Our guest contributor this week is Shane D. Smith, a 3L at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, who recently served as the 2011-2012 Pro Bono Fellow and was appointed to the Equal Justice Works Advisory Committee in 2011. His article highlights the multi-faceted mission of Equal Justice Works and the ways in which it serves as a valuable resource to students and attorneys committed to careers in the public interest.
‘Equal Justice Works’ and So Can You!
By: Shane D. Smith
Twenty-Six years ago, a young law student from George Washington University reached out and organized a small group of fourteen public interest student groups from various law schools. Over the next few of years, the number of involved student groups grew significantly effectively establishing the not-for-profit organization now known as Equal Justice Works (“EJW”). These law students were determined to realize a more just society by motivating the next generation of attorneys to participate in public interest work. To that end, in 1988 they put together a conference for students, new attorneys, and law school staff. The organizers also provided law students with the opportunity to meet and even interview with many government and not-for-profit employers. The EJW Conference and Career Fair was a great success, and the event continues annually drawing thousands of participants to Washington D.C. from across the country.
Perhaps just as true today as it was in 1986, the most vulnerable and poor among us lack quality representation and access to the justice system. Undaunted, EJW began to develop opportunities for passionate and talented law students to engage with their communities in areas of particular need. In 1991, after receiving a Cy Pres Award, EJW launched its Fellowship Program, which supported a full time student dedicated to addressing a pressing community issue. In 2013, more than fifty law school graduates will embark on the two-year job of their dreams (well, at least of their design) as EJW Fellows. In 1994, President Clinton helped create the Americorps Program, which opened the door for similar, shorter-term commitments from law school graduates to work on projects that expand legal assistance to underserved communities. The Summer Corps program, now going on ten years, provides a rare opportunity for law students to work on critical projects full-time during a summer in exchange for an education award.
Don’t be fooled though, EJW is far more than a simple fellowship organizer. The organization and its board actively promote student and attorney involvement in pro bono and other public interest projects. Following the disasters of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, EJW raised enough money to send 19 attorneys and 100 law students to the Gulf of Mexico to assist survivors with a host of legal issues. More recently, EJW provided guidance on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, supporting loan forgiveness and income-based repayment for those attorneys dedicated to the often lower wage public interest jobs. For pre-Law students, EJW prepares an annual Guide to Law Schools providing detailed information about law schools’ public interest opportunities and curricula.
EJW has, since its founding, blazed the trail for many thousands of law students and attorneys to commit to careers in the public interest. As a member school, every S.J. Quinney Law student has access to the services and opportunities that EJW provides. For more information about EJW or to get involved, visit www.equaljusticeworks.org and follow them on Twitter @EJW.org.