It was Maura Hilser's work as a disability case manager that first made her consider law school, as she became more interested in learning about public interest law and health law.
Now she has completed her second year at University of Arizona Law and has gained valuable experience in the field. Last summer, Hilser interned with the Tucson Family Advocacy Program, a partnership of health care providers and lawyers working together to improve the health and wellbeing of low-income patients and their families.
The unpaid internship was a viable option for Hilser thanks to being chosen as a Justice Advocates Coalition Fellow. The Justice Advocates Coalition (JAC) is a student-run organization that provides stipends to qualified students who accept unpaid summer positions with nonprofit law organizations. The JAC Fellowship covered Hilser's living costs such as rent, food, and gas for the summer. (For those taking fellowships at a great distance, the funds also help cover transportation.)
|Rising 3L and 2018 JAC Fellow |
"It was really meaningful for me to have finished my first year of law school and then to really be out there doing the work in the community that I had come to law school for," says Hilser, who then served as the JAC development chair during the 2018-19 school year.
She says she felt fulfilled knowing that her contributions allowed the two attorneys on staff to have more time to work directly with clients. "It really feels like I have made a difference."
Students Helping Students
Their efforts follow in the footsteps of similar past initiatives such as the Dean Paul Marcus Fellowship founded in 1988 by professors Kenny Hegland and Andy Silverman ('69) and the student-formed Public Interest Law Organization (PILO). The Marcus Fellowship and PILO combined funded more than 40 fellows during their 20 years in existence.
With those organizations no longer operating, Mia Hammersley ('18) and Amanda Rutherford ('18), both then 2Ls, and Wouter Zwart ('19), who was then a 1L, took up the baton and co-founded JAC. Hammersley says the fellowships began as a long-term project, but it soon took off more quickly than expected:
"What started off as a long-term goal quickly became a reality due to the hard work of our student group and the enthusiastic support we received from the faculty and the administration."
"We have a lot of students who really want to use their law degrees to promote public interest, and they need our support," says JAC faculty advisor Toni Massaro. "The students want to make this a law school where that is part of our DNA. I believe it is, but we can do more, and they are helping us do more."
"Law is action. Law is change. Law is power."
| Rising 2L and 2019 JAC Fellow Nathaniel Goodman |
Rising 2L and current JAC Fellow Nathaniel Goodman is spending his summer interning at Freedom for All Americans, an LGBTQ advocacy organization in Washington, DC. He is working with the organization's chief legal counsel in preparing amicus briefs for the recently consolidated Supreme Court cases concerning gay and transgender rights as protected in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"To just have finished my first year of law school and now be working on what could be a landmark Supreme Court case is hard for me to grasp, and I'm still in disbelief, yet utter happiness," says Goodman.
He continues, "Law is action. Law is change. Law is power. You put these three together, and so much good can be done for the world." (Read more.)
| 2018 and 2019 JAC Fellow, rising 3L Yesenia Gamez Valdez |
Rising 3L Yesenia Gamez Valdez has been selected as a JAC Fellow for two consecutive years. Last summer she worked at Southern Arizona Legal Aid and this summer she is working with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.
"I work with detained children in Tucson who are either unaccompanied minors or separated from their families," says Gamez Valdez. "I go into the shelters and give 'Know Your Rights' presentations, and I am also working closely with the attorneys on their cases."
She says the JAC fellowship was essential to her ability to work for those organizations, and the experiences helped solidify her decision to work in immigration law after law school. (Read more.
Expanding Arizona Law's Public Interest Employment Resources
The efforts of the Justice Advocates Coalition continue University of Arizona Law's longstanding tradition of emphasizing and supporting public interest work.
This year the Career Development Office
is expanding its efforts with a new position: an assistant director of public interest. Pare Gerou
will fill the role, joining University of Arizona Law after more than two decades in public interest, with a focus on immigration law.
Gerou, who has started multiple non-profits and directed the refugee law clinic at the University of Virginia, will counsel students seeking public interest careers, manage Career Development Office relationships with public interest employers, and help students and recent graduates obtain funding for entry-level public interest positions.
One of the Career Development Office's longest running programs is the Sonoran Desert Public Interest/Public Sector Career Fair
, which the college has hosted annually for nearly two decades. The Sonoran Career Fair is devoted exclusively to government agencies, nonprofits and other public interest groups, typically drawing 50-60 employers and resulting in hundreds of scheduled interviews.
"The world needs them, so we need to help them."
Each year, JAC sets a $10,000 minimum fundraising goal in order to award at least four summer fellowships. Students raise money throughout the academic year, culminating in an annual spring fundraiser where students share their personal stories and career goals with attendees who support public interest work.
The event has grown in attendance and amount of funds raised each year -- yet JAC is still unable to meet the growing demand of students applying for JAC fellowships. This year, about a dozen applications were submitted, but only four fellowship slots were available.
JAC donor Lynne Wood Dusenberry ('74) spent her entire legal career in public interest-first as a Naval Reserve JAG Corps officer and then in the University of Arizona's Office of the General Counsel. She places a premium on work that serves vulnerable communities and the public and says,
"I am so impressed with this student-led initiative to help underserved clients and groups by working in public interest non-profit law organizations. My husband and I are happy to help smart and caring students get paid to do good work helping others."
Massaro hopes JAC will one day have an endowment that will relieve students of the fundraising work and also allow more students to receive fellowships:
"Few things make me prouder of our students than this organization. Those who began it and those who are sustaining it, their values, and their desire to apply their many gifts, intellectually and educationally to help others. They epitomize what professional ethics and practice can look like. The world needs them, so we need to help them."