18 PILA Fellows help underserved communities receive more equitable access to justice
UW Law is proud to announce that 18 first- and second-year law students were named 2021 Public Interest Law Association Fellows. Last summer, the fellows pursued projects associated with public interest organizations, legal services offices, social service agencies, public defender officers, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies and tribal entities.
PILA Fellows provide legal support services to a wide array of underserved populations as part of their summer work. Their work ensured that the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society receive more equitable access to justice.
Public interest law fellowships allow students to engage in life-changing work, not only for law students, but also for the underrepresented people and causes they support.
The 2021 PILA fellows
- Juliana DeFilippis
- Abigael Diaz
- Marisa Forthun
- Kay Fuhlman
- Maria Gomes
- Katie Hardiman
- Melanie Kray
- Melissa London
- Maana Mesbahi
- Micah Moussbir
- Jacqueline Nguyen
- Arianna Nord
- Vivian Oguejiofor
- Kieran O’Neil
- Emily Parker
- Donald Peters
- Christine Svihus
- Anna Waltar
The Public Interest Law Association at UW Law is a student-run organization dedicated to promoting legal work that serves the public and improves the quality of life for individuals in Washington and the world.
PILA fellowships are made possible by generous contributions from UW Law friends, faculty and staff. This year, the UW Law community gave about $100,000 in support of the summer fellowships.
Learn more about the projects from the fellows
Legal Services of Northern California, Western States Pension Assistance Project
Many low-income seniors depend on their pension benefits to provide for their ordinary and necessary costs of living. Many of my clients expressed hesitancy to accept help due to a distrust of individuals gathering information from them over the phone. It can be very isolating to deal with previous employers, unions, state agencies and complicated legalese without any assistance.
I made intake calls to clients and practiced gaining my clients’ trust to assist them with their issue. I also developed case strategies with my supervisor and had the opportunity to write appeals and waiver letters on behalf of my clients.
I was honored to learn from the experienced attorneys who work at WSPAP and assist with the work that they do on a daily basis.
Eastside Legal Assistance Project
I directly helped my community by working directly with the domestic violence attorney who served DAWN, a nonprofit organization that supports, empowers and shelters victims of domestic violence in South King County.
I was able to participate in valuable and substantive work. I got to observe family court and ex parte court, watching my supervising attorney advocate for the clients we helped. I would work directly with clients to help write their motions and declarations. Any downtime was spent doing research and participating in CLEs on relevant topics.
I have learned so much and am so grateful to help my community navigate the complex legal field. I will take what I have learned this summer and make sure pro bono work like this is always a part of my life.
Unemployment Law Project
I learned firsthand about the complexity of navigating the application process for unemployment insurance. I successfully represented multiple clients at administrative hearings in front of Administrative Law Judges. I questioned my client, cross-examined the opposing party and I gave a closing statement on behalf of my client.
I worked closely with our staff attorneys to develop case theories and to ensure that I was presenting the most effective legal argument. I helped write a brief to the Superior Court and two Petitions for Review by conducting legal research and reviewing the hearing record and exhibits.
I truly felt like the work I did was meaningful and impactful. Upon graduating from law school, I seek a career in public interest, either in public defense or civil litigation.
Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Labor & Industries Division
The Labor & Industries Division touches all aspects of workers’ lives in Washington state. The Attorney General’s Office advises and represents the Department of Labor & Industries regarding the Worker’s Compensation and Unemployment Insurance programs. It also acts in an enforcement capacity on behalf of Washington workers by bringing charges against employers who violate essential worker protection laws, such as the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA).
I had the opportunity to assist with all stages of litigation, including pre-trial preparation and presenting in court. I prepared Superior Court briefs and motions, and I prepared for and participated in administrative hearings, including a wage payment action. Thanks to the PILA Fellowship, I was able to gain invaluable experience and perform the work I came to law school to do.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)--Detained Unit
Working with KIND allowed me to advocate for children and their immigrant families. I prepared and translated in Spanish sensitive documents, like birth certificates, declarations and motions for youths who are currently detained.
I interacted with clients, gathered information related to their immigration cases and assisted in the preparation of client cases. I prepared immigration forms to support youth seeking asylum and/or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Under attorney supervision, I worked on a client’s case who is seeking monetary compensation for the trauma they faced when they were separated from their parent.
