Two University of Chicago Law School students have been awarded prestigious two-year fellowships in public interest law from the Skadden Fellowship Foundation.
Kristin Greer Love will work with a center for migrant's rights in Mexico, helping guarantee the rights of guest workers who enter the United States. Kent Qian will work with the National Housing Law Project to help foreclosure-stricken communities in northern California, particularly tenants who face eviction from foreclosed properties.
The fellowships, established in 1988, have become important sources of funding for new lawyers who design and carry out new programs for the poor, for new immigrants, and for other underserved groups.
"In a year with a record number of applications for Skadden Fellowships, we are especially proud that two of our students won these prestigious and meaningful awards," said Dean Saul Levmore. "I think the awards to two Chicago students marks our arrival as a place with dedication to public interest work, funding for summer-time and post-graduate work which attracts students interested in public interest careers, first-rate clinical programs, and courses to educate students with career interests in public interest law.
"I have thought about the projects that Kristin and Kent will embark on, and I am confident that we and the Skadden Foundation will be proud of what they do," Levmore said.
Love, a Harry S. Truman Scholar who also attended Chicago as an undergraduate, will work with Centro de los Derechos del Migrante in Mexico.
"By holding U.S. employers and recruiters accountable, I will work to mend the broken guest worker system, which is fraught with fraud and abuse," she said. "Abuse begins in Mexico, where recruiters charge unlawful fees and routinely promise wages, benefits and working conditions that employers do not deliver.
"Guest workers arrive in the U.S., saddled with debt and a temporary visa that binds them to one employer. Most guest workers cannot access legal services, and government agencies rarely enforce their workplace rights."
Love's interest in work issues began years ago, and she credits, in part, reading Working, by Studs Terkel, '34. She has worked with the University Community Service Center, then-Sen. Barack Obama's campaign and a women's artist collective in South Africa.
Susan Gzesh, Director of Chicago's Human Rights Program, said the fellowship will be transformative for Love and invaluable for Centro de los Derechos del Migrante. "As a very small office (only three or four lawyers), the grant will make a real difference to them."
Qian said he could not imagine a better place to start a career as a housing lawyer than at the National Housing Law Project. His project's goals include ensuring that renters and advocates understand tenants' rights during foreclosures, seeking expanded legislative protections for tenants, and increasing rental and ownership opportunities for low-income families.
"By the end of the fellowship, I hope to publish a toolkit for assisting tenants in foreclosed properties," Qian said. "This toolkit will include an overview of the relevant statutes and case law, sample demand letters and model pleadings."
Qian's interest in poverty issues developed while growing up in Americus, Georgia, where almost a quarter of the population lives in poverty. He zeroed in on housing while working at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
"Earlier this year, the Chicago Housing Authority received 215,000 applications for 40,000 voucher waiting-list slots," he said. "So I began to see housing as modern civil rights work: decent housing is a foundation upon which people build other parts of their lives."
Jason Huber, Instructor in the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, calls Qian a role model for both students and lawyers.
"He possesses a deep-rooted commitment to advancing the public interest through advocacy to those in need," Huber says. "As a Skadden Fellow and as a public interest lawyer, he will undoubtedly provide needed assistance to individuals and families who are in jeopardy of losing one of the most basic needs of the human condition-shelter."
Lois Casaleggi, Senior Director of Career Services, helped Love and Qian with the application process and identified the Skadden Fellowship as "one of the premier post-graduate public interest fellowship programs." Out of a large pool of contenders, roughly 25 public service law students are granted fellowships each year.
An impressive 90 percent of former Skadden Fellows have remained in the public sector. Susannah Baruch, '95, Law and Policy Director at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, worked for the Women's Legal Defense Fund (now the National Partnership for Women & Families) as a Skadden Fellow.
"There are not many obvious paths to careers in public service of any kind. Skadden showed tremendous foresight and leadership in creating this fellowship for young lawyers," Baruch said. "For me it was a critical launching pad to the trajectory my career has taken since."
Attorney Aleeza Strubel, '03, a former Skadden Fellow at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, advised: "Don't be afraid to push the limits of your fellowship by tackling issues and problems you never thought of when you were applying for your fellowship."
Love and Qian praised the Law School for preparing them for their fellowships.
"Although I am eager to begin public interest work in the field at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, I know I will sorely miss this special place, where I have enjoyed learning and vigorously testing ideas," said Love. "I know I will always carry that commitment to ideas with me."