building through experiences like internships. Her connections in the public interest field helped her land her Fellowship at the National Center for Youth Law and continue to help her in her current job as the Director of Policy at Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) and in her advocacy as a co-founder of the national Stop AAPI Hate coalition.

In addition to an extensive professional career, Annie stayed involved with Equal Justice Works after her Fellowship through the Alumni Advisory Council. She now uses her networking skills to foster connections within the Equal Justice Works alumni community. “One of the best parts of being on the Alumni Advisory Council is the diversity… we’ve got folks from all across the country, but also [from] different fields, different types of Fellowships and different parts of their career,” Annie explained. “I really like when we come together and leverage our skills and experiences to give back to the Equal Justice Works community.”

To learn more about Annie’s work advocating for educational rights, 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!

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. Board Member and 2021 Rural Summer Legal Corps Fellow Vivian Martinez spoke with Koert Wehberg, a 2008 Fellow in the Design Your Own Fellowship program. As a Fellow, Koert was hosted by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Koert Wehberg has always been interested in disability rights advocacy. As someone who has experienced both visible and invisible disabilities himself, Koert knows how important it is to listen to his clients and ensure that their needs and perspective are heard.

Koert kickstarted his career in disability law while he was in law school by working in the Disability Rights Clinic at the Syracuse University College of Law. “I got to work in a clinic actually working with faculty who had disabilities themselves, and fellow students with disabilities,” said Koert of this experience. “It was really great to see other folks like me.” He later went on to become an Equal Justice Works Fellow at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), where he advocated for disability rights in low-income communities of color.

Throughout his Fellowship, Koert learned the importance of using a community-centered approach to identifying needs, instead of centering his work around preconceptions of his clients. He engaged in frequent dialogue with community members and groups, which helped him identify and focus his work on the highest-priority issues.

“Listen to your clients—listen to what they want,” Koert advised. “The more you know, the better you can advocate.” Through his discussions with the community, he learned that accessible housing—which he hadn’t included in his original project proposal—was a big area of need for his clients.

This focus on community also led Koert to hone his knowledge and experience, by interacting directly with veteran attorneys and fellow young professionals. “It’s great to learn how law is really practiced in the real world, instead of a casebook,” he said. One of the biggest lessons learned? Not everything requires litigation as a response. Instead, some solutions are as easy as making a phone call or filling out the right form.

Though still early in his career, Koert witnessed the value of this community-led approach firsthand. At one large public university in the city, Koert was able to raise awareness for the need to add Braille and assistive technology, without the need for litigation. Elsewhere, at a low-income apartment building, he was able to get ramps installed for a tenant having issues accessing their home. “I think the best part of the Fellowship was actually seeing concrete change… getting barriers removed,” said Koert. “We can actually help somebody and have them be happy. We can’t fix everything, but just to see something [change] really gives you a boost.”

After his Fellowship, Koert continued his work by advocating with Disability Rights Pennsylvania, becoming the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities in Philadelphia, and eventually taking a position with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Fourteen years after he graduated law school, he is still in the field advocating for disability rights.

When asked how the evolution of his work has made him a better advocate, Koert said that his experiences have made him a more confident lawyer. Additionally, he has learned the value of plain language and teaching others how to advocate for themselves—whether that is bringing up an issue with their landlord, speaking to a local business owner about how they can make their practices more accessible, or attending school district meetings to have their perspective heard.

When going into disability advocacy, there is certainly a lot of work to do. If you are looking to get involved with disability rights advocacy, Koert’s resounding advice is simple: to listen to others. “I have increased my compassion, realism, and knowledge of how the law works,” said Koert, of his experience. “The law is not static—it does change, and you can have an influence on how it’s developed.”

To learn more about Koerts’s work advocating for the rights of disabled people and greater accessibility in his community, 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!

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. In honor of National Preparedness Month, Equal Justice Works Marketing and Communications Director Heena Patel spoke with Brittanny Perrigue Gomez, a 2018 Fellow who served in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps. Brittanny currently works as the disaster benefits team manager at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

Brittanny Perrigue Gomez could not imagine having any other career. “As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an attorney in some form or fashion,” she said.

