Virginia Claims Three Skadden Public Service Fellowships
A record three Virginia law students have been selected to serve among the 2008 Skadden Fellows, recipients of the most coveted public service fellowship available to young attorneys nationwide. Following graduation, third-year law students Dania Davy, Michael Hollander, and Matthew VanWormer will receive an annual salary with benefits to work on public-interest projects of their own design, through a program founded by law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
"Due to the strength of our public service program, we are attracting highly qualified students who are committed to public interest careers and are therefore excellent candidates for national fellowships like the Skadden," said Kimberly Emery, assistant dean for pro bono and public interest. "These three new Skadden Fellows are certainly examples of such commitment and excellence and we are delighted that they have been recognized and honored."
"This is what I came to law school to do," said Hollander, a former software engineer and University of Virginia undergraduate who wasn't satisfied working in San Francisco's tech industry. "I felt like I wasn't giving anything back."
Now Hollander will be focusing on employment issues for Latino workers under the sponsorship of one of the largest and oldest legal aid organizations in the country, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, as well as with Juntos, a Latino community group in South Philadelphia.
"The majority of my work in that context will be different types of workers' claims — people who haven't been paid, unsafe working conditions, discrimination, terms of hiring or firing, people missing overtime, people not getting paid what they were promised," he said. "I have experience talking to workers who may not know their rights, who may not speak English."
Hollander first advocated for the Latino population during his first-year summer with Charlottesville's Virginia Justice Center. During his second summer he split his time between law firm Morgan Lewis and the Federal Public Defender's Capital Habeas Corpus Unit, working on death penalty cases. Hollander is treasurer for the Public Interest Law Association (PILA) and has been involved with the ACLU of UVA, the Migrant Farm Worker Project, the Virginia Capital Punishment Project, and the Virginia Environmental Law Forum.
Davy will use her fellowship to help black farmers retain property within their families. Working in Durham, N.C., for the Land Loss Prevention Project, Davy will focus her efforts on community education and preserving ownership through estate planning, in a strategy she called "a frontal attack on the intergenerational transfer of poverty.
"There's a really big issue of land loss in this population with black farmers owning less than two million acres nationally," she said. "Through talking to different national experts on black farmers I learned that no one was really working on this estate planning element, which is significant because the majority of black farmers are elderly."
Davy was alerted to the problem when a friend sent her a Washington Post article on loss of land ownership in the Mississippi Delta. Farmers may not make it clear to the next generation how important it is to keep the land, or the next generation may not pay the property taxes and lose the land, she said. Others don't realize they are eligible for one-time payments from the federal government. Black farmers also receive federal subsidies at a lesser rate than their white counterparts, contributing to the problem.
Davy said she has always been interested in issues of racial disparity and poverty. During her summers she worked for the Equal Rights Center in Washington, D.C., on civil rights and disabilities issues, and at the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights on employment discrimination litigation. At the Law School she served as auction director for PILA and was a tutor and mentor for Action for a Better Living Environment. She also volunteered for the Domestic Violence Project and the Street Law Program.
"I see this as my life's work." Davy said. "I see myself going along the track of becoming an expert in this field." She credited law professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin for encouraging her to pursue the project. "She had a big role in it all happening for me."
VanWormer will use his fellowship across the country in Shiprock, N.M., where he plans to help establish a medical-legal partnership providing civil legal services to low-income patients at the Northern Navajo Medical Center, located in a Navajo and Hopi reservation. VanWormer based his project, sponsored by the Medical Center and DNA People's Legal Services, on the model offered by the Child Health Advocacy Program at Virginia, which partners law students, legal aid attorneys, and the University of Virginia Children's Hospital.
"It's specifically aimed at the social barriers that prevent positive child health outcomes," he said. "Seeing that model working here in Charlottesville inspired me to propose it to DNA People's Legal Services and it wound up being something they had been excited about already. [The Medical Center] was the spot where they had identified the highest need and the best prospects for this project, so it really wound up with a lot of synergy behind it."
Everything from housing conditions to poor economic support can get in the way of the nutritional and educational development of children, VanWormer said. Having lawyers assess the needs of patients in a hospital helps identify such problems at their source.
VanWormer has been interested in issues affecting Native Americans since he was an undergraduate at Arizona State University, where he spent a year researching the cultural impacts of mining on a Montana reservation. In law school he interned during his summers with Trustees for Alaska and California Indian Legal Services. "I would be happy spending my entire career in that field," he said.
In addition to an annual salary of $46,000, for those fellows not covered by a law school low-income protection plan, Skadden pays law school debt service for the tuition part of the loan for the duration of the fellowship. The Law School's fellows will participate in the Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program, which will provide partial payment of their law school loans.
Other law schools receiving three or more fellowships this year include Harvard, New York University, Stanford, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Michigan. Past Skadden Fellows from the Law School include Erin Trodden (2006), Janet Stocco (2004), Jennifer Maranzano (2003), Chinh Quang Le (2001), Timothy Freilich and Christine Ellertson (1999), and Mary Bauer (1990). The first Skadden Fellowships were awarded in 1989.