A half-dozen newly minted alumni of UB School of Law are launching their legal careers with the support of prestigious fellowships in the public interest.
Chief among them are two recipients of fellowships by Equal Justice Works, whose newly established New York State Family Security Project fosters family security and community education by delivering high-quality legal services to underserved and low-income immigrant families. Vicki Economou ’17 and Adela Smehlik ’17 are among a dozen recent law school graduates to receive awards this year.
Their service takes different forms, but both are putting their legal education to work on behalf of families who sorely need the help.
At the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County, Economou is part of a team that presents “family preparedness” clinics to rural farmworkers, many of whom are from Mexico. The goal, she says, is to execute powers of attorney, passport applications, guardianship agreements – whatever it takes to help these clients maintain family stability in case of deportation.
“We’re making sure that people know their rights in case Immigration and Customs Enforcement does come,” Economou says. “People are definitely a little worried, and they’re thankful for any type of help they can possibly get. I know people who have been picked up because they had contact with immigration before, or because someone snitched on them. Even a routine traffic stop, you never know what it could turn into.”
Back in Erie County, Smehlik is working with Journey’s End Refugee Resettlement Services – where she had previously volunteered in order to fulfill the state’s bar-admission requirement for pro bono legal services, then discovered she loved the work.
Now, as an Empire Justice Works legal fellow, she is helping newcomers to Buffalo with their green card and citizenship applications, and helping refugees apply to bring their spouse or minor children to the United States. Many of her clients are from Myanmar, Somalia or Iraq.
“The application may seem simple,” she says, “but some of these people are illiterate in their own languages – they have no way of doing it on their own.” Her work also includes doing legal research to discern, for example, whether a client is eligible for citizenship.
“Journey’s End is such a wonderful place,” Smehlik says, “and the people are amazing. They can tell you all about the horrible things that have happened, yet they still smile and want to do the best they can.”
Among UB Law’s other recent fellowship recipients are two who received prestigious Excelsior Fellowships, which seek to bring highly talented recent graduates into state government service. They are Noreena Chaudari ’17, who is at the state Department of Public Service, and Erin Goldberg ’17, who is working with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
In addition, Samantha Axberg ’17 is serving as an AmeriCorps Economic Development Corps fellow at the Western New York Law Center/CLARO, which counsels debtors on their legal rights. Her classmate Kerry Battenfeld ’17 is an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow, working with the Bar Association of Erie County’s Volunteer Lawyers Project.