BY ERIN ARCHERD
Harvard Law School alums and students have once again earned more Skadden Fellowships than those of any other law school. The fellowships pay a one-year salary of $46,000 and benefits, allowing fellows to pursue public interest work in a variety of fields.
Harvard has traditionally been quite strong in the number of Skadden Fellowships its students receive, and although this year’s numbers fell from nine to six, HLS still topped the list. Three current 3Ls – Sarah Bolling, Emily Kernan, and Spring Miller – and three recent alums – Michael Grinthal, Jesse Newmark, and Michael Stein – have earned the prestigious public interest fellowship, which is renewable for a second year of funding.
Each of the three current students receiving a fellowship has a very different focus for her project. Spring Miller will be promoting the health and safety workplace rights of migrant agricultural workers at Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS) in Nashville, Tennessee. Miller had done immigrant rights work in Nashville prior to coming to law school and met Jennifer Rosenbaum ’02, a former Skadden Fellow at SMLS.
“Most of the clients I will be representing are limited English proficient, and most of them don’t get protection from state and federal agencies that they are owed under state and federal worker protection laws,” Miller said. “I will both represent them in individual cases, and advocate state and federal agencies to do a better job of protecting them in their workplaces.”
Emily Kernan will be representing foster children with mental health problems in New York City. Kernan’s interest in the foster care system began at the age of seven, when her family took in a five-year-old girl named Kathy who had been physically and sexually abused by her parents. Although Kathy only lived with her family for three months, the experience started Kernan’s lifelong passion for child development, leading her to focus in the area while earning her degree in psychology. Here at HLS, she is co-president of Child and Youth Advocates (CYA) and is active in the Child Advocacy Program. She spent her 1L summer at the National Center for Youth Law and last summer at The Door’s Legal Services Center.
“My project, the Mental Health Advocacy Project at Lawyers For Children (LFC), is designed to promote the rights of children in foster care to gain timely, consistent, and individualized mental health services through direct representation, community and institutional education, and impact litigation,” said Kernan.
OPIA helped direct her to several organizations doing good work in foster care. Kernan approached LFC over the summer to find out if there were any areas that would benefit from a fellowship project and the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director immediately identified mental health.
“They said that in representing thousands of children in foster care for the past 20 years, LFC has become acutely aware of the profound mental health needs of children in foster care and of the foster care system’s chronic failure to confront these needs appropriately,” Kernan said. “I was very excited to draw on my background in psychology and my understanding of the foster care system and of the challenges confronting children in this system to design my fellowship project.”
Sarah Bolling will work at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society representing low-income homeowners in foreclosure litigation and arbitration.
“I will be litigating over the predatory aspects of their home loans, which can involve failure to disclose the real interest rate, fraud and misrepresentation, excessive fees, flipping of a loan (which means refinancing it over and over with no real benefit to the borrower, sucking out the equity), etc,” said Bolling. “The two lawyers currently in the Home Defense Program at Legal Aid do mostly negotiation (because they are swamped with all of the people that need assistance), so I will be adding litigation to the panoply of tools they use to help their clients.”
Bolling started looking for an organization to work with by talking with many anti-predatory lawyers about “whom they would want to learn from if they were a young lawyer just starting out.”
“I worked with the lawyers [at Atlanta Legal Aid] to design my project in order to fit both my interests and the needs of the community that they feel they are not currently able to meet.”
All three had raves for OPIA’s Judy Murciano, whom they described as well-versed in the process of applying for fellowships and extremely accessible.
“Judy Murciano, the Fellowships Director at OPIA, provided me with invaluable advice and support throughout the application process, beginning last spring,” said Kernan. “I was constantly amazed both by her exhaustive knowledge of the fellowship application process and by her constant willingness to help applicants every step of the way. I could not have done it without her.”
“Alexa [Shabecoff] sent me to Judy Murciano last spring, and Judy was truly, truly amazing from there on out,” said Miller. “She helped me negotiate the whole application process. She is an incredible person; she is knowledgeable and committed and dedicates enormous amounts of time and energy to supporting students. I can’t say enough about how much her guidance and support meant for me.”
“Judy Murciano, the Fellowships Director, is so extremely knowledgeable, compassionate, and dedicated,” said Bolling. “She answered all of my questions about various fellowships, advised me on the process, and supported me every step of the way.”
Bolling was also impressed with the mentoring of Shabecoff.
“Alexa Shabecoff has been a beacon throughout my time at HLS, including giving me the courage to do what I really wanted to do in my 2L year summer.”
