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Students serve public interest through fellowships

July 05, 2012

 

DETROIT – Fifteen Wayne Law students are spending the summer working with a variety of agencies and legal clinics in Michigan and beyond, thanks to the support of the 2012 Public Interest Law Fellowships.
The Wayne State University Law School created the fellowships in 2009 to give students experiential education before graduation; to help ease their financial stresses; and to help the organizations where the students are doing public interest jobs. Fellowship recipients were selected by a committee of Wayne law faculty members, staff and alumni.
Assistant Professor Brandon Hofmeister directs the PILF program, which serves several goals, he said.
“First, in public interest careers in particular, past work experience and networking is crucially important for students hoping to land fulltime jobs after graduation,” he said. “Because many public interest non-profits and government agencies have very strapped budgets, they often cannot afford to pay summer legal interns. Providing funding allows our students to take these otherwise non-paying jobs without incurring more debts to pay their summer living expenses. The internships give our students valuable work experience and connections, which help them ultimately to meet their goals of obtaining full-time public interest jobs.
“Second, Wayne State University Law School is a public, urban law school which is committed to broadly serving the public interest. The PILF program enables our outstanding students to give voice and legal expertise to populations and causes that are often underserved by the legal community.”
The financial aid that goes with the fellowship varies each year, and is applied toward recipients’ winter semester financial aid. For 2012, the amount is $4,000 per student.
“So far, the work is great,” fellow Lynn Bartkowiak said. The Livonia resident is working at Lakeshore Legal Aid in Southfield. “In the past few weeks, I’ve been able to work directly with over 30 clients, assisting them alongside the attorneys on staff. I’ve spoken with opposing parties and counsel, corresponded with other parties and agencies and performed a variety of legal research.
“My favorite part of the work is speaking with the clients and having the opportunity to provide some comfort in light of their legal issues. The most difficult part of the job is bearing bad news or telling clients that we are unable to assist them with their problem,” Bartkowiak said. “Some of the situations are heartbreaking to me.”
She plans to pursue some type of public interest work in Detroit after graduation.
Working with the lawyers on the Sexual Assault Unit at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has been a major learning experience for Ana Stutler, who lives in Detroit. “I have definitely been able to learn a lot about what it takes for a case to go from receiving a warrant request from the police all the way up until sentencing,” she said. “I’ve been able to help attorneys with details every step of the process.”
But it’s not easy.
“One of the greatest challenges has been learning the balance of seeking justice and fairness for both the defendant and the victim, and dealing with all of the human emotions that are associated with the trial process for both the defendant and the victims,” Stutler said.
She chose to work on the sexual assault legal team “because I have a passion for helping those affected by sexual crimes, and also wanted to explore criminal prosecution to see if it would be an area that would suit me in the long term,” she said. “I’m not sure specifically what I’ll be doing (after graduation), but I know I want to be working in public interest law.
“I chose Wayne Law because I wanted to be in Detroit, and when evaluating my options, Wayne Law provided the best education, financial aid, opportunities for students, and has specific programs — like this fellowship — to encourage public interest work.”
Kanika Suri, who lives in Royal Oak, is excited about her summer work with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Ann Arbor.
“MIRC is a wonderful organization to work for,” Suri said. “I have been able to deepen my understanding of immigration law, have direct contact with clients within the system and strengthen my Spanish-speaking skills. It is a very hands-on approach to learning. This is a unique skill that one necessarily does not get attending lectures and reading case law. It has cemented the fact that I do want to pursue a career in this field.”
She enjoys meeting and talking to clients, and her ability to speak Spanish has made her an asset to the center, where many of the clients are Spanish-speaking.
“Most of our clients are victims of domestic violence, and it is very difficult to hear detailed stories of the physical, mental and economic abuse some have suffered,” Suri said. “However, I remind myself that we are helping them escape an awful past and giving them a chance of a safer, freer future.”
Fellow Robert Johns of Detroit, who plans a career in environmental law, is serving his internship with the Michigan Attorney General’s Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Division, and he’s found the work to be “exciting” as well as educational.
“So far, I’ve worked on cases involving invasive species, air pollution, wetlands, hazardous chemical dumping and even a Native American matter,” he said. “The attorneys in my office are extremely helpful and willing to share their years of experience in everything from trial strategies to the politics of working for a state department.”
2012 Public Interest Law Fellowship recipients:
·         Lynn Bartkowiak, Livonia, Lakeshore Legal Aid
·         Sarah Douglas, Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County Public Defender
·         Tasnim Hassanali, Ferndale, Advocates for Informed Choice
·         Robert Johns, Detroit, Michigan Attorney General’s Office
·         Melissa Knox, Lincoln Park, U.S. House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Attorney’s                                                                     Office, Eastern District, Michigan
·         Nicholas Leonard, Detroit, Michigan Children’s Law Center
·         Margaret Lukshaitis, Royal Oak, Michigan Poverty Law Program
·         Lisa Maskill, Ypsilanti, Lakeshore Legal Aid
·         Katie Okonowski, Dearborn, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
·         Nick Ranke, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
·         Zachary Steffes, Westland, Washtenaw County Public Defender
·         Ana Stutler, Detroit, Wayne County Prosecutor-Sexual Assault Unit
·         Kanika Suri, Rochester Hills, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center
·         Patrick Tully, West Bloomfield, Massachusetts Department of Recreation and                                                                      Conservation
·         Jessica Wayne, Novi, Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan
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