Public Interest Loan Repayment Assistance Program (PILRAP) Recipients
The following are snapshot profiles of several of our recent recipients.
Name: Lauren Bartlett
Graduating Class: 2007
Position: Staff Attorney
Organization: Louisiana Justice Institute
Location: New Orleans, LA
WCL has provided a fantastic support network for me, as a new public interest attorney, just out of law school. Not only has WCL provided financial support through PILRAP to help me repay my loans, but I have been able to turn to WCL professors and staff for advice on starting a nonprofit law firm, for volunteers to take on research and other projects, as well as support in getting the word out about the human rights violations that we are facing here in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Just the other day I was describing to a reporter how I ended up in New Orleans and how my organization, the Louisiana Justice Institute got started. I mentioned that when I first came to New Orleans in the summer of 2007, directly after I graduated from WCL, I had no income. However, I was lucky enough to have received a couple of awards from WCL and American University for my public service work during law school. I used that award money to pay for my moving expenses and my first month of rent here in New Orleans. Thankfully, the Louisiana Justice Institute was able to start paying me shortly thereafter, though I am still only paid a very minimum salary, $36,000 per year. I can live just fine in New Orleans with that salary - I have a one bedroom apartment, a car and a dog - but without assistance from PILRAP I would not be able to afford my student loan payments and would likely have to find some better paying work, which would not be in the public sector in New Orleans.
Name: Monique Beadle
Graduating Class: 2007
Position: Refugee Project Director
Organization: Human Rights USA
Location: Washington, DC
I began working for Human Rights USA as an intern while still a student at WCL.
Human Rights USA is an innovative litigation group that promotes U.S. compliance with international human rights norms through strategic impact litigation in U.S. and international courts. I direct the group's Refugee Project, which pursues protection and legal status for refugees fleeing severe forms of gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation, forced marriage, human trafficking, and honor killing. In twelve years of operation, not a single client of the Refugee Project has been deported, and many of the judicial decisions secured in our clients' cases have set broad precedents in the field of asylum and refugee law.
I stuck with Human Rights USA through law school and beyond because I am inspired by the courage and resilience of the women I represent, and could not fathom leaving them for more lucrative work. Additionally, Human Rights USA as an organization has offered me a level of responsibility and leadership in its casework and management that few non-profits offer to young attorneys. As Director of the Refugee Project, I have enjoyed unprecedented opportunities to take leadership in cutting-edge human rights cases, to direct our advocacy and litigation efforts on behalf of refugee women, and to form professional relationships with colleagues in the field. I am now preparing to open a new office for the organization on the West Coast, expanding the geographic reach and substantive work of the group as it enters a period of dramatic growth.
Thanks to PILRAP, I was able to remain on staff following graduation and my Bar studies without worrying incessantly about my ability to pay off six figures in student loan debt on a tiny salary. The peace of mind that has accompanied my newfound financial security has enabled me to focus on my clients, rather than mounting bills. Suddenly my modest financial goals no longer look like fantasies.
Name: Melissa Davis
Graduating Class: 2005
Position: Public Defender
Organization: New Hampshire Office of Public Defender
Location: New Hampshire
I've been a public defender for almost three years now and I love my job. Standing beside someone and assisting them in the fight for their constitutional rights is a privilege and an extremely important part of our criminal justice system. Most of my clients are people facing a lot more than just a criminal charge. They face economic challenges, disabilities, mental health issues, addictions, family issues, and a whole list of other things that are often more pressing in their day to day lives. My job is to assist them through the criminal justice system, protect their constitutional rights, and obtain the best result possible so that they can focus their attention back on other areas of their lives that are in need of attention. The best days for me are the ones where I know that because I fought my hardest, this person is better off. Luckily I've had a lot of those. I definitely would not have been able to take this job without the assistance of the PILRAP program. Being a public defender means that your work is not always rewarded in the paycheck you receive, but at the end of the day you still have to pay your bills, including your loans. PILRAP made it easier for me to take a job that I love.
Name: Maurissa Jones
Graduating Class: 2007
Position: Assistant Public Defender
Organization: Palm Beach County Public Defenders Office
Location: West Palm Beach, FL
I have always been employed in community service work-before applying to law school I worked on a woman's health initiative and served two years in AmeriCorps building computer programs for underserved communities. When applying to law school I knew that upon graduation I would practice law in the public interest.