Interested in exploring a public service career path, Brittanny chose to attend St. Mary’s University School of Law for its supportive and community-oriented learning environment. The school has a “focused curriculum on public service and getting out in the community and doing that kind of work,” explained Brittanny. While at St. Mary’s Law, Brittanny took advantage of these learning opportunities by participating in law school clinics and federal government internships and externships, which helped her to land her first post-law school job at the US Small Business Administration (SBA) working on disaster loans.

 When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in 2017, it destroyed Brittanny’s parents’ home. Brittanny took inspiration from this life-changing experience to make a career shift, and focus on dedicating her time and energy to help people, like her parents, navigate the many legal challenges that arise following a disaster. When she saw a posting for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), she knew it was the perfect fit. “It allowed me to take my newfound legal ability [from working at the SBA] and apply that in a way that I could help individuals that were living through something that I had once experienced in my life.”

In 2018, Brittanny joined the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps, where she worked alongside 23 other Fellows to provide free civil legal services to communities affected by disasters in Texas and Florida. As a group, the Fellows leveraged their combined knowledge and expertise to better support disaster survivors—discussing cases on monthly calls, by email, and when they would meet up at conferences around the country. “We took those opportunities to discuss overarching trends that we were seeing happening within these disaster agencies…[and to] collaborate on how to build community partnerships with various disaster volunteer agencies and organizations, as well as long-term community partners that may have been established,” said Brittanny. “[We would also] come up with plans and strategies on how to engage in community education and outreach in a meaningful way.”

Brittanny’s experience in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps also showed her the value of being a well-rounded lawyer and the importance of having a basic understanding about multiple areas of law so you can be a better advocate for your client. “When you work with a disaster survivor, it’s not necessarily one legal issue. It’s not just FEMA, it’s not just a title clearing problem,” explained Brittanny. “Disaster survivors, they also get burnt out. So sometimes as an attorney, you’re not just being their lawyer, you’re being their advocate, you’re being their cheerleader.”

Since her Fellowship, Brittanny has remained at TRLA where she now works as their disaster benefits team manager. In this role, she manages a team of 10 attorneys, paralegals, law clerks, even Equal Justice Works Fellows, who work on mostly natural disaster issues. “The work I was doing as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, I’m still doing every single day at TRLA… but I’ve also been able to expand a little bit into some other areas that also impact disaster survivors, because you know, you never really stop learning as an attorney.”

When asked to share advice for Equal Justice Works Fellows who will begin their Fellowships this month—Brittany encouraged them to embrace what they don’t know. “There’s no point in faking it until you make it. If you don’t know it, you don’t know it, so find great mentors, and really invest that time in identifying exactly what you don’t know. And then work to gain that knowledge,” she commented.

Before wrapping up the conversation, Brittanny advised Fellows and new lawyers to take time to think about their individual disaster plan and if they are truly prepared for a disaster. “Because if you can make sure that you, as an organization or as an attorney are taken care of, then you can turn around and use your ability as an attorney to provide services to the community at large,” she said. “There’s that phrase you hear in legal aid all the time, ‘you have to put your oxygen mask on first, then you can help others.’ It’s the same for disaster preparedness.”

To learn more about Brittanny’s work advocating for people impacted by disasters both during and after her Equal Justice Works Fellowship, watch the full interview here.

Interested in kickstarting your public interest law career as a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow? Visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the September 20, 2021 deadline!

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. In this installment, former National Advisory Committee Member and public interest attorney Kaile Bennett spoke with Max Tipping, a 2015 Fellow cosponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP and Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Max currently works as the policy director at Community Spring, an organization he cofounded.

Max Tipping believes in the power of community, and the meaningful role that community members play in effecting sustainable change. For the past six years, his work has focused on policy and legal advocacy around housing and homelessness.

“I didn’t always want to be a lawyer,” Max said. “It [wasn’t] until later in college that I started working on issues around housing and homelessness. That’s kind of when I started to piece together that these were bigger structural issues.”

