Three Michigan Law grads named 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellows

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By Kristy Demas
U-M Law

Securing housing and stable income for homeless veterans living on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Providing legal help to undocumented members of New York City’s LGBTQ community. Challenging the state of Mississippi’s school discipline law while informing students of their rights. These are the areas where Michigan Law alums — Abbey Lent, Lauren DesRosiers, and Amelia Huckins — will direct their energies as Equal Justice Works Fellows.

“Year after year, Michigan Law graduates are among our finest candidates,” said Mia Sussman, director of fellowships at Equal Justice Works (EJW). “The wide variety of clinical offerings at the School, coupled with the terrific support from the career services office, always yields a strong applicant pool from Michigan. I am confident that we will continue to have more Wolverines as Fellows for many years to come.”

Each year, EJW selects a class of passionate public interest lawyers who have designed innovative projects in conjunction with nonprofit legal services organizations to respond to unmet legal needs in their communities. EJW Fellows have represented thousands of adults, children, and families in need in communities across the country. This year, 67 new lawyers were selected for the two-year Fellowship.

Lent, whose Fellowship at the Inner City Law Center (ICLC) is co-sponsored by Raytheon and Kirkland & Ellis, will develop a medical-legal partnership with the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center to provide chronically homeless veterans with legal services.

“Our main focus is helping these men and women—who risked their lives to serve their country—get back on their feet by providing them with income and housing stability,” Lent said.

The center is the only provider of legal services in this historically impoverished area. ICLC’s website estimates that 320,000 of the 1.64 million service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan experienced a traumatic brain injury during deployment, and 300,000 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.

These numbers and the lack of accessible legal services contribute to the struggles low-income and homeless veterans face.

“For many,” Lent said, “legal representation is the only way for them to obtain permanent housing, receive health care, increase income, and secure employment.” Data shows that veterans with legal assistance are more likely to have their VA claims for health care and benefits resolved successfully—something Lent intends to make happen. “Working with veterans in this way is extremely rewarding. When you get them back on their feet as productive members of society again—it’s really giving them hope.”

“Equal Justice Works Fellows from Michigan Law reflect the School’s long-standing commitment to offering a wide array of pro bono and public service opportunities,” said Sussman. “These opportunities provide students with professional skill development and encourage them to pursue careers that benefit underserved communities.”

DesRosiers will assist lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected immigrants who have experienced hate violence through her Fellowship at the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP)—the only organization in New York that provides services specifically for LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of violence. Co-sponsored by Bloomberg LP and Proskauer Rose LLP, she will work to increase access to legal services through direct services, community building, and policy initiatives for these populations. Her project will combat the dramatic increase in incidents of hate violence experienced by LGBTQ and immigrant communities.

DesRosiers has a long history of working with violence survivors, particularly within LGBTQ and immigrant communities. Prior to law school, she volunteered for an intimate partner violence organization for several years, which fueled her interest in the law. While at Michigan Law, she was impressed and inspired by her peers’ interest and engagement in social justice matters. During the summer after her 1L year at Michigan Law, she worked with LGBTQ and HIV-affected violence survivors at AVP. She has continued to serve violence survivors, particularly undocumented immigrants, on a pro bono basis since graduating.

DesRosiers wanted to expand on work she had previously done for AVP as an intern, and the EJW Fellowship was the perfect chance for her to create a project that offers more in-depth and lasting solutions than legal services currently provide.

“I was attracted by the opportunity to build creative solutions and enduring structures that will continue to benefit these communities well into the future,” she said “After I complete this Fellowship, I look forward to continuing to assist underserved populations—particularly within LGBTQ communities.”

Returning to her home state, Huckins will support the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) in its mission to create a just society. Before attending Michigan Law, Huckins worked for Teach For America in Mississippi.
“It definitely influenced my interest in education law, so I am really looking forward to my time at MCJ, where I’ll be advocating for students who have been subjected to long-term suspensions and expulsions.” Huckins will work to challenge the standard of proof in the state’s school discipline law and educate students about their rights.

Inspired by MCJ’s founder and senior counsel, Martha Bergmark, Huckins wanted to give back to her home state by working to represent students who are most in need of advocacy. Like Bergmark, who was honored by the White House in 2011 with a Champions of Change award, Huckins believes that her home state needs more skilled advocates to help the youngest generation achieve success by staying in school. Huckins is being sponsored by the Friends and Family of Philip M. Stern.

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