Since 2000, The Morrison & Foerster Foundation has contributed more than $5.4 million in support of Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. that creates opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for public service into a lifelong commitment to equal justice.
As the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, Equal Justice Works brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, legal services organizations, and supporters to promote public service and bring lasting change to underserved communities across the United States. More than 2,000 Fellows have launched their public interest law careers through Equal Justice Works, with 85% of participants remaining in public service following their fellowships.
For the past 20+ years, The Morrison & Foerster Foundation has selected promising law school graduates for the upcoming fellowship class, which begins each fall. During their two-year fellowships, these lawyers work in new full-time legal positions at their host organizations on projects jointly designed by the Fellows and their hosts. They receive training from both their host organization and Equal Justice Works. We also offer an annual stipend to each of our Fellows, to help them attend educational conferences related to their projects. Often, our Fellows’ projects lead to local pro bono opportunities for Morrison & Foerster attorneys, as well.
Through Equal Justice Works, The Morrison & Foerster Foundation has sponsored 55 new lawyers pursuing public interest legal careers at legal services organizations in regions where Morrison & Foerster has offices. Nearly all of our Fellows have focused on improving the lives of disadvantaged youth, especially those experiencing discrimination and educational inequality. We rotate our sponsoring offices while supporting the most compelling candidates. Our donation to Equal Justice Works is usually our largest single gift each year. This year, we contributed $274,000 to Equal Justice Works and began sponsoring our first-ever Fellow in the Greater Boston Area.
Our 2020 Fellows, Stephanie Horwitz and Renee Schenkman, have begun their second fellowship year. At the National Center for Youth Law in El Segundo, California, Stephanie is advocating for the rights of students of color with disabilities who face pushout to inferior alternative education settings through direct services, community advocacy, and impact litigation. Renee’s project at Lawyers for Children in New York City, focuses on providing legal representation and advocates to address the needs of youth in Residential Treatment Centers and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) Children’s Center and enforces the Family First Prevention Services Act.
“We are proud to partner year after year with Equal Justice Works to help inspiring law school graduates pursue careers in public interest law,” said Jamie Levitt, chair of The Morrison & Foerster Foundation and managing partner of the firm’s New York office. “Through this partnership with Equal Justice Works, our Fellows follow their dreams of using their legal education to make a difference in their communities and the lives of their clients, all while supporting important legal services organizations.”
Our 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellows, whose projects have just begun, are Alyssa Rao and Alejandra Gutierrez. As the MoFo Foundation’s first Fellow in the Boston area, Alyssa is hosted by Greater Boston Legal Services, where she will provide legal representation to predominantly Black and Latinx domestic violence survivors involved in the Massachusetts child welfare system while engaged in custody disputes with their abusers. At the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, California, Alejandra Gutierrez will advocate for youth unlawfully funneled into the juvenile justice system in a racially disparate manner by changing systemic responses from punitive to a public health, community-centered approach. Her project will focus on the Central Valley and Inland Empire, both underserved, rural regions of the state.
“Far too many young people in our local communities are being funneled through a juvenile justice system that is not equitable and does not work for them,” said San Francisco corporate partner and Morrison & Foerster Foundation board member Jackie Liu. “I am impressed by the work Alejandra is doing to give a voice to youth in underserved communities in California, and we are proud to support her in her legal public service journey.”
Over the years, The Morrison & Foerster Foundation’s Fellows have come from a variety of backgrounds. Prior to law school, Alejandra Gutierrez worked as an organizer for the United Farm Workers Union and as a program director at a community building organization in Stockton, California, where she co-founded the Stockton Trauma Recovery Center. And knowing that she wanted to help survivors of domestic violence, Alyssa Rao pursued concurrent degrees in law and social work, graduating with both a Juris Doctor and a Master’s in social work this spring.
“We are proud to support Alyssa and the critical advocacy work she is doing within the local Boston community to provide legal representation to domestic violence survivors,” said David Ephraim, managing partner of Morrison & Foerster’s Boston office and Morrison & Foerster Foundation board member. “We look forward to continuing to support local law school graduates, such as Alyssa, who are dedicated to the advancement of their legal careers and to making a difference in our local community.”
Read more about the talented lawyers that The Morrison & Foerster Foundation has sponsored over the years and the impacts their projects have had on their communities here.