Motivated to make a difference, Max joined the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (Legal Clinic), where he served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow from 2015 to 2017. As a Fellow, Max supported families at risk of homelessness in Washington, D.C.’s rapid re-housing program. Under rapid re-housing, the D.C. government provides temporary rent subsidies to families in the hope that they’ll eventually gain financial stability. While the program is well-intentioned, Max discovered that many families plunge back into homelessness when the subsidies end. At the Legal Clinic, Max authored “Set Up To Fail,” a report that examined data on D.C.’s rapid re-housing program and the slew of problems that families face while enrolled in the program. “Decision makers viewed [rapid re-housing] as the answer to all family homelessness in D.C.,” commented Max. “I think we succeeded in showing that it’s a little bit more complicated than that. There are actually a lot of folks who are ending up in a worse position because of the way this program is being operated.”

Max also shared advice for law students and recent graduates interested in applying for an Equal Justice Works Design-Your-Own Fellowship. “If you’re able to intern ahead of time with an organization that you might want to build a project with, that’s really as good as it gets,” he said. “They want to know who you are, before they sign on to supporting your project.” Max credits much of his Fellowship success to his supervisor Amber Harding, a 2003 Equal Justice Works Fellow. “She had the expertise of how to make a Fellowship project work… of how to adjust and build it,” he said. “You come up with all these lovely plans and then when you put them into action in the real world it is messy.”

Since completing his Fellowship, Max has been busy working at Community Spring, a nonprofit organization he cofounded that aims to “both dismantle structural poverty and also spur economic mobility at a grassroots level.” Community Spring brings together people who are experiencing poverty to participate in paid fellowships where they design and build a campaign to address structural drivers of poverty in their communities. Recently, the organization ran a pilot program with four fellows who worked on designing and launching a peer support network for people who are coming out of incarceration.

Before wrapping up the conversation, Max offered some words of wisdom for those looking to start their own nonprofits. “As a lawyer you tend to be analytical, which I think for this kind of position can bleed into over-analytical, which can then lead to self-doubt” he said.

“Taking the leap into starting your own organization takes a lot of faith and it’s a lot of risk. So, you have to have the ability to kind of just push through that and not doubt yourself, but keep moving forward.”

To learn more about Max’s experience advocating for people experiencing homelessness, watch the full interview here.

Interested in kickstarting your public interest law career as a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow? Visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the September 20, 2021 deadline!

Taking the leap into starting your own organization takes a lot of faith and it's a lot of risk. So, you have to have the ability to kind of just push through that and not doubt yourself, but keep moving forward.

Max Tipping /
2015 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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. Program Specialist Sarah Jasper spoke with Kevin Hempy, a 2019 Rural Summer Legal Corps Student Fellow and 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Deere & Co., Lane & Waterman LLP, and Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP. Kevin is currently hosted at Prairie State Legal Services.

Like many lawyers, Kevin Hempy was drawn to a career in public interest because he wanted to follow his passion for making a difference. “I really wanted a career [where]… I could come to work and be excited to be there and feel like I was helping people,” he said.

This enthusiasm to pursue a legal career quickly wore off during Kevin’s first year of law school: “It was really challenging and just felt really dry for me,” he admitted. “I was kind of at this point where I was wondering if this was something I wanted to stick with.”

It wasn’t until Kevin’s second year of law school, when he had the opportunity to gain exposure to real legal issues and clients during a spring internship at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, that he knew he had made the right decision. This experience led him to apply for an Equal Justice Works Student Fellowship in the Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC). Hosted by Prairie State Legal Services, Kevin supported the organization’s efforts to expand its expungement program. “It gave me a chance to learn a little more about expungement law in Illinois and…the positive impact that expungement can have for clients,” recalled Kevin.

Interested in continuing justice reform and reentry work, Kevin applied for an Equal Justice Works Design-Your-Own Fellowship, submitting a project proposal in collaboration with Prairie State Legal Services that focused on expanding the organization’s expungement program to more rural counties in Illinois. In 2020, Kevin was selected as one of 78 public interest lawyers from a whopping 432 applications to work on the project he had designed!

