The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia seeks a candidate to sponsor for an Equal Justice Works and/or Skadden Fellowship to commence in the fall of 2021. The candidate selected will work with Legal Aid to develop a project proposal related to improving the economic well-being of people living in and on the cusp of poverty, with a focus on combatting the disparate financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color. The project proposal will combine significant litigation, outreach, and advocacy responsibilities in furtherance of the project goals. Legal Aid has successfully sponsored both Equal Justice Works and Skadden Fellows in the past, and our staff includes numerous current and former fellows. Legal Aid will assist the applicant we select in developing a project proposal to present to the fellowship programs.
Legal Aid was formed in 1932 to "provide legal aid and counsel to indigent persons in civil law matters and to encourage measures by which the law may better protect and serve their needs." Legal Aid is the oldest general civil legal services program in the District of Columbia. The largest part of our work is comprised of individual representation in housing, domestic violence/family, public benefits, and consumer law. We also work on immigration law matters and help individuals with the collateral consequences of their involvement with the criminal justice system. From the experiences of our clients, we identify opportunities for law reform, public policy advocacy, and systemic reform litigation. For more information about Legal Aid please visit our website, www.legalaiddc.org, and our blog, www.MakingJusticeReal.Org.
Potential Project Idea
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the lives of all Americans, but its impact on communities of color is pronounced in many key respects. Not only has the novel coronavirus infected and killed black District residents at a disproportionate rate, communities of color have been hit especially hard by the financial disruption resulting from the crisis. In the District, workers have filed more than 100,000 unemployment insurance claims since mid-March. While nationwide unemployment rates for white Americans have started to decline, the unemployment rate for black Americans continues to rise; as of June 1st, a staggering 16.8% of black Americans and 17.6% of Latinx workers were unemployed.
Even prior to the pandemic, wealth distribution in the District reflected past and present discriminatory policies, such as redlining and predatory lending, that prevented black families from accumulating wealth. Pre-pandemic, 43% of District residents from communities of color had debt in collections as compared to 9% of white District residents, and the median amount of that debt was more than double the amount for white communities. With little to no financial buffer to help weather the financial crisis, communities of color are once again at risk of being left behind even as the economy begins to recover. In the District, where approximately 48% of the population is black, a multifaceted approach to preserving the income and wealth of low-income black and Latinx residents will shape the economic security and mobility of generations to come.
For some struggling individuals and families, filing for bankruptcy can provide the clean slate they need. Yet, currently there are no legal services providers in the District with an attorney on staff to represent clients in bankruptcy proceedings. As black and Latinx workers return to the workforce and struggle to leave the crisis behind, Chapter 7 bankruptcy will offer many an opportunity for a fresh financial start. We anticipate that this will result in an unprecedented surge in bankruptcy filings and the need for legal assistance.
A Fellow pursuing this project will bridge this gap by dedicating the bulk of his/her/their time to providing direct representation in consumer and bankruptcy law matters. The Fellow will also engage in community outreach and education (with a focus on communities of color), conduct interviews of prospective clients, and work on systemic advocacy efforts. Moreover, the Fellow will work with the United States Bankruptcy Court to determine the best way to provide assistance in the matters where a lawyer can be most effective in advancing access to bankruptcy relief and to provide general legal information and/or "know your rights" trainings to court personnel, and community partners.
The Fellow pursuing this project would join Legal Aid's consumer law practice, which is currently staffed by a supervising attorney, two senior staff attorneys, three staff attorneys, one volunteer staff attorney, and a legal assistant.
Applicants must be law students entering their third year or recent graduates who expect to complete a judicial clerkship in the summer of 2021. Applicants should have a commitment to a career in the public interest and a desire to work in a collaborative work environment. Additional qualifications include:
Membership or eligibility for membership in the D.C. Bar is required.
Legal Aid values an inclusive, diverse workplace and does not unlawfully discriminate on any basis prohibited by law. Legal Aid encourages applications from all interested persons of any race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, personal appearance, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, genetic information, or any other legally protected status. We strongly encourage applications from people with personal experience with the criminal justice system and/or with lived experiences in the communities we serve.
Applications will be considered on a rolling basis until a candidate is selected. To apply, please submit a resume and cover letter. Additional information, such as writing samples, transcripts, and references, may be sought from those selected to interview with Legal Aid. The selected candidate will work with Legal Aid on fellowship applications to be submitted to the Skadden Foundation and/or Equal Justice Works in the fall of 2020. The fellowship, if awarded, will begin in the fall of 2021 and is anticipated to last two years. Interested candidates should submit their resume and cover letter here.
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