Lawyers Journal

Foundation Fellowship Program attracts best and brightest to public service

Law students Rossana Bianco and Stephanie Woldenberg are committed to saving the lives of immigrants who have fled persecution and, in some cases, certain death, by helping them access the justice system to find asylum and refuge.

Fellow law students Lindy Aldrich and Carla Moniz are helping those living in poverty gain access to benefits, rights and services that will improve their lives.

These four women are laying the groundwork for legal careers in public service through volunteer internships at organizations that provide civil legal assistance to low-income residents in Massachusetts.

Each was selected by the Massachusetts Bar Foundation Legal Intern Fellowship Program, which awards four $6,000 stipends annually to law students as a part of the organization’s commitment to fostering a new generation of public interest lawyers. Each intern commits to spending 10 weeks of their summer at a non-profit organization.

The four are currently in the middle of their internships, bringing with them a unique blend of skills and a solid commitment to using their legal education to help those in need. The students assist clients on issues ranging from detainee and asylum cases to welfare disputes.

“The importance of the LIFP awards cannot be overstated,” said Jenny C. Chou, Esq., MBF trustee and chair of the LIFP Committee. “With these grants, organizations that address the legal needs of those who are traditionally ignored by the system are able to support law students who can provide additional resources to serving clients.

“With this valuable experience, these students, who have demonstrated a desire and commitment to work with the poor and disempowered, can help to perpetuate a culture of true public interest-minded lawyers who will work to ensure that the legal needs of all residents of the commonwealth are valued, and where equal access to the legal system is a reality.”

2005 Legal Intern Fellows have direct impact

Lindy Aldrich, a third-year Suffolk University Law School student, is carrying out her fellowship in the Family, Work and Welfare Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services. Leaving a 10-year career in advertising, Aldrich wanted to pursue a career in public interest law. She chose the FWWU because of the direct impact the unit has on women and children living in poverty.

Under the supervision of senior attorney Melanie Malherbe, Aldrich has worked on numerous cases to assist low-income families in benefits disputes. Aldrich also works with clients who face multiple barriers to finding work or support, including an unusually high number of instances of domestic violence, learning disabilities and mental and physical disabilities. Her clients need health care, education and child care.

“Working in this area has already been heartbreaking, but I am grateful for the opportunity to see first-hand the issues facing many urban families in America,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure where my interests would lead me, but the welfare unit has really turned out to embody everything I was looking for: direct client representation, as well as keeping an eye on the bigger picture with public policy.”

Rossana Bianco, a third-year student at the New England School of Law, is interning in the Immigration Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services. Combining her interests in psychology and the law, Bianco has found immigration law to be a challenging intersection of the two areas.

Bianco is currently helping a program attorney in handling two intricate asylum cases. One involves a brother and sister from Uganda who fled to the United States in fear of their safety after witnessing their father’s kidnapping. In another case, Bianco worked with a 24-year-old woman who, in fear of her life, fled on a raft from Haiti to Miami, where she was immediately detained.

“Working at the Immigration Unit has exposed me to an area of law that I now know I want to pursue in the future — human rights advocacy,” she said. Bianco will return to NESL in the fall for her final year of law school and hopes to continue volunteering at the Immigration Unit to assist with the two asylum cases.

Carla Moniz, a third-year student at City University of New York School of Law, is interning at the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association. With an interest in all areas of law that impact indigent communities, Moniz feels she has found the avenue to develop her skills.

At VLP, Moniz has gained practical legal experience in the areas of family law, housing law, estate planning and unemployment benefits. She has supported VLP’s efforts to expand its services and outreach to the Cape Verdean community. Moniz has also helped connect VLP with organizations she had worked with in the past, including the Gay/Lesbian Adolescent Social Services Community Center, the Economic Justice Project and the Peter Cicchino Youth Project of the Urban Justice Center.

“Throughout my life, I have not wavered in my conviction to practice law and advocate for those who are marginalized in our society, and that will not change at any point in my life. It’s just simply who I am,” she said.

Stephanie Woldenberg, in her third year at Northeastern University School of Law, is interning at the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project’s Civil Detainees Program. Bringing a wealth of experience, including her work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Woldenberg hopes that a legal education will give her the ability to create positive change for refugee and asylum seekers.

At the PAIR Project, Woldenberg assists in all aspects of asylum cases and takes part in the Know Your Rights trainings offered by PAIR. Woldenberg is currently assisting a detainee who fled her country after seeing her mother burned alive, watched as her sister was kidnapped, and was raped and tortured in prison herself. After working with the PAIR Project, the woman is optimistic that her application for asylum will be approved, Woldenberg said.

“My passion for working with asylum applicants is that people’s lives are on the line. There is no question that the work really matters,” she said.

Woldenberg will be interning this fall at the UN Office of Legal Affairs in New York City.

The LIFP is one of many charitable activities that the MBF supports as a part of its commitment to improve the administration of justice, promote the understanding of the law and ensure equal access to the legal system for all.

Since the first LIFP stipend was awarded in 1996, more than 50 students have served numerous organizations in Massachusetts, many of which are MBF grantees. With the support of the MBF Fellows Fund and the Smith Family Fund, the MBF is able to grant one of the highest stipends in Massachusetts, allowing the interns to have more freedom to volunteer at the organization in which their interests lie.

“This year’s recipients represent the best and the brightest of their generation,” stated MBF President Francis A. Ford, Esq. “We hope that their commitment and talents demonstrate the dedication of this generation to make equal justice a reality. We know that they will continue to inspire us as they progress in their legal careers.”

To learn more about the program, please visit www.MassBarFoundation.org.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association