By Amy SpoonerJune 13, 2016
Over the next two years, Kyla Moore, ’15, and Diana Peloquin, JD/MSW ’14, will work in different cities and with different populations. Thanks to their Equal Justice Works Fellowships, they both will be working at dreams jobs of their own creation.
The Equal Justice Works Fellowship is the nation’s largest post-graduate public interest fellowship program, and each year receives nearly 500 applications for 60 Fellowships. It is a two-year program that matches recent graduates who are passionate about public interest work with organizations that are in desperate need of their talents. Applicants develop project proposals in conjunction with potential host organizations. Then Equal Justice Works operates as a matchmaker that secures funding for top applications from sponsoring law firms, corporations, and foundations. Sponsors pay the Fellows’ salaries, often as part of their pro bono programs, and frequently also support the Fellows’ work by providing pro bono assistance and other resources to help increase their impact.
“It’s a huge commitment on the part of a firm to pay for the services of a lawyer who will never work at their firm,” said Mia Sussman, ’07, associate director of fellowships, who left Latham & Watkins LLP to join Equal Justice Works five years ago. “But it shows that firms are committed to public interest and pro bono practice, and it’s a model that’s beneficial for all parties involved.”
Through the Fellowship, Moore will explore her interest in economic rights as civil rights. She will work with Start Small Think Big in New York, a nonprofit that helps low- and middle-income entrepreneurs grow and sustain their businesses. Her project, sponsored by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, will develop a small business-specific legal help assessment tool to assist in determining the hurdles each entrepreneur-client faces and how to address them. Practicing lawyers from big firms citywide can use the assessment to provide simple small-business legal assistance during community-based clinics, and then Start Small Think Big will coordinate referrals for more in-depth advice as needed. “We will be able to provide an immediate deliverable to entrepreneurs, and I’m hoping that the efficiency of our model will make us more effective in reaching entrepreneurs and improving their knowledge,” Moore said. “In addition, we will be able to identify systemic problems in the community, like transportation concerns, that we can address with local leaders.”
Peloquin’s Fellowship at the Children’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., is sponsored by the Morrison & Foerster Foundation. Her project’s goal is to leverage a medical-legal partnership to promote the physical and mental health of children experiencing homelessness. “We need to make sure that families experiencing homelessness are identified and can access legal services that aren’t traditionally defined as homeless legal services but would provide a lot of stability for children,” Peloquin said. This includes addressing the health consequences of the poorly conditioned temporary housing in D.C. as well as unmet educational needs for these children. “Family homelessness is having a crisis moment in the District,” said Peloquin. “I want to look at legal strategies to provide more stability for children affected by homelessness, and I felt the Fellowship would be a great way to work with other area organizations to ensure families aren’t falling through the cracks.”
For Peloquin and Moore, the Equal Justice Works Fellowship builds on pre-law-school passions. Peloquin came to Michigan Law because of the strength of its child advocacy law program—an interest that was born out of her post-undergrad work as the director of the children’s program at a domestic violence shelter. Moore came to law school with an interest in civil rights work and also explored international human rights through Michigan Law’s Geneva externship program. But on a summer internship at a law firm in Bangkok, Thailand, something clicked when she saw the strong entrepreneurial culture on the streets. “Everyone has something to sell or make,” she said, “and Thailand is trying to bring those millions of entrepreneurs into the banking system so that they can access capital and build wealth. It changed what civil rights looked like for me, and I realized that in the U.S., we need to leverage people who run businesses on the streets or out of their homes, but aren’t traditionally thought of as entrepreneurs.”
Sussman points out that her fellow Michigan Law graduates bring a lot to the table as Equal Justice Works Fellowship applicants. “Michigan graduates end up being Fellows at organizations all around the country, which isn’t the case across the board. I think the number of Fellows from Michigan in recent years reflects the strength of the school’s clinical program, its commitment to public interest within the Office of Career Planning, and the power of mentorship within the alumni network.” Besides Moore and Peloquin, seven Michigan Law graduates currently serve as Equal Justice Works Fellows. “Michigan Law graduates are among our top candidates year after year,” said Sussman, “and I hope we will have more Michigan Fellows in the future!”
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