BY ERIN ARCHERD
This is the third article in a series on public interest fellowships. The first article in the series interviewed 3L Skadden 2007 Fellows Sarah Bolling, Emily Kernan, and Spring Miller. Next week will highlight winners of other 2007 fellowships.
It is never too late to apply for a Skadden Public Interest Fellowship, a one-year, renewable fellowship that pays individuals $46,000/year plus benefits to work, develop and implement a project with the organization of their choice. Harvard Law School topped the lists again this year with six fellows, for a total of 96 since the fellowship began in 1988.
Although eligibility for many fellowships ends upon graduation from law school, judicial clerks of any age can apply for the prestigious fellowship. This year’s batch of HLS graduate law clerks, all ’06, will be spanning the country in their public service work.
Michael Stein was drawn to his project at the National Association of the Deaf in Silver Spring, MD out of a desire to work in disability law. He had learned about NAD because he is deaf, and although he worked at a firm his 2L summer, he spent two weeks in August with the organization. One of his co-workers there urged him to apply for a fellowship.
“During my brief time at NAD, I got to know the two lawyers who work there,” said Stein. “One of the lawyers, Marc Charmatz, told me that NAD had two previous Skadden fellows and strongly encouraged me to apply for the fellowship.”
Jesse Newmark, a 2004 Chayes Fellow at the World Bank in D.C., had experience working in Oakland, CA before he came to law school. He was as a factory worker, public school teacher, and social worker and knew the school’s director as well as people who worked for Centro Legal, the clinic that will be supervising his work at East Oakland Community High School.
“In fact, I’m especially excited because I used to teach some of the students who will make up the senior class at the high school when they were in junior high!” exclaimed Newmark. “So, although the project has developed a little, this is really exactly what I planned on doing when I first came to law school. I can’t believe it actually worked out that way.”
Michael Grinthal had heard about South Brooklyn Legal Services by reputation and met with them to discuss his project providing legal services for low-income tenants over the course of a couple of months. Grinthal worked as a community organizer for six years before coming to law school and was a 3-year member of the Tenant Advocacy Project.
“In addition to direct legal services, I’ll be working with organized tenants’ groups to preserve affordable housing, prevent large-scale displacement, and build the power of those groups to make themselves heard in policy-making,” explained Grinthal. “I’ll be focusing on three main areas that are exacerbating the housing crisis in Brooklyn: landlords opting out of subsidized housing programs and converting multi-unit affordable buildings to market rate; large-scale new developments that are not affordable and/or displace low-income people; and mortgage foreclosure on multi-unit buildings.”
Stein will be working at NAD to increase the accessibility of medical services to deaf people and the hard of hearing.
“The deaf community is woefully underserved by the legal profession,” said Stein. “There are not enough lawyers who work with the deaf community, much less who can sign. I also wanted to go to NAD because I would get an opportunity to pick my cases and argue in circuit courts around the country. I knew I wouldn’t get that kind of responsibility anywhere else two years out of law school.”
Newmark will be providing legal aid to families through their local high school.
“I’ll also teach a law class for the students, and maybe even let them help out on cases for some clinical experience,” Newmark said. “I hope offering the services at the neighborhood school will increase access for the families and help build connections between the school and community.”
Newmark’s prior experience in the area, coupled with a desire to do on the ground work, led him back to Oakland.
“With regard to Oakland in particular, I felt a really strong obligation to bring what I’ve learned at law school back to the community that inspired me to come to law school in the first place,” he said. “Also, direct community-level work is not only important in and of itself, but – I believe – necessary for anyone who wants to be making policy or doing advocacy work on a more systemic level. How are you going to make decisions that impact entire communities without any direct experience in those communities?”
Grinthal received advice about legal services organizations from the Bernand Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising director Alexa Shabecoff, and met with fellowship director Judy Murciano several times while preparing his application.
“I felt like I had an almost unfair advantage in the fellowship process because of Judy’s advice,” Grinthal said.
Stein was the only person who received a Skadden who did not coordinate with through OPIA.
“I was not aware of these resources,” he said. “As it was, I applied only because Marc encouraged me to do so. Had it not been for him, I would have never thought to apply.”
Newmark had rave reviews for Judy Murciano.
“Judy Murciano is unbelievable, there is no way I would have gotten a fellowship without her help and inspiration,” he said. “She was my number one motivator, advisor, and advocate throughout the application process. I seriously don’t have words to describe how much she puts into helping us, and how good she is at it.”
He had a good word for Alexa Shabecoff too.
“I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have had Alexa Shabecoff’s help and friendship throughout law school and the application process,” Newmark said. “She not only knows anything and everything about public interest work, but she works tirelessly and commits herself wholeheartedly to using this knowledge to help students reach their own unique dreams in their own individual way.”
Newmark also praised the opportunities he had here at HLS, though he found it unfair that students at less “elite” law schools did not have the Harvard boost.
“However, substantively, HLS’s clinical programs are amazing and help provide the legal experience and training that the fellowship providers understandably expect to see on our applications,” Newmark said. “Also, my HLS professors helped me a ton as I planned the project and applied for fellowships, especially Charles Ogletree, Jim Cavallaro, David Barron, and Jon Hanson.”
Stein likewise credited his clinical experience as an important part of earning a Skadden fellowship.
“I strongly encourage law students to do clinical work. It’s a change of pace from the classroom and an eye-opening experience,” Stein said. “I had a very positive experience as a student advocate at the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center working on Social Security and housing issues. The clinical instructors I had were fantastic and I really got a lot of hands-on experience working with indigent and underrepresented people.”
“Stick together,” was Grinthal’s advice to students who are interested in doing public work after graduation.
“Find like-minded people at HLS to talk to, be excited together, and support each other in figuring out where you want to be and where you belong,” he said.
“You gotta do it,” was Newmark’s motto. Giving back to the world is part of the privilege and responsibility of coming to HLS and law firm life is unlike to lead to job satisfaction.
“Big salaries and crazy hours just won’t make you happy,” he said. “Even the most humble public interest lawyers make more than enough money to take care of themselves and their families. What’s going to make you happier, providing life-changing help to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it, in whatever geographical and legal area is closest to your heart, or buying a luxury car and a vacation home?”
Figuring out the right sp
onsoring organization is also an important part of the process, as is developing a project you are passionate about.
“Finding a sponsoring organization can actually be one of the most fun things you do while at law school,” said Grinthal. “You can go talk to all sorts of people and observe all kinds of organizations. Start early, not only do you find a sponsoring organization you really belong with, but you also get a nice education in what all is going on out there.”
“I think fellowship providers are most interested when you are both super-excited about your project and able to tie it in to your past work and unique qualifications,” said Newmark.
All three are looking forward to their upcoming projects.
“After the process of meeting with people in Brooklyn, I actually feel like the project will be useful and can work,” said Grinthal. “I’ll get to work with some of the most dedicated, talented people in New York – some of those people are lawyers, and some of those people are grandmothers, ministers, or high school students.
“My plan B was either to go back to public school teaching or to start robbing banks and large corporations, and using that money to fund my own fellowship and global revolution,” joked Newmark.