Interning with KIND has been truly amazing and rewarding! The dedication of the staff at KIND and the tremendous work they do to support and protect immigrant children has further solidified my desire to become an immigration attorney and work with children.
Metropolitan Public Defender
I interned in Portland, OR at the Metropolitan Public Defender- the primary provider of pro-bono public defense in Multnomah and Washington counties. I became certified by the Oregon State Bar to represent defendants on the record and managed my own misdemeanor caseload under the supervision of a staff attorney.
Throughout the summer, I prepped diversion entries, negotiated plea offers, collected mitigation, and wrote and filed pre-trial motions. Despite pandemic constraints, I was able to speak for clients on the record, argue a successful pre-trial motion and serve as first-chair in a bench trial, earning my client an acquittal. I established great working relationships with my clients and was able to help guide them through the legal system. This internship was incredibly impactful, and I am thankful to PILA for making this possible.
Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender
I reviewed clients’ appellate records to identify appealable issues, conducted corresponding research, and drafted opening appellate briefs while working with various supervisors. There were cases that frustrated me because there were obvious wrongs that the legal system could not make right, and it often appeared the system was stacked against defendants. These frustrations only strengthened my resolve to find the nuances in the case records, statutes and case law to advocate for the best possible outcome for my client.
My internship helped me realize how confident I should be that my legal education has adequately prepared me for practice. There is a great sense of pride in seeing that I have selected my concentration and courses such that I feel so prepared, and I am so excited to continue developing my skills to be the best practitioner I can be.
Snohomish County Public Defender Association
I represented indigent clients charged with misdemeanors. Under attorney supervision, I primarily appeared on criminal motions and pretrial readiness calendars, as well as for arraignments and failure to comply hearings. I also had the opportunity to craft and present probable cause arguments, provide information to the court on behalf of clients and write motions to suppress evidence.
The opportunity to write motions was especially helpful in understanding how the legal doctrines I learned in law school are applied in practice. Each client presented a new set of facts that required unique analysis, which encouraged me to be creative in the ways I approached and thought about legal issues.
The collaborative and compassionate environment provided me with invaluable hands-on learning experiences. This experience solidified my desire to pursue a career in public defense upon graduation.
Columbia Legal Services
I had the opportunity to address and challenge the power relations that propagate state-sanctioned violence within historically marginalized communities. CLS serves these communities by working to dismantle the systems that have established and perpetuated this marginalization. It has formed solidarity networks with community-led movements and initiatives to ensure it provides the most pertinent legal tools for systemic change. I had the opportunity to engage with these networks.
My work entailed research policy advocacy around the criminal justice system and around civil rights concerns impacting farmworker and immigrant communities.
I would like to use my legal education to challenge the systems that continue to affect my family and other immigrant families across the country. This experience helped instill in me the skills necessary to work as a future public interest attorney and build a more just world.
Washington Attorney General, Wing Luke Civil Rights Division
I was a Summer Law Clerk with the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division of the Washington Attorney General’s Office in Seattle. I worked primarily on housing and employment discrimination issues. I also completed legal research for cases regarding; consumer protection violations by a transnational corporation, the Tacoma private immigration detention center’s refusal to pay detainee’s minimum wage, and the Trans military ban of the former federal administration.
I grew my communication, legal writing and research skills, and my ability to multitask and prioritize urgent issues. The PILA fellowship allowed me to focus solely on the internship instead of having to take a part time job in the private sector.
I examined the civil right to counsel through two legal research projects. I studied the disparities in legal representation between tenants and landlords and how the impact has systematically disadvantaged Oʻahu’s low-income communities. My memo advocates for the tenant right to counsel, modeling New York City’s and San Francisco’s right to counsel laws.
I also studied the school-to-prison pipeline that has perpetuated the criminalization of poverty and Native Hawaiian youth. My memo advocates for standards by which counsel should be held when representing marginalized youth.
Working with Hawaiʻi Appleseed not only enriched my legal skills, but it humbled me to the history and strength of the Hawaiian People. My experience and the people I met have greatly influenced the work that I would like to carry throughout my career.
East Bay Family Defenders
EBFD's work is built on the understanding that Child Protective Services operates as an oppressive system that targets poor communities of color, in particular African American and Native American communities, for family separation. The attorneys, social workers and parent peer advocates try to interrupt the cycle of oppression in dependency cases by providing parents with high-quality legal representation and social services.
