Equal Justice Works for MLP

Australia has seen a number of examples of legal fellowship programs, enabling recent law graduates to be placed into community legal centres or other social lawyering roles. While these hold the promise of things to come, Equal Justice Works (EJW) is one of America’s finest examples of a mature legal fellowship program. EJW also demonstrates how a fellowship program can make a real contribution to the initiation and maintenance of Medical-Legal Partnerships.

Examples of fellowship programs in Australia, by some description or another, include:

  • In 1999 Melbourne’s Fitzroy Legal Service in conjunction with Allens Arthur Robinson initiated their community law articled clerkship program. Since then they have produced more than 10 outstanding lawyers grounded in the philosophy and practice of community lawyering.
  • In 2007 Australian law firm Clayton Utz placed their first Foundation Fellow at the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre. During the two year fellowship, Paula Glassborow initiated a pilot service for homeless people and LCCLCs immigration law program for recently settled refugees. In 2009 the Foundation again responded to unmet legal need in the regional Victoria to fund a second fellow (Joanne Ellis) to establish a pilot community legal centre in the Goulburn Valley.
  • In 2010 Victoria’s Federation commenced its Community Legal Centre Law Graduate Scheme in 2010. Funded through grants from the Legal Services Board and Victoria Legal Aid, and supported by the pro-bono services of Ashurst (formerly Blake Dawson), the scheme sponsors fees for the successful candidate’s practical legal training, and then offers a 12 month contract with three placements in Victorian CLCs, one of which is a rural and regional CLC (with housing assistance).

While each of these programs are fine examples of some of the fellowships that have been provided in Australia, Equal Justice Works based in Washington may provide a model to entrench a long-term fellowship program in Australia, supported by a wide range of funding sources – law firms, corporations, legal aid commissions, and philanthropy.

I was fortunate to meet with staff at EJW while in Washington DC attending the 2012 National Pro Bono Conference. At a glance, EJW:

  • Was founded in 1986 by law students with the goal of expanding legal services to underrepresented people, and increasing opportunities for law students and graduates to work in the public interest field;
  • Has grown to an $11 million dollar organisation;
  • Have helped law schools establish and strengthen public interest law programs, provide public sector work experience, professional development and training to law students and lawyers, and advocated policy reform for legal debt education relief and forgiveness.1
  • Operate three key postgraduate opportunities – EJW Fellowships; EJW AmeriCorps Legal Fellowships and Public Defender Corps.4

The National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership cites EJW as an “…early and vigorous supporter of the medical-legal partnership model, which has impacted MLP expansion, visibility and leadership exponentially.  MLP has inspired a significant number of committed public interest lawyers to establish or expand MLP’s in their communities.”  Renee Erline, EJW fellow with the Children’s Law Center (blog post Children’s Law Center DC) was one such lawyer that I was fortunate to also meet while in DC.5

As I think about what the Medical-Legal Partnership movement might have to offer Australia, I can’t help but think that other significant programs like EJW’s, may also need to be part of the agenda. It would be interesting to see what the appetite is, especially among corporations and firms, to build upon the important fellowship initiatives that currently exist, to create real opportunities for Australia’s future generations of public interest lawyers.

Peter Noble

1,2,3. EJW Summary, provided 2012.

4.EJW 2012 Postgraduate Opportunities, provided 2012.

5. Equal Justice Works Website at http://www.medical-legalpartnership.org/about-us/pro-bono-partners/equal-justice-works, accessed 1 April 2012.

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