Public Interest Fellowships Abound at HLS

BY ERIN ARCHERD

2008 has proven another busy year for fellowships at the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising. In addition to the fellowship winners already reported on in the Record, a host of recent graduates and 3Ls have received funding to pursue public interest projects. Fellowships awarded this year include: Equal Justice Works Fellowships to 3Ls Andrea Saenz, Elizabeth “Libby” Fischer, and Alexis “Lexie” Kuznick; an ACLU National Security Fellowship to Alex Abdo ’06; a Human Rights Watch Fellowship to 3L Fernando Delgado; a Relman Civil Rights Fellowship to Brook Hopkins ’07; an Equal Justice Initiative Fellowship to Ben Maxymuk ’06; a Prettyman/Stiller Fellowship to 3L Michael Marks; a National Center on Philanthropy and the Law Fellowship to Jennifer Kwong; and Rotary Ambassadorial Fellowships to 3Ls Teale Toweill and Adam Shoemaker.Libby Fischer will work with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS) with an EJW fellowship funded by Latham and Watkins. She found her work at the Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Criminal Justice Institute especially meaningful.

“My project will apply the holistic approach and comprehensive representation currently used by NDS to represent defendants in adult court to the underserved youth of Harlem,” said Fischer.

“In addition to providing direct representation, I will study the differing treatment of children and young adults charged in Family Court versus those charged in Criminal and Supreme Court, and use these experiences to produce proposals for reform of New York’s juvenile justice system.”

Lexie Kuznick will be in New York City at the Urban Justice Center’s Domestic Violence Project on an EJW fellowship. She will work with low income victims of domestic violence who also face housing discrimination. She found her experience on the Journal of Law and Gender meaningful, as well as her work in women’s organizations and clinicals.

“I’d say I’ve most enjoyed the clinicals I’ve participated in: Gender Violence at the National Women’s Law Center, an independent clinical at the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Housing clinical at Greater Boston Legal Services, and a recent winter independent clinical addressing International Violence Against Women for Senator Biden’s office.”

Andrea Saenz, editor in chief of the Record, will be working at the Political Asylum/Immigrant Representation (PAIR) Project in Boston with an EJW Fellowship funded by Greenberg Traurig LLP. She will represent detained immigrants with a focus on women and parents, trying to get them out on bond and representing those with claims for relief against deportation.

“It’s a great time to be doing this work, since the detainee population is going way up,” said Saenz. “There are only 2 nonprofit lawyers in the region who represent people, and detainees have no right to a lawyer.”

Fernando Delgado will be working on Brazilian human rights issues with his Alan R. and Barbara D. Finberg Fellowship from Human Rights Watch.

“The Harvard Human Rights Program has defined my law school experience,” said Delgado. “The years spent working on projects with them have been my most enriching experiences here. Working on anti-torture advocacy with fellow students has been similarly rewarding. Many other opportunities with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and with the Disability Law Center were terrific too.”

Jen Kwong, a concurrent degree student at Fletcher, will spend a year working at NYU’s Office of Legal Counsel through her National Center on Philanthropy and the Law Fellowship. She hopes to advise nonprofits in the future. Work here and at Fletcher has strongly influenced her interests and life path.

“Probably the most meaningful things I’ve done while In law school were working with the Housing unit at the Legal Services Center, which I did in spring 2007, and volunteering for a homeless outreach ministry, which I’ve done since my first semester of 1L year,” Kwong said. ” I discovered the international nonprofit niche through mid-career students at Fletcher who have become close friends and mentors to me.”

Mike Marks will act as a court appointed attorney for indigent clients charged with crimes through his Prettyman Fellowship at Georgetown University Law Center. At HLS, he has been Training Director for the Harvard Defenders and a student attorney at the Criminal Justice Institute.

Adam Shoemaker will be studying Medieval Icelandic Law at the University of Iceland on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. “I got interested in the topic because between its initial settlement by Vikings (about 900 A.D.) and 1264, Iceland lacked cities, towns, meaningful trade, a central government, and even real class distinctions,” explained Shoemaker. “It nevertheless supported an impressively complex legal system built around a hierarchy of courts whose organization (I believe) bears an uncanny resemblance to our own.”

Teale Toweill will be researching Maori land use law at the Centre for Environmental Law at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, with a Rotary fellowship. She highlighted her work at the Human Rights Clinic in helping her develop the necessary skills. She advised that a Rotary fellowship requires some special steps.

“Once I was selected by my home rotary district, my info was forwarded to Rotary International, which was responsible for the final location assignment,” Toweill said. “The weird thing about Rotary is that individual home districts have different scholarships, and different application deadlines, so anyone interested should look into it pretty early on to make sure they don’t miss their opportunity to apply.”

