BY ANDREA SAENZ
Harvard Law School made history this week by having more students win a coveted Skadden Fellowship than any other law school in the program’s history. HLS students and alumni won nine of the public interest fellowships, besting the record of eight Fellows in a year that was set in 2004 by none other than HLS. This brings the number of Skaddens won by Harvard since 2000 to an astounding 40.
2006 Skadden Fellows:
Nisha Agarwal ’06, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
Nicole Birch ’05, National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights (DC)
Sarah Mattson ’05, New Hampshire Legal Assistance
Jessica Myers ’06, Legal Aid of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands
Jill Tauber ’05, The Advancement Project (DC)
Jose Rodriguez ’06, Florida Legal Services
Charlotte Saunders ’05, Georgia Legal Services Program
Karen Tseng ’05, Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center (MA)
Lisa Young ’05, Legal Aid Society of San Diego
The Skadden Fellows are selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants to spend two years working with a sponsoring organization to provide legal services for under-served communities. The Skadden Fellowship Foundation, sponsored by the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom, pays the Fellows’ salaries, benefits, and loans during the fellowship.
The 2006 Fellows were overjoyed to hear the news. “I can’t wait,” said Lisa Young ’05, who will be assisting clients going to housing and eviction court through the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. “I want to get started right now.” Equally overjoyed were the staff of OPIA, including director Alexa Shabecoff, who screamed in delight when she heard the news from one Fellow, and Fellowships Director Judy Murciano, who called it “an amazing, miraculous year,” and despite all the work involved, insisted, “It’s a joy every step of the way.”
All the winners had praise for the support of Murciano and the resources of Harvard. “Judy was unbelievable,” said Jose Rodriguez, 3L, who will work to enforce workplace rights with Florida Legal Services. “She was always available and genuinely interested in coming up with a good project.” Susan Butler Plum, director of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, agreed. “One of the reasons Harvard does so well is because they have so many applicants, and because they have a giant office and are very sophisticated about putting together good projects. Judy is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.”
Many of the 2006 Fellows are spending this year clerking before they begin their projects. “They have more tools they can bring to their clients,” said Plum. “It’s all about providing the best service to the clients.” The clerks echoed this sentiment. “I’m getting a lot of experience in civil rights and in litigation as a clerk,” said Nicole Birch ’05, who will work on Section 8 housing issues with the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights after finishing her clerkship in the Middle District of Alabama. “That’s something I’ll be able to bring to my work.”
The Fellows were happy to share their advice for students still exploring the path of public interest. There was unanimous support for clinical work, as well as making use of Harvard’s vast alumni network. “Call lawyers who have careers that interest you and ask them how they got there,” said Charlotte Saunders ’05, a former Legal Aid Bureau president who will fight employment discrimination against migrant workers through the Georgia Legal Services Program. (The Fellows practice what they preach: more than one invited this reporter to call back with career questions.)
Above all, the Fellows urged students to use all of Harvard’s resources to explore their interests in the public sector. “Explore the different types of public sector work,” said Nisha Agarwal, 3L, who will work to increase health care access for immigrant communities with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and worked in policy, impact litigation, and direct services during her HLS career. “Talking to people from other schools, you realize how luck you are to be at Harvard,” added Lisa Young. “You have a real opportunity to spend both your summers working in public interest.”
And what advice for those wanting to join this group of public interest stars? “Do as much pro bono as possible,” said Plum. “Find out what you have a burning passion for. We look for long-term commitment.” Ultimately, she said, “the program isn’t about the Fellow. It’s about the clients.” To the clients that will be represented by these nine over the course of their careers, one thing is clear: they’re in good hands.