Don’t-give-up was a common piece of advice from all three students about seeking public interest careers.
“Applying for public interest jobs may seem challenging, especially when most of your friends have offers from law firms before the fellowship application process even starts,” Kernan said. “But it’s worth it. There are so many underserved populations in this country and around the world, and as HLS graduates, we are in a unique and powerful position to make a difference in their lives.”
“Don’t let your passion slip away from you,” said Bolling. “Stay focused on what you really care about. Do what Professor Minow told me when I had her as a 1L section leader – write a letter to yourself about who you are and what you care about right now, and don’t let law school change that fundamentally. Give yourself a real chance to make your own decision about what your first career step should be. You have to make that decision before 2L fall starts winding up.”
They also all stressed that it’s never too early to start thinking about the fellowship process, and students should begin exploring areas of interest through volunteer work and internships and start contacting alumni as soon as their 1L year.
“Talk with Judy early (before the 2L summer), and during the summer start looking for possible host organizations right away,” Bolling said. “This is your chance to design your dream job, so a key part of that is what office you want to be in. It’s ideal if you can apply with an organization where you have spent all or part of your summer, but in my case I made contact with them in July and just went to visit in August.”
“I have three main pieces of advice,” said Kernan. “First, get to know Judy. Second, get started early. Even as a 1L, there’s a lot you can do. Just being aware that the fellowship exists, thinking about your area of interest, and getting experience in this area will give you a head start. For 2Ls, I would recommend that you start in the late spring/early summer finding people to write your recommendation letters, contacting organizations, and thinking about the project you want to design. Finally, I found it incredibly helpful to talk to former Skadden fellows, who provided information, advice, and support throughout
“I would advise 1Ls or anyone interested in public interest law or a Skadden Fellowship to do as much clinical and public interest summer work as possible and to get to know attorneys practicing in the fields they are interested in,” said Miller. “I would also advise seeking out HLS grads doing public interest work – there are lots of them throughout the country doing a diverse array of interesting things, and I think many of them are very excited about encouraging and mentoring students interested in public interest law.”
All three also took advantage of the many skill-building opportunities available here at the law school and throughout Harvard’s many schools.
“[D]oing clinical work at HLS – specifically, working with the Immigration and Refugee Clinic and the Human Rights Program – really helped prepare me to take on an application process like this one,” Miller said. “Because of my experience with those clinical programs, I felt confident in my ability to develop and carry out a public interest project post-law school.”
The Law and Housing Policy course taught by Charn and Kennedy as well as Warren’s Bankruptcy course got Bolling interested in the issues, but her clinical experience confirmed her desire to do work in preventing foreclosures.
“[The] clinical at the Hale & Dorr Legal Services Center in the Predatory Lending Unit…was immediately the best experience of law school. Once I started working there I was pretty sure I wanted to be that kind of lawyer.”
Bolling also found that language skills learned through cross-registration at the College proved useful in her fellowship.
“Another focus of my project is outreach to the Hispanic community, using the Spanish I have picked up through cross registering in courses at the college, since neither of the lawyers in the Home Defense Unit speak Spanish.
This year’s fellows join a nationwide network of over 500 Skadden Fellows, 96 of whom are affiliated with HLS. The three students emphasized the value of this network and their excitement to be able to deign their own projects and join this talented pool.
“For many years, I have been committed to working on behalf of children and youth, and I am excited about beginning my journey as an attorney in this field,” said Kernan. “I believe I can make a real difference in the lives of many children in foster care through my project, and I am so grateful to have this opportunity. I am also excited about joining the strong nationwide network of public interest attorneys that the Skadden Fellowship Program has built.”
“I am really excited to start working, to devote myself entirely to advocating for communities who are often invisible to government agencies and the public at large,” said Miller. “I feel really lucky to have a Skadden because I will be stepping into a network of incredible public interest lawyers whose experience and knowledge I plan to draw on a lot as I figure out how to become an effective attorney and advocate.”
Bolling sees this as her ideal first job out of law school. “[I’m] doing the type of work I want, representing clients that I want to represent, learning from attorneys that I want to learn from. I also get to be a part of a network of young public interest lawyers on the forefront of their various issue areas.”
This article is the first in a series about the winners of the fellowships and their plans after graduation. Following weeks will discuss the recent alums and include some tips from the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising’s Fellowship Director, Judy Murciano, for Skadden Fellowship hopefuls.