I had the opportunity to join court nearly every day, draft documents to be filed with the court and maintain regular contact with several clients to create a lasting, positive relationship.
I got a lot out of my experience - familiarity with dependency proceedings, heightened legal research and writing skills, and practice with healthy, professional client-attorney relationships. The memories of cases being dismissed with children reunited with their parents will be with me for a lifetime!
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Tacoma South Unit
I was in the Tacoma South Unit and had the opportunity to work on various immigration matters on non-detained work. I got to meet and work with clients on their immigration petitions, such as asylum, U-visas and domestic violence.
I practiced my advocacy skills through community education. I created a presentation on trafficking issues and visas, and I presented to the advocacy team at Tacoma Community House. I also developed my policy writing skills by helping my supervisor draft a comment on trafficking visas to submit to the Department of Homeland Security regulations. I learned a lot about immigration work, professional responsibility and trauma-informed advocacy. I am excited for my future in law and exploring the public interest field in greater depth.
State of Alaska Department of Law, Natural Resources Section, Civil Division
I performed legal research and helped prepare court documents in advance of litigation involving disputes over natural resource management. I applied canons of construction to Kodiak brown bear hunting statutes and provisions of the Alaska Constitution; conducted case law research on salmon fisheries management using Westlaw; and used CRAC to synthesize findings on the Endangered Species Act, offshore prospecting, land conveyances, hatcheries permitting, and section-line easements in written memoranda.
I enjoyed applying and refining the legal writing, research and analytical skills I learned in class to substantive work that had an impact on Alaska’s wildlife populations, ecosystems, communities and natural resource stakeholders. It was fascinating to be at the forefront of environmental jurisprudence and to have a small hand in helping interpret Alaska’s natural resource statutes.
Alaska Public Defender Agency, Dillingham office
The population of Dillingham largely consists of Alaska Natives and the agency office contains only one attorney. I engaged in legal research and writing, and I carried my own misdemeanor caseload. I participated in arraignments, bail hearings, changes of plea and sentencing in misdemeanor cases. I also wrote several motions, including a motion to dismiss and a motion to suppress evidence.
My internship with the Alaska Public Defender Agency has allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of our racialized and discriminatory criminal justice system and provided a unique perspective into how the system interacts with the Native population. I learned so much at the trial level this summer, and I would love to continue this path, as well as eventually build on this knowledge in the appellate division.
United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights
I worked on complaints regarding Free Access of Public Education for students with physical disabilities, as well as discrimination against students and school employees based on disability and sex.
I assisted with interviews of complainants and witnesses, reviewed data and responses provided by institutions and complainants within OCR’s jurisdiction, drafted outlines of complaints, statements of the case and resolution agreements. I also assisted with OCR’s facilitated mediation, which included drafting memoranda addressing legal issues pertinent to OCR’s work. It also included assisting with OCR’s complaint processing procedures and the laws OCR enforces to students, family members, school districts, colleges, universities and members of the public.
In collaboration with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the SWOG Cancer Research Network, CENTS Program and the Patient Advocate Foundation are facilitating services to cancer patients in a clinical trial.
I have been working alongside counselors to participate in the financial navigation aspect of the study. In anticipation of and in response to patient needs, I have been performing legal research on issues raised by patients as they navigate the workforce, the healthcare system, housing and their existing debts. By providing early guidance and navigation, patients may experience less stress from outside sources, allowing them to focus on recovery.
This study has provided a first-hand perspective into the ongoing need for civil legal aid, as well as the cascading impact that one event may have.
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
I had the chance to directly assist clients in petitioning for immigration benefits and relief, including adjustment of status, asylum, and detention parole. I’ve taken the lead in drafting persuasive cover letters to immigration officials, gathering evidence to support our petitions, and speaking directly with clients to take their declarations.
One of my greatest learning opportunities and most rewarding experiences so far has been helping an asylee prepare for their Credible Fear Interview before a member of the U.S. Asylum Office. I had the chance to observe the interview itself and even to ask our client some closing questions. I am grateful and humbled to have had the chance to work alongside NWIRP’s clients and staff, and I hope to continue building on this experience and the lessons it has taught me as I continue forward in my legal career.