By Lori AthertonApril 25, 2014
"Standing here before you, I see a veritable army of advocates for the public good," Michigan Law alumna Sally Dworak-Fisher told an audience of public interest students, faculty, and staff during the annual Public Service Banquet held April 23 at the Michigan Union. "It's truly inspiring for me to see this thriving public interest community at Michigan Law."
When Dworak-Fisher, a 1997 graduate, attended Michigan, "the public interest program was still in its infancy" and considered by many of her peers to be a "default career." Nevertheless, Dworak-Fisher followed her passion for social justice and, after graduation, worked as an attorney for Ayuda in Washington, D.C., where she represented low-income individuals seeking relief from deportation. Since 2002, she has been an attorney with the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, handling class-action litigation against Wal-Mart for gender discrimination, against the state of Maryland for unconstitutional conditions in the Baltimore City Detention Center, and against the Baltimore County Board of Education for violations of homeless children's educational rights.
Dworak-Fisher encouraged the students—1Ls and 2Ls who will be heading off to summer internships in public service across the country and abroad and 3Ls who will be pursuing public-interest careers after graduation—to consider working in the field long term, just as she has for 17 years.
"You really do make a difference," Dworak-Fisher said. "In my years supervising law students, I can honestly say you are valued and your work is valuable. But we don't just need you today, we don't just need you for a summer internship, we need you in the long term. Working in public service is an opportunity to use the law for positive social change."
Nearly 50 Michigan Law 1Ls and 2Ls will be heading to Washington, D.C., this summer to work at the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Human Rights Watch, and National Women's Law Center, among others. Another 21 students will pursue international internships in Athens; Brussels; Freetown, Sierre Leone; Geneva; Istanbul; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; London; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Quito, Ecuador; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. The rest of students will spread out across the country or remain in Michigan for their internships.
In addition to celebrating public-interest work, the event was an opportunity to highlight students' pro bono endeavors as well. Four students received Excellence in Pro Bono Service Awards for their work with various pro bono projects: 1L Phillip Stadler (Michigan Unemployment Insurance Project); 2Ls Mary Soo Anderson (Pro Bono Advisory Board, LAW Breaks, and Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project) and Rachel Barbat (Future Advocates in Training); and 3L Jason Zolle (LAW Breaks and Michigan Unemployment Insurance Project). The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal representation to Iraqi refugees in the Middle East who are seeking resettlement elsewhere, was named the Outstanding Pro Bono Project, while Belize was named the Outstanding LAW Breaks Trip. LAW Breaks is a Michigan Law student organization offering alternative service-learning experiences for students during the traditional spring break.
Also recognized were 73 members of the graduating class who completed Michigan Law's voluntary Pro Bono Pledge of performing 50 hours of pro bono work during their three years at the Law School. As a whole, 135 members of the 3L class logged a total of 13,055 pro bono hours during their law school careers, according to Amy Sankaran, '01, Michigan Law's director of externship and pro bono programs.
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