Saenz found that her clinical work at the Legal Services Center in the disability clinic and at the immigration clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services, as well as participating in the Trial Advocacy Workshop and an immigration moot court in New York University, helped guide her to her fellowship.

“I did [the GBLS clinic] last spring, when the New Bedford immigration raid happened. That really spurred me to create a project that would fill part of the need for detainee representation,” she said.However, there were some difficulties when she realized not just any fellowship would help her meet her advocacy goals.

“I came to law school thinking I would apply for fellowships, and that still didn’t make it any easier!” Saenz said. “I had a difficult situation realizing that the Skadden Foundation did not fund straight immigration work, and then deciding whether to shape a project to their funding areas or not. I decided to pursue the project I really wanted, and that was hard.”

Although it was a lot of work to find the right immigration organization, Saenz was able to receive the help she needed. “Judy [Murciano] was as wonderful as everyone says. She talked me down off the ledge when I had a technical problem submitting my application online by the deadline and thought months of work might all be for nothing,” Saenz said. “And Debbie Anker and Matt Muller of the immigration clinic have been wonderful mentors.”

Seeking alternatives to her summer firm offers, Kwong waited until the beginning of her 3L year to begin looking for fellowships. Fellowships Director Judy Murciano walked her through the application process and put her touch with former fellowship holders to help her prepare for her interview.

“Judy’s dedication, along with her experience and intuition about the application process, never failed to amaze me – she’s a wonderful person and an incredible resource for anyone who
even wants to think about exploring “alternative” paths after law school,” said Kwong. “I always left her office energized, encouraged, and confident about whatever challenge I had to face next.”

Marks found OPIA’s Alexa Shabecoff and Lisa Williams to be sources of useful advice for fellowship applications, and described Murciano as “a tremendous help.” He also recommended seeking out HLS alums who have already held the fellowship.Shoemaker was also grateful for Murciano’s role in his application.”Judy Murciano has been incredibly helpful throughout the process, guiding me to the Rotary scholarship, helping me craft my essays, and playing a big role in shaping the project itself. Her curiosity and encouragement remained undaunted in the face of my initially unfocused blathering sessions, and it is to her that I owe the greatest debt of gratitude as I look forward to next year.”

Kuznick found Judy, Alexa, and friends to be an enormous help during the difficult application process. She said access to organizational and networking resources was one of the best things about HLS.

“I’d say having to develop a unique project while also pitching it to organizations was challenging, especially because the process starts so early,” said Kuznick. “I do think that clinicals provide a really good opportunity to try out various public interest professions. It was important to me to get some direct service, impact litigation, and policy experience.”Marks advised students to seek out mentors.”Unlike firm employment, where hundreds of law firms descend upon campus to beg for your services, securing a public interest job takes time, money, and patience,” said Marks. “There are no better guides through the difficult process than professors, clinical instructors, and attorneys in the field. People who do public interest work love to see dedicated students who are passionate about their work, and I have found a number of outstanding mentors who have advised me and advocated for me.”

Saenz’s advice to students considering a public interest fellowship is be informed.”Arm yourself with information about jobs, fellowships, and loans, and to surround yourself with supportive people,” she said. “I think lots of people don’t end up pursuing their dreams because they have bad information about how possible and affordable it is, and a lot of people have social circles where everyone is equally ambivalent about big firm work and they sort of justify each other into something they don’t really want.”

Delgado urged students to jump right into their public interest work.”There is no such thing as a perfect time,” he said. “The longer you wait, the less likely it is you will end up in public interest. Having said that, starting later is better than never starting at all.”Kwong acknowledged that many law students are risk averse, and that part of the challenge of public interest work is that there is no set path.

“What I would say is, you will never be more free than you are in law school to gain experience and lay the foundations for a career in public interest law,” she said. “Start taking advantage of clinical and summer internship opportunities as soon as you can, and as it becomes clearer what kind of law you want to practice (or how law fits in to your sense of mission and purpose), start developing networks and contacts in your field.”

Fischer told stressed out applicants to rely on OPIA’s support and hang in there.”Earlier this year I was applying and interviewing with public defenders around the country while also applying for fellowships, and it was hard for me to just have faith that something would work out,” said Fischer. “Don’t let the uncertainty scare you away, it pays off in the end with a job that you can be truly excited about. Something will work out and you’re not alone in your search. Alexa, Lisa, Judy and the other wonderful people at OPIA will help and support you all of the way.”

Andrea Saenz contributed to the reporting of this article.

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