Fellowships allow law students to serve public interest

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Fifteen students will get hands-on experience with the practice of public interest law this summer, with the support of the 2013 Public Interest Law Fellowships.

Wayne State University Law School created the fellowships in 2009 to help students gain experience before graduation, and to help the nonprofit and government organizations where the students lend their efforts. PILF funds will be distributed as stipends to help students with their summer living expenses. Fellowship recipients are selected be a committee of Wayne Law faculty members, staff and alumni.

One alumnus played a key role in helping law student Kyle Peczynski gain his prestigious internship with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this summer.

Peczynski, a Livonia resident who just finished his second year of law school, found the post by researching Wayne Law alumni working in environmental law. He found Steven Chester, former head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and a 1981 alumnus who now is deputy assistant administrator with the EPA in Washington, D.C.

“I contacted him about possible internship opportunities in his office,” Peczynski said. “He was very receptive of my inquiry, and sent my resume to the person in charge of hiring in the D.C. office. That person then told me that he would like to interview me for a position in the summer clerk program. I think Mr. Chester must have been looking out for me as a fellow member of the Wayne Law community, because I was hired after a 15-minute phone interview. Lesson: Talking to people is everything, especially if you have something in common with them.”

Peczynski will spend the summer working in the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, and he’s grateful that the PILF funds will make it possible without financial pain.

“My position this summer is unpaid, and it happens to be in one of the most expensive cities in the United States,” he said. “The PILF makes positions like mine feasible, and I hope that it continues to benefit students with a passion for public interest in the coming years.”

He plans to seek work in public interest environmental law after graduation.

“I am also interested in how the law will shape energy development and climate policy in the coming years,” Peczynski said.

He’ll be in exactly the right place this summer to explore that interest.

Wayne Law student Ana Stutler, a Detroit resident, won a PILF award last year and this year, as well. Last summer, Stutler worked with lawyers on the Sexual Assault Unit at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, which said was “a major learning experience,” she said. This summer, she’ll lend her talents to the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis.

“First, I will be working in housing law, specifically focused on foreclosure prevention, landlord/tenant issues and housing consumer scams,” Stutler said. “Second, I will be working with the director of the organization in order to learn what it looks like on a very practical level to run a similar organization. The internship is a hugely significant step in my plans to pursue a career in public interest law after graduation, because it is training me in specifically what I hope to be doing — providing faith-based legal services to people in Detroit that are relevant to their needs.”

She also is working with her church, Mack Avenue Community Church, to start a legal aid clinic on Detroit’s east side.

With a year of law school to go, student Eric Shovein, who grew up in Grosse Pointe Woods, already has a wealth of experience in public interest work. He spent last summer in India, courtesy of a Wayne Law International Public Interest Law Fellowship, working as a legal intern with MASUM, a human rights and torture law organization. And before he started law school, he spent a year working with AmeriCorps programs in Michigan, and two months training with the Peace Corps in Cambodia.

This summer, as a PILF recipient, he’s off to San Francisco to work with the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, and he’s quite sure his experiences in India as well as his work with Wayne Law’s Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic will allow him to “better connect with ORAM clients and provide with the legal help they need to obtain their deserved refugee status in America.”

He’ll work from San Francisco with a specific ORAM client in South Africa “to make sure the proper refugee paperwork is completed in the proper manner,” Shovein said.

He’ll also be assisting ORAM with its research on LGBTI persecution in various countries, and “sending the research to the U.S. State Department and other organizations so that the legal community can better understand the struggles LGBTI people have abroad — and even here,” he said.

Shovein plans to work in refugee and asylum law after graduation.

“I want nothing more than to stay in human rights law, especially immigration, given the resilient, brilliant victims of torture who can only make our society stronger and more diverse when they obtain the liberty they very much deserve,” he said.

Assistant Professor Brandon Hofmeister directs the PILF program, which offers crucial work experience and networking opportunities for law students, as well as serving public interest, he said.

“Wayne State University Law School is a public, urban law school and is committed to broadly serving the public interest,” Hofmeister said. “The PILF program helps our outstanding students to give voice and legal expertise to people and causes that are often underserved by the legal community.”

2013 Public Interest Law Fellowship recipients:

Edyth Abraham, Windsor, Ontario — Wayne County Solutions Oriented Domestic Violence Prevention Court

Shahar Ben-Josef, Detroit — Council on American-Islamic Relations – Michigan Chapter

Judith Bohr, Detroit — American Friends Service Committee – Michigan Criminal Justice Program

Connor Brown, Detroit — Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice

Jeremy Diamond, Livonia — Atlanta Legal Aid Society

Sarah Douglas-Siegel, Ann Arbor — State Appellate Defender Office

Carrie Floyd, Ann Arbor — Legal Services of South Central Michigan

Melissa Kliemann, Dearborn — Washtenaw County Public Defender

Steven Knox, Mount Clemens — Legal Advocacy for People with Cancer – WSU Law School Disability Clinic

Ben McCoy, Ann Arbor — Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

Nicholas McIntyre, Rochester Hills — U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service

Klaudia Nikolli, Grosse Pointe — Legal Aid and Defender Association Detroit

Kyle Peczynski, Livonia — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Eric Shovein, Detroit — Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration

Ana Stutler, Detroit — Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic

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