Four members of the Class of 2012 have received post-graduate fellowships from Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose declared mission is to support “the next generation of lawyers who commit themselves to public interest law and endeavor to provide effective representation to underserved communities and causes.”
Christine Nishimura, Jordan Pollock, Amelia Ruiz Fischer, and Keegan Warren-Clem received the prestigious two-year fellowships, which provide competitive salaries and loan repayment assistance after graduation. As applicants they designed specific public interest projects, and Equal Justice Works has matched each of the fellows with sponsors who will support them throughout their tenure.
“The Law School is very proud of these outstanding students and applauds Equal Justice Works for supporting them through these highly competitive fellowships,” said Eden Harrington, Director of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law. “They will be outstanding attorneys and make significant contributions toward increasing access to justice.”
Christine Nishimura will work on behalf of minority special education students. Her project will promote academically and culturally appropriate literacy programs by directly representing students, training teachers, and educating pro bono attorneys working in the special education field.
Before law school, Nishimura was a member of Teach for America, where she taught at a middle school in Southeast Los Angeles that was plagued by educational inadequacies and gang violence. “Although I was able to help my students,” she said, “I wanted to find a way to help more children outside of the classroom.”
Nishimura will be a part of the “education issue” team at the Austin office of Disability Rights Texas and plans to partner with an education doctoral candidate from UT to educate teachers on the importance and implementation of multicultural literacy programs. The long-term goal of her project is to affect the educational and life outcomes of minority special education students. “For the better part of the past decade,” she said, “I have dedicated my time to helping children in need. This project is an opportunity for me to continue to fight for these children and advocate for those students who are being left behind by our education system, and as a result, are being swallowed up by the juvenile justice system.”
Nishimura’s fellowship will be sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and Greenberg Traurig LLP.
Jordan Pollock’s fellowship project will provide and expand access to legal representation for detained immigrants who are victims of crimes, human trafficking, and spousal abuse. She will be based at Public Counsel in Los Angeles, California, representing immigrant detainees in nearby Orange County, and will be the first nonprofit attorney to regularly visit a 500-bed detention facility.
Pollock plans to conduct orientations for detainees so that they can better understand the deportation process and advocate for themselves in immigration court, as well as recruit and train pro bono attorneys working with detainees. An important element of her project will be to identify and represent detained immigrants who are eligible for visas specified for crime, trafficking, and spousal abuse victims. She will also monitor the effects of immigration enforcement on such victims.
Pollock is both excited and nervous. “I will be doing immigration detention work, which is a very intense and fast-paced form of practice,” she said. “It will be an unparalleled education and a chance to really work with those immigrants who are most in need. I know its an amazing opportunity and feel very grateful.”
Munger, Tolles and Olson will sponsor Pollock’s fellowship.
Amelia Ruiz Fischer will also work on behalf of undocumented immigrants by taking on the federal government’s Secure Communities program. She argues that the program re-victimizes immigrant survivors of domestic violence and crime. Her program will work toward ending civil rights violations against immigrants through litigation, advocacy, outreach, and education.
Ruiz Fischer was inspired by her father to be a lawyer and has been interested in immigrant rights since she was a child. As an undergraduate, she interviewed immigrant detainees at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor and was infuriated by “the disgusting and unforgivable way in which the government treated the people,” she said.
Ruiz Fischer will work with the Texas Civil Rights Project. She will begin with outreach to the immigrant community in Travis County and the Rio Grande Valley, traveling with the Mexican Consulate and organizing community meetings, where she will encourage immigrants to report civil rights violations. She will encourage pro bono attorneys to attend such meetings to generate interest in providing representation.
She will also build relationships with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to advocate for the release of detainees designated “low priority” because they have not committed any crimes. Whenever possible, she will take on immigration representation herself.
Ruiz Fischer’s project will be sponsored by Akin Gump.
Keegan Warren-Clem will spend her fellowship creating a medical-legal partnership in an underserved community in Southeast Austin. With the support of the Texas Legal Services Center, she will assist patient-clients with legal issues causing or exacerbating their medical conditions.
The neighborhood she will work in is a predominantly Hispanic community, and Warren-Clem is a former Spanish teacher. As a law student, she has discovered that her interest in health law runs deep. “It is a constantly evolving field and even the aspects that appear static are laden with medical intricacies,” she said. “I am passionate about health law, because it entails helping vulnerable populations.”
Warren-Clem will coordinate her efforts with a community medical clinic. She will work towards resolving the underlying, non-biological causes of illness, such as unlawful and unhealthy housing conditions. She will directly represent patient-clients and build a database of pro bono attorneys for referrals. Ultimately, she wants to establish a preventative medico-legal system that would replace the crisis-driven/acute care system currently in place in Southeast Austin.
Warren-Clem’s fellowship will be sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.
—J. Dale Cannedy
(Photo by Steph Swope)