Tough times for public sector organizations can mean even vital expenses have to go by the wayside — like paying for lawyers. It’s a problem that sparked a brilliant idea over at the University of Miami School of Law: Creating fellowships that enable law graduates to devote some of their time to helping out the low-income and underserved. They’re called the Miami Law Legal Corps, and since 2011, around 150 Fellows have performed over 100,000 hours of legal assistance to public service agencies both in the U.S. and abroad. “Many agencies are understaffed because of economic conditions but face increasing demands for legal services, and that’s where Legal Corps steps in,” says Miami Law Legal Corps Director Tamesha Keel.
The system benefits both the grads and the agencies. Through the Corps, the School of Law offers the graduates stipends for 6 months-1 year to work with one of the public interest organizations, government agencies or judicial chambers they’ve affiliated with. They also offer the graduates training and professional development, which earns them much-needed legal education credits. The result is a win-win situation where graduates get excellent field experience and further their education, while struggling agencies are able to take advantage of critical legal aid, a vital help in carrying our their mission to help the disadvantaged.
So far, the program has been a remarkable success, being named one of the Top 5 human rights organizations in the south by the CLASSY Awards, the largest philanthropic awards ceremony in the country. “We’re endeavoring to set new standards for commitment to public service across law schools and public service organizations, and to serve as a model for other law schools and legal agencies dedicated to making an impact in public service,” adds Melissa Fernandez-Stiers, the Corps’ Director of Educational Programming & Professional Development.
It’s a noble mission, but also one that doesn’t come cheaply. Keel emphasizes that the program happily welcomes donations from those who wish to help support its mission. “It’s our hope that the program continues to expand and make a significant difference in assisting future Fellows, public service organizations, and the indigent for years to come,” she says.
To find out more about the Legal Corps, or to make a donation, call 305.284.8011 or visit Law.Miami.Edu/LegalCorps.