Beginning his Equal Justice Works Fellowship during a pandemic was no easy feat, but Kevin has made tremendous progress in building up his host organization’s expungement program through client referrals and local media coverage. “There is a big need [for this work],” said Kevin. “A lot of people are interested [because they see] just how difficult life can be with these old records. I talk to a lot of people who are really struggling to get employment, housing, or higher education.”

Kevin also shared tips for how to thrive in law school: apply for internships (like Equal Justice Works law student programs), participate in legal clinics, schedule informational interviews, and network with lawyers in a field that you find interesting. “There are so many really cool areas of the law and so many different directions you can take it,” noted Kevin. “Get as many experiences as you can and see what sticks.” Kevin’s other advice for law students? “Don’t be afraid of the cold calls and emails,” he said. “Most of the time, if you’re reaching out to people in public interest, they’re going to want to talk to you…they’re going to want to share what they’re doing.”

 To learn more about Kevin’s project advocating for workers in expungement and sealing proceedings, watch the full interview here.

If you are interested in embarking on a summer of service like Kevinn, apply to the Rural Summer Legal Corps by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 14, 2022. For more information about program eligibility and requirements, please visit here.

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. In honor of World Day Against Human Trafficking, National Advisory Committee Member and rising 3L at Golden Gate State University School of Law Xavier Torres de Janon spoke with Rebeca Garcia Gil, a 2018 Fellow hosted by the University of Maryland (UMD) SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors. Rebeca currently works as an immigration staff attorney at the UMD Safe Center.

Photo of Rebeca Garcia Gil
Photo of Rebeca Garcia Gil

Rebeca Garcia Gil is acutely aware of the important role that immigration law can play in a person’s life. In 2010, she immigrated to the United States as an international student and struggled with “culture shock, with homesickness, with a lot of very emotional things,” that come with moving to a new country. To cope with the adjustment, Rebeca found support in the immigrant community in her college town—they helped her “find a sense of identity” and feel “more connected to home.” As she learned more about the unique legal challenges that other immigrants faced in her community, she was inspired to spend a semester working in an immigration clinic. It is here that she discovered her passion for advocacy and assisting people who have endured hardship because of their immigration status.

In 2018, Rebeca was selected as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps. As a Fellow at the University of Maryland (UMD), SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors, Rebeca represented survivors of sex and labor trafficking in immigration. “It was a very unique opportunity of marrying immigration law with anti-trafficking work and crime victims’ rights advocacy,” noted Rebeca on how the Fellowship allowed her to explore different issue areas.

As a member of the Crime Victims Justice Corps, Rebeca was able to leverage the expertise of other Fellows and the connections she made throughout the two-year Fellowship. “Being able to learn from people who are doing the exact same work as you’re doing has been amazing,” she remarked. “It’s been a wonderful community and just a great resource to have. In addition to also meeting people from a similar background, I’ve met other Latina lawyers and other people who also come from immigrant families.”

It has been a work in progress to figure out what self-care means to me; what healthy boundaries are. And I often have to remind myself that I need to be in a good place in order to effectively and zealously advocate for my clients.

Rebeca Garcia Gil /
2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Rebeca also discussed the toll of being regularly exposed to human-induced trauma and how it is something that she continues to deal with as an advocate in the crime victims’ rights space. “The reality of working full time with a heavily traumatized population really took a toll on me and on my mental health,” said Rebeca. “It has been a work in progress to figure out what self-care means to me; what healthy boundaries are. And I often have to remind myself that I need to be in a good place in order to effectively and zealously advocate for my clients.” She stressed the importance of others working in trauma-heavy settings to protect themselves against compassion fatigue, because “healthy boundaries are extremely important if you want to do this kind of work in the long term.”

