Buffett Fellowships Help Law Students Aid Children
Rising third-year law student Amy Saltzman is troubled by what she described as the "over-criminalization of typical adolescent behavior."
Saltzman, who is working this summer for the Juvenile Trial Division of the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., said school fights that might have been settled with suspensions are now handled by on-campus city police; antagonists are charged with assault.
"It's easy to be sympathetic to every single client. It's not hard to want to be on their side," she said.
Saltzman is one of nine Law School students who have received Buffett Fellowship grants to improve the lives of children from South Brooklyn to Santa Clara, Calif.
For more than 10 years, the University of Virginia's multi-disciplinary Center for Children, Families and the Law has awarded fellowships in the name of Doris Buffett, sister of billionaire entrepreneur Warren Buffett, to students in various fields of the university's graduate programs.
Buffett Fellowships are typically $1,000 to $3,500 and are intended to supplement the income of students whose summer work involves children and families in need. Saltzman, who also received a Public Interest Law Association (PILA) grant from the Law School, said she had been interested in the policy side of juvenile justice and saw the public defender internship as a chance to experience the trial side. She works under the supervision of an attorney in the Public Defender Service and her clients are typically 14- to 16-year-old boys.
Saltzman said that her clients are mostly upbeat about the future despite their current predicaments.
"They still talk about going to college and their future careers," Saltzman said.
She said positive energy and the comprehensive approach the public defender's office takes toward clients, who can take advantage of programs such as mentoring and transportation aid, helps move them past the rough spots.
Buffett Fellow Kyle Wamstad, a rising second-year law student, is spending this summer working at Charlottesville's Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), helping families with children resolve employment, housing, social security and consumer issues.
"For most of our clients, LAJC is their only option," Wamstad said, "And, they really appreciate that we are totally committed to their representation."
Wamstad, who came to LAJC at the prompting of John Conover, a staff attorney for the center's Civil Advocacy Program, described a typical day: "After I put together the roster of cases for the day, my job is to identify the legal issues involved, talk with the clients, do the legal research and draft court documents," he said.
Wamstad, whose wife is expecting their first child in December, appreciates the extra money the Buffett Fellowship is providing this summer. "It's been very helpful. You have to try to manage your resources, balance things out, and the Buffett Fellowship really helps," he said. Wamstad also received a PILA grant from the Law School in addition to an Equal Justice Works grant this summer.
Aside from drilling home the importance of procedure and the proper order of filing, the job has taught Wamstad that "you've got to step outside the books and look at the human side to your client's stories."
Rising second-year law student Sara Wood, another Buffett Fellow, is working in New York and helping clients from around the world.
"So far this summer, I have assisted on cases with clients from Ecuador, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, just to name a few," said Wood, who works at South Brooklyn Legal Services.
In her work with the Family/Domestic Violence Unit, Wood assists in cases involving divorce, child custody and support, and visitation matters. Most of her cases involve domestic violence against a spouse or children. Her packed schedule includes several days each week in court.
"I've attended trials, inquests, preliminary hearings and status conferences," Wood said. "When I am not in court, I do research and writing, draft pleadings, help prepare for court appearances, depositions and inquests, as well as attend client meetings and perform any other tasks that arise."
For Wood, the Buffett Fellowship makes living in New York possible. "I honestly wouldn't be able to pay rent without it. If I hadn't received the fellowship, I would have had to take out additional loans to pay my bills this summer," Wood said.
In return, she said she enjoys the client contact, the opportunity of being in court and, "the reward that comes from knowing I've made a difference in someone's life."
That's the point of Doris Buffett's concept of "pass-it-on" financial aid. She can help Buffett Fellows help children and expects only one thing from the fellows in return: a thank-you note.