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Fellowships 101 Recap

By Ethan Cornell

On July 13, current fellows and fellowship program administrators provided insight into the fellowships process at Fellowships 101. The conversation touched on why folks choose to pursue fellowships, the application process for different programs, important considerations when looking for programs and host organizations, and helpful tips and tricks for applying! We concluded the conversation with a presentation from NALP on PSJD

Our panel was moderated by Kerry Stotler, Career Counselor at American University Washington College of Law. The panelists included: Shariful Khan, current Skadden Fellow at Public Justice; Lisa Ledvora, current Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC) Fellow at Safe Horizon; Cammie Dodson, Professional Development Manager at If/When/How, Gabby Milnck Majweski, Executive Director of DC Affordable Law Firm; and Jessica Ryckman, Director of Fellowships at Equal Justice Works. While there are a variety of fellowship opportunities, our discussion focused on project-based and organization-based opportunities and touched briefly on academic fellowships. Project-based fellowships usually involve a two-stage application process: (1) finding an organization that can support your project, and (2) finding funding for the project. Fellows are employed by a sponsor organization to execute a specific project by a third-party funding organization.  The most well-known of these types of fellowships are the Skadden Foundation Fellowship and Equal Justice Works Design Your Own Project program. The organizational fellowships are a bit different in that the host and the funder of the project are the same organization. The application process is similar to applying for a staff attorney position. Some organizational fellowships are also dedicated to a specific topic or project.

Our panel kicked off with the current fellows describing what drew them to the fellowship programs they applied for and where they ultimately accepted their position. Lisa Ledvora began by highlighting her focus on public interest and her drive to work in immigration law. When choosing her program, Lisa wanted to build on her experience in immigration law and discussed the importance of defining a certain geographic area or clientele when trying to find the right fit. That was why the Immigrant Justice Corps was a focus for her from the beginning. Lisa’s geographic flexibility allowed her to apply to many different opportunities and expand her search beyond her initial expectations. When asked about researching host organizations, Lisa recommended using the IRS Form 990 Lookup feature to see the health and stability of the organization. 

Shariful Khan, a Skadden Fellow, expanded on how to find the right fit for applicants and their projects. He shared organizational factors such as plenty of support and an invested team that would help him find a permanent position after the Fellowship program. Coming into law school, Shariful did not have a predetermined path and his program helped him in finding the right pathway. He pitched projects in public justice and racial justice not only to potential host organizations but to the communities he hoped to impact to gain insight as to how beneficial his project could be. Shariful identified an organization that shared his passion, provided the support he was seeking, and gave him access to both the legal community and the communities he hopes to uplift in his work. One vital tip Shariful shared is to reach out to as many current and past fellows as possible from a variety of programs to get a sense of their experiences to learn the most about different opportunities.

Our conversation then shifted to the fellowship program administrators for their insight. Cammie Dodson described the Reproductive Justice Fellowship Program which originally started as a federal policy program. Cammie explained how this program places recently graduated law students in reproductive justice. This program looks for organizations that educate people on reproductive justice and related issues. Prior fellows have worked on issues such as welfare caps, access to abortion, reproduction oppression,  and others. One goal of this fellowship program is to actively increase the diversity of the legal field and transcripts or GPA are not a deciding factor in the application process. 

Jessica Ryckman explained Equal Justice Works Design-Your-Own Fellowship program for recent law school graduates. This program welcomes anyone who recently graduated from law school working in the public interest sector. She explained the wide range of strategies to find projects and host organizations and how you can apply creative thinking to make the most of the fellowship opportunity. Jessica emphasized the need to find a host organization that is the right fit both in terms of the culture of the organization and the resources they have to support a fellow and a fellow’s project. EJW also offers cohort programs for applicants that have already passed the bar and focus on specific programs.

Gabby Majewski then explained the unique fellowship opportunity with the DC Affordable Law Firm. This law firm is a non-profit organization that launches careers of public interest attorneys and focuses its work on increasing access to low-to-no-cost attorneys for people living in low-income communities. Their fellowship program seeks applicants that can demonstrate their “why,” specifically with experiences that show a commitment to public interest and uplifting communities. Gabby shared one of the most important tips for success – practice interviews so you can be more comfortable and confident sharing the best qualities of yourself and your passions. This fellowship opportunity is currently limited to students at UDC David A. Clarke School of Law and Georgetown Law. Students from those universities should look for this fellowship posting on their Simplicity portals in late September. 

The panel then turned to Sam Halpert to tell us more about PSJD, a clearinghouse that provides tools and resources to find public interest job opportunities including fellowship opportunities. The system identifies fellowship positions as term-limited, entry-level, and likely to recur opportunities for learning and growth. Sam provided insight into how PSJD can be used to search for fellowships, research organizations, and plan for recurring opportunities. Sam and all our panelists also discussed how valuable law school career counselors can be in giving you access to PSJD, other opportunities, and throughout the entire application process. 

Ethan Cornell is the 2023 Summer Intern for Washington Council of Lawyers. 

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