During law school I discovered a passion for both constitutional and criminal law. I had the distinct privilege to work with some very dedicated prior criminal defense attorneys who convinced me that I was meant to be a public defender. Today I am employed in West Palm Beach, Florida as an Assistant Public Defender in the County Court division. Palm Beach County has one of the greatest disparities of income level between the wealthy and the poor in the nation.
PILRAP has allowed me to continue my commitment to serving others by helping me afford to take this job representing the indigent of Palm Beach County. But beyond this, the PILRAP award has helped me to remain involved in the community outside of my employment. For example, I currently serve as law student mentor through the National Association of Women Lawyers, something I would not have had time to do without a PILRAP award.
My PILRAP award has opened up options in my life and my career that would not otherwise have been possible.
Name: Anne Leete
Graduating Class: 2004
Position: Staff Attorney
Organization: Legal Aid Society of Hawaii
Location: Maui, Hawaii
When I decided to enroll in law school, I knew that the only legal career that interested me was one in public interest law. I attended WCL largely because of its strong focus on and support of public interest lawyering. After law school, I took a job as an Americorps Attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. The position was literally my dream job, but the pay was prohibitive and Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the country. I was pleased to find out that I was eligible for WCL's PILRAP program. The program provided me with loan assistance during my first three years at the Legal Aid Society. The only way that I was able to take and keep this amazing job was because of PILRAP. If I had not had that support during my first few years with Legal Aid, it would have been impossible to make my private loan payments, which were nearly 70% of my take home pay. Now, I'm at a crossroads in my career - my pay increased to the level that I am no longer eligible for PILRAP, but I still don't make enough in my public interest job to make those loan payments. I've started working a second legal job to supplement my income so that I can stay with Legal Aid as long as possible.
Name: Molly Frank-Meltzer
Graduating Class: 2006
Position: Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow
Organization: Public Interest Clearinghouse (through fall 2007; presently seeking public interest work in NY)
Location: San Francisco
I went to law school with the goal of working in public interest law after I graduated. Following graduation, I received a fellowship through Equal Justice Works to be an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at the Public Interest Clearinghouse, a non-profit organization in San Francisco. My fellowship project was called the Pro Bono Project where I worked to expand legal resources in low-income and underserved communities while exposing law students to the necessity and value of pro bono work. Given the reality of the cost of law school, I could not have fulfilled my dream to pursue public interest work without the support of the PILRAP program at WCL. The benefits of PILRAP are crucial to those students who want to work in the public sector following law school and are truly appreciated by those students, like me, who hope to make a lifelong career working in public interest. I am grateful for the incredible experiences I have serving clients who need help and for the continued support of the WCL community through the PILRAP program.
Name: Jacqueline Stephenson
Graduating Class: 2000
Position: Unemployment Appeals Hearing Officer
Organization: State of Tennessee
Location: Madison, Tennessee
My position with the state of Tennessee as an unemployment appeals hearing officer has been exciting and fulfilling. I could not have managed as well financially, however, if not for assistance through the PILRAP. State employees are not paid well, and I am a single mom trying to pay off student debts. It's important for me to be able to remain in a job that I love, a job that is important to the community and others, as well as a job that allows me plenty of quality time with my six-year-old son. Everyday, claimants come into my office for hearings, and they are usually frightened and quite nervous. It is a pleasure for me to put them at ease with just a kind smile and notice that they will receive a fair and impartial hearing.
Oftentimes, the claimants have not had anyone who would listen attentively to their stories. They usually cannot afford or get attorneys. Sometimes they had not even the opportunity to explain their stories to a supervisor or manager before being fired or forced to resign. They feel intimidated and frustrated. So my position as an unemployment appeals hearing officer has been to listen to the parties patiently, allowing claimants and employers an opportunity to tell why the claimants are no longer employed, ensure a fair opportunity for the claimants to confront those with allegations against them, and to oftentimes grant the unemployment benefits.
My service as a hearing officer benefits the employers as well as the claimants; former workers who were discharged due to misconduct or voluntarily separation without good cause should not be eligible for unemployment benefits. Again, my position has been exciting and fulfilling. Thanks, PILRAP, for helping me to pay off one of my student loans, the one with the highest interest rate. That assistance has made a big difference in my life, and in handling my huge student loan debt. My son also thanks you.