In addition to speaking about her Fellowship experience, Rebeca shared ways in which advocates can support survivors of human trafficking. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of really harmful stereotypes and misinformation going around, so I think the first step is helping human trafficking organizations to get good information out there,” Rebeca recommended. She encouraged public interest attorneys and law students to reach out to their local anti-trafficking organizations and offer up their expertise. “Even if they don’t have a case for you right now, I’m sure something will come up in the future.”

Following her Fellowship, Rebeca continues to work at the UMD SAFE Center as an immigration staff attorney, much like the 85% of Equal Justice Works Fellows who remain in public service after their Fellowships end.

For more about Rebeca’s time as a Fellow and the work she has done to help human trafficking survivors receive the proper legal assistance to rebuild their lives, watch the full interview here.

To learn more about kickstarting your public interest law career as a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow, visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the September 20, 2021 deadline!

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. In honor of the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Director of Law School Engagement and Advocacy Brooke Meckler spoke with Darlene Hemerka, a 2017 Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Darlene currently works as a staff attorney at the Legal Clinic for the Disabled.

Darlene Hemerka is a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities. Having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, Darlene knows firsthand what it’s like to be discriminated against because of your disability.

During her undergraduate studies, Darlene created a disability rights organization for students and served on her school’s Chancellor’s Disability Advisory Council, helping to advise faculty and staff on how to increase accessibility for people with disabilities. Despite being a vocal advocate for disability rights, Darlene experienced discrimination at her university.If they can do that to me, as somebody who is extremely active and outspoken about my disability and disability rights, how do they treat other people,” she asked herself. “That was really the moment I knew I wanted to go to law school and pursue disability rights.”

Fueled by a passion to make a difference, Darlene spent her first summer of law school at a disability policy organization in California. While it was a fruitful experience that taught her to be a more effective advocate for disability rights, she realized that working to change policies was only worth it, if they could be implemented. “You can have the best policy in the world, but if nobody is enforcing it, then it doesn’t really do so much,” Darlene noted. “So, I decided to transition my focus from policy advocacy to litigation.”

In 2017, Darlene joined the Public Interest Law Center as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP. During her Fellowship, she advocated for students with disabilities in the Philadelphia School District and shared resources with students and their families about secondary transition services. These services aim to “help students prepare for life after school … [and gain] education, employment, and independent living skills,” said Darlene. “[My Fellowship was also about] educating students about what their rights were, and why they should really be in the driver’s seat as much as possible.”

Darlene also shared advice for law students and new lawyers when it comes to approaching organizations to design a Fellowship project. “If you have either a project that you are particularly interested in or a subject area, like disability rights for me, find organizations that align with those values. And then don’t be shy [about reaching out],” she advised. “I mean, the worst thing they can do is tell you ‘no, we’re not applying’ or, ‘we’re selecting someone we’ve had as an intern.’ Expect to hear the word ‘no’ quite a bit… but [understand] part of that persistence is going to pay off as a public interest lawyer because you’re going to hear ‘no’ a lot.”

During the application process, Darlene also encouraged candidates to reach out to Fellows for guidance on how to craft a top-tier project proposal, just like she did. “It’s been my experience that everyone is super willing to talk to you if you’re willing to reach out and ask,” she said.

Expect to hear the word ‘no’ quite a bit… but [understand] part of that persistence is going to pay off as a public interest lawyer because you're going to hear ‘no’ a lot.

Darlene Hemerka /
2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow

When asked to share advice to law students and future Fellows, Darlene stressed the following: “There’s no straight path to public interest. If you don’t get a Fellowship, the first time you apply, that doesn’t mean you’re never going to get a Fellowship. If public interest is what drives you and is your passion, just don’t give up on that. Continue to look for ways to develop those skills and make it shine on your resume that you really are committed to public interest, even if it’s not your full-time day job.”

Following her Equal Justice Works Fellowship, Darlene stayed on with the Public Interest Law Center for a year and half before transitioning to a staff attorney role at Philadelphia-based nonprofit Legal Clinic for the Disabled.

To learn more about Darlene’s experience advocating for people with disabilities, both during and after her Equal Justice Works Fellowship, watch the full interview here.

