Dykema creates new fellowship

The Detroit-based law firm Dykema yesterday announced the creation of the Dykema Fellow. The Dykema Fellow will serve in residence at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) for a period of two years and will expand the capacity of the private bar to represent unaccompanied and neglected or abused immigrant children as well as immigrants who have helped law enforcement prosecute certain crimes.

The Dykema Fellow will be one of two Equal Justice Works Americorps Legal Fellows placed at Legal Services of South Central Michigan (LSSCM). The Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program, funded partially by the federal government and partially funded by foundations and other donors, creates partnerships among law firm or corporate sponsors and nonprofit organizations to give underrepresented populations effective access to the justice system. LSSCM is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal advice and representation to low-income persons and senior citizens (regardless of income) in certain civil legal cases. LSSCM also funds programs elsewhere that support the entire state, including the Michigan Poverty Law Program, Farmworker Legal Services (in Kalamazoo, Michigan) and most recently MIRC.

"As a law firm with a long history of service to the communities in which we practice, our policy is to provide, where possible, focused and meaningful financial support to legal service providers that provide important pro bono services," stated Rex Schlaybaugh, chairman and CEO. "This fellowship maintains and strengthens our relationship with LSSCM and its programs, enabling our firm to combine charitable giving, pro bono support and long-term involvement with legal service opportunities."

Dykema has had an ongoing relationship with MIRC that reflects the agency's primary and unique support of pro bono volunteers (rather than representing clients directly). This has enabled Dykema to represent unaccompanied children who have been abused, neglected or trafficked. Without the support of MIRC and the legal representation of the private bar, these children would face significant and complicated legal obstacles.

Such matters require specialized training and knowledge, and the Dykema Fellow will expand MIRC's capacity to mentor other members of the private bar to serve immigrant children and victims of crime.

"The Dykema Fellow will further help MIRC close a chronic justice gap," Heidi Naasko, Pro Bono Counsel, concluded. "Our firm attorneys, from both transactional and litigation practices, have volunteered to address the legal needs of this extremely vulnerable population in partnership with MIRC. We are pleased to sponsor the Dykema Fellow, which will be a significant addition to our and MIRC's efforts to help those deserving clients."

Dykema's pledge leveraged a significant matching grant from the Michigan State Bar Foundation, which provides grants in Michigan for civil legal services to the poor. Dykema is a strong supporter of the Access to Justice Fund, administered by the Foundation; these funds will be provided to MIRC through the ATJ Fund.

Published: Tue, Jun 29, 2010