Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
I am honored and humbled to be recognized as a White House ‘Champion of Change.’ I know most of the others recognized, and it is amazing to be in their company. These are leaders who are passionate about providing access to justice to the country's most vulnerable people.
The timing of this recognition nicely coincides with Equal Justice Works' 25th Anniversary. We were founded by law students from 14 law schools who had a dream of expanding legal services to under-represented people and increasing opportunities for law students and graduates to practice in the field of public interest.
Today, Equal Justice Works is a national player in the legal nonprofit community, continuing to create a pipeline of new lawyers committed to public service. The organization has 200 member law schools, and 170 lawyers working across the country making a difference and combating injustice every day.
Equal Justice Works is the nation’s leading creator of postgraduate legal fellowships, creating opportunities in an extremely challenging job market for attorneys wanting to pursue careers in public service. This year, our Equal Justice Works Fellowship program will have 88 attorneys in non-profit organizations around the country, bringing innovative and sustainable solutions to the injustices plaguing vulnerable populations. Thanks to funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service, we have been able to put 80 Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellows in the field to respond to the nation’s current crises, including placing attorneys in Joplin, Missouri to help a community rebuild after being devastated by tornadoes last spring. And this fall, we welcomed our inaugural class of 18 Public Defender Corps members, a program run in partnership with the Southern Public Defender Training Center and supported by a grant from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance, to place talented attorneys in overburdened public defender offices.
In addition to job creation, Equal Justice Works helps break down the educational debt barriers that keep attorneys from entering the public interest field. The Equal Justice Works Educational Debt Relief program offers insight and information on loan repayment assistance programs and the federally-funded College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which provides Income-Based Repayment, available to everyone no matter if working in the private or public sector, as well as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, benefitting those with qualifying federal loans to receive complete loan forgiveness after 10 years of working in public service.
Equal Justice Works has been successful because we attract support from all corners of the legal profession who believe in instilling public service values among law students and creating opportunities for students and lawyers to help underserved populations. With this support, Equal Justice Works has placed thousands of law students and lawyers in communities across the country to fight the justice gap in America.
David Stern is the Executive Director of Equal Justice Works, a national nonprofit committed to creating public interest opportunities for law students and lawyers to help underserved communities and causes. To learn about all of Equal Justice Works programs, please visit www.equaljusticeworks.org.