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Image - PILC Feature Friday 2021 Non Profit Law

October 1, 2021

Meet our 2021 PILC Grant Recipients Working in Non-Profit Law

Southwestern's Public Interest Law Committee (PILC) is a student-run organization that sponsors a number of events each year to raise student awareness and involvement in providing legal services for underrepresented communities and is dedicated to facilitating public interest law careers by supporting students in public interest work through fundraising efforts for the school’s Public Interest Law Summer Grant Program.

We want to recognize these students and the incredible work they are doing with their Public Interest Law Committee Summer Grant. Meet our 2021 PILC Grant recipients working in Non-Profit Law:

Image - Cheryl Cruz

Cheryl Cruz

Summer Placement:  Disabilities Rights Education & Defense Fund

I am passionate about education. After COVID-19 required schools to shut down across the country and move to virtual learning, my first thought was about the children who come from bad homes. I then thought about kids with disabilities and how they likely had it even worse. Ultimately, that’s what inspired me to interview with DREDF and other disability rights centers. I wanted to get into Special Education to learn more about the process and hurdles people must go through to receive an education.

Even when you feel that your work is not contributing much, it is. Most of my summer placement was me conducting hours (hundreds of hours) of research. There were times where I felt slow and stuck on one project or assignment for too long, however the thoroughness and quality of my research provides great support to the staff attorneys and superiors who are working on the big picture of assignments and cases.

Image - Emily Karsik

Emily Karsik

Summer Placement:  The Children's Law Center

The biggest public interest issue that I am passionate about is representing children who are in the foster care system because I have personally seen how children and their families/caretakers are affected by the decisions that are made in dependency court, for better and for worse. Getting to work at The Children’s Law Center and do the very work that inspired me to attend law school in the first place was perfect, because I was able to see firsthand what it looks like to be an advocate for children in the foster care system, and to actually do that myself by gathering the information from minors and then having conversations with my supervising attorneys about what I would do/recommend if I was the one presenting before the Judge in court. 

I see public interest law always being a part of my legal career, whether that means doing pro bono work while working at a for-profit firm or working full-time at a public interest law firm immediately after law school. The cases that really pique my interest are ones in which there is a tangible way to help people and, hopefully, improve their life through legal assistance. I don’t think anyone should be denied access to justice simply because they cannot afford an attorney or because they don’t know how to navigate the legal system on their own.

Image - Diana Perez

Diana Perez

Summer Placement:  Root and Rebound

Public service work provides indigent clients access to the legal system. This summer, I gained knowledge and experience of the many steps individuals must take to show the court and society that they have rehabilitated. Rehabilitation is key for formerly incarcerated individuals to succeed, but can prove to be impossible without proper housing, work, or community support. Working closely with individuals who are seeking to improve their lives was rewarding, because I had the opportunity to provide direct help that could impact the rest of their lives. 

My greatest accomplishment was being able to provide direct services to indigent clients. The courses I have taken at Southwestern prepared me to do legal research and use my knowledge and skills to provide clients with the resources they needed.  

Image - Breanna Ramirez

Breanna Ramirez

Summer Placement:  The Children's Law Center

My summer clerkship at the Children’s Law Center further assured to me my aspiration in becoming an advocate for children. Working for an organization such as Children’s Law Center, I got to experience first-hand how important it is for children’s voices to heard. I got to experience the deep connection and trust these children have in their attorney to ensure their voices don’t get lost. Further, working alongside two strong women attorneys, I got the mentorship and guidance into exactly what type of attorney I hope to be one day.

A legal issue I became passionate about this summer is non-minor dependent parents. It is very common for a non-minor dependent who has children to have a petition filed against them and have their children removed. This summer I got to participate in countless cases dealing with non-minor dependent parents and conducted research relating to relevant law for my attorneys. Further, I got to participate in the pre-filing unit, which helps prevent petitions being filed by connecting the young parents to resources

Image - Kristin Strange

Kristin Strange

Summer Placement:  The Children's Law Center

I’m passionate about helping children, and I was able to help effect change by advocating for the children who were assigned to my supervising attorney.

First, I learned a lot about preparing arguments for court and overall, I feel more comfortable about appearing in court. Second, it opened my eyes to a lot of inequalities in dependency court, based on race and socioeconomic status. I noticed there is a lot of families who likely could have avoided the dependency system all together if they had the proper resources available to them. Lastly, working with these kids gave me a lot of hope. There were many days I felt like I was not strong enough to do this kind of work and would need to step away from reading the case files. But then I would have a call with a child to check in on them or interview them before court and seeing their resiliency was powerful motivation.

Southwestern’s PILC Summer Grant program was established in 1990 with the mission of providing financial support to selected recipients seeking full-time, summer clerkships with legal services organizations providing no-cost assistance to underserved, marginalized communities. This program makes it possible for students to acquire the legal training and education necessary to address the lack of access to legal services for indigent communities while also alleviating Southwestern students’ financial burden of acquiring more educational loans in order to do so.

PILC sincerely thanks our donors and supporters for your invaluable contributions to this program benefiting Southwestern students. PILC’s mission is to help create a community where Southwestern students, staff, faculty, and alumni are educated and incentivized to participate in issues concerning and advancing the public interest and it is your support of this mission that is vital in helping us reach our fundraising goals each year. 

The student deadline to apply for the PILC Summer Grant Program is typically scheduled in early March each year. Awards up to $5,000. Email publicservice@swlaw.edu for more information.