Interested in kickstarting your public interest law career as a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow? Visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the September 20, 2021 deadline!

Photo of Alexander Chen

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 Pride month, Brand Manager Lauren Wright spoke with Alexander Chen, a 2017 Fellow hosted by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Alex currently serves as the founding director of the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic.

“I never thought I would be a lawyer—I never planned to go to law school. I ended up here because of my own lived experience,” said 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow Alexander Chen, when asked about the beginnings of his career in public interest law. Choosing to live “more authentically as [himself],” Alex saw firsthand how difficult it was to obtain accessible, gender-affirming care as a transgender person, even while equipped with the educational resources to navigate the system.

“I experienced just how difficult it was for many people—my friends and in my community—to be able to navigate the very complex, bureaucratic systems that we have in our country,” Alex said. Inspired to pay forward the types of affirming services he himself had fought to receive, Alex entered law school in 2011.

“When I went to law school, I was really nervous about whether I could make a career that centered trans rights and LGBTQ+ rights,” said Alex, thinking back to just ten years ago when trans rights issues were not recognized—or respected—in mainstream media the way they are today. Following law school, Alex pursued an Equal Justice Works Fellowship with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), an organization with a commitment to trans rights and the “less flashy” areas of LGBTQ+ law, such as family law and immigration.

Through an Equal Justice Works Fellowship, Alex was able to engage in a three-pronged approach to expanding the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth in schools, families, health care, child welfare systems, and juvenile justice facilities. Working in collaboration with NCLR, Alex used impact litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and public education to improve outcomes for his own clients and the LGBTQ+ community at large. During his Fellowship, for example, Alex leveraged the support of his sponsors, Baker McKenzie and Salesforce.org, to create and disseminate his first-of-its-kind Trans Youth Handbook.

Now, two years into his role as founding director of the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic at Harvard Law School, Alex has built upon many of these skills—impact litigation, advocacy, and education—to shape the future of LGBTQ+ advocacy outside of a nonprofit, donor-oriented setting. This model, he says, allows for planning in the intermediate to long term instead of working solely in reaction to attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.

“The mission of the clinic is to focus on the kinds of issues that will define the future of LGBTQ+ advocacy, which we believe means focusing on marginalized communities within the LGBTQ+ community, and thinking about the ways in which the work of social justice for our community connects to broader movements for social justice,” said Alex. “We prioritize three areas… issues that disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ people of color; issues that disproportionately affect transgender, gender nonconforming, gender nonbinary, and intersex individuals; and issues that…look to the idea of LGBTQ+ people as whole persons who are connected and have many facets to their life.”

When asked to share advice for new law students—particularly those interested in fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in 2021, which the Human Rights Campaign has deemed, “the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ+ State Legislative Attacks”—Alex encouraged listeners to follow their passions.

Where people tend to make the most difference tends to be where their heart lies, and where their lived experience lies.

Alexander Chen /
2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow

“The real question is where YOU can make the most difference, not where ANYBODY could make the most difference—and where people tend to make the most difference tends to be where their heart lies, and where their lived experience lies,” he said.

For more about Alex’s time as a Fellow, his experience within the Equal Justice Works alumni community, and the work that he has done to advance LGBTQ+ rights throughout his career, view the full interview.

To learn more about following your passion for equal justice and public service, visit here to apply for a 2022 Design-Your-Own Fellowship before the application deadline (September 20, 2021).

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. Brooke Meckler, director of law school engagement and advocacy, recently spoke with Kace Rodwell, a 2017 Rural Summer Legal Corps Student Fellow and 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow hosted by Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Inc.

Like many lawyers, Kace Rodwell was drawn to a career in public interest in response to issues within her own community. Having grown up in the capital of Cherokee Nation, Kace was well versed in the types of legal barriers facing other Native Americans: “land issues, reservation land issues, water rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act…obstacles Native Americans face just based on their status as Native Americans.”

Kace cited her “Cherokee values” as a solid foundation for her work, such as, “how can we help our families? How can we help our communities? How do we build and maintain our culture, our language, and our land?”

In 2017, Kace became a Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC) Student Fellow at Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Inc. (OILS), where she worked throughout the entire state of Oklahoma on estate planning issues, particularly American Indian Probate Reform Acts; worked with trust land; and helped members of the Five Tribes with land status laws.

The hands-on nature of RSLC was, Kace noted, a highlight of the program: “I got to go out to the communities and serve—and that’s really what showed me I was on the right path, because I wanted to do public interest but didn’t have that kind of experience until Rural Summer Legal Corps, of actually being there [in the field].”

Kace was determined to continue working with OILS after law school, and built upon her previous relationship with the organization to collaborate on an Equal Justice Works Fellowship application. In 2018, she became an Equal Justice Works Fellow at OILS, working specifically with parents involved in Indian Child Welfare Act cases. Kace encouraged other law students to follow a similar path and leverage existing relationships when creating their own Fellowship projects.

Kace’s other advice for law students following a public interest path? “Take as many litigation courses—or moot court, or mock trial [courses]—as possible,” she said, emphasizing the importance of venturing outside of one’s comfort zone to build practical skills, necessary even in the age of COVID-19. “It doesn’t stop, even if you don’t meet physically in a court room. Life keeps going—these families still need help.”

Following her Fellowship, Kace continues to work at OILS as a staff attorney, much like the 85% of Equal Justice Works Fellows who remain in public service after their projects end. “In short,” she said, “this is my life now. I can’t see not [working on] the Indian Child Welfare Act. I can’t see not continuing helping the communities I’m helping right now.” 

Applications for the RSLC program are due at 11:59 p.m. ET on February 8, 2021. To learn more about becoming a 2021 Rural Summer Legal Corps Student Fellow, visit here.

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. We recently spoke with Casey Trupin, a 1999 Fellow hosted by Columbia Legal Services. Casey currently works as the director of the Raikes Foundation’s youth homelessness strategy.

Casey Trupin
Photo of Casey Trupin

The highest calling in 1999 Fellow Casey Trupin’s family, he said, has always involved “doing something that could better the community.” Following in the footsteps of his grandfathers, both of whom were public interest attorneys, Casey developed a passion for helping homeless youth before he ever got to law school—first in Latin America, then through an AmeriCorps VISTA fellowship. When he began law school at the University of Washington School of Law, Casey was quick to notice the prevalence of young people experiencing homelessness near his hometown university.

“That,” he realized, “was certainly an area that the law could do a lot about.”

As a law student, Casey interned at Columbia Legal Services (CLS), where he helped to tackle youth homelessness and its connections to the foster system through education outreach and referrals. These services were crucial for youth experiencing homelessness, but it soon became clear that without an attorney to actively work on their cases, “there really was a gap.” Seizing upon the opportunity to expand, Casey and CLS worked together to create an Equal Justice Works Fellowship that aimed to address systemic barriers instead of serving one client at a time.

In conversation with former Equal Justice Works Marketing Manager Shani DeWindt, Casey discussed the ongoing collaboration critical to his Fellowship’s success—not only with his host organization, but with his Fellowship sponsor, AT&T Wireless, which went above and beyond to participate in Casey’s work, even going so far as to donate cell phones for homeless youth needing to stay connected.

“I felt incredibly blessed. I looked around and I saw people who did the legal job that was available to them at the time, and I got to do the exact job that I wanted to do coming out of law school for a long time. That was not only unique in the world of law, it was unique in the world of careers.”

Two decades later, Casey has maintained valuable connections from his Fellowship, which he says played an important role in securing his job as the director of the Raikes Foundation’s youth homelessness strategy, a departure from direct service. “The reason that I had [the opportunity] has everything to do with my Equal Justice Works background. It was the fact that I was a lawyer working on these issues and that I was deeply committed to this area that they recruited me to come over.”

Casey also discussed the benefits of partaking in the Equal Justice Works alumni community, shared the joy of funding and mentoring new Fellows throughout his career, and gave advice for new lawyers and Fellows entering the field in 2020 amid a pandemic.

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