Be the change you wish to see in the world . . . – Gandhi
Congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2019! In this issue, you will read about alumna Megan Byrne, JD ’14, and her work representing indigent clients in criminal appeals and post-conviction proceedings; experience Global Practitioner-in-Residence Mbekezeli Benjamin’s quarter-long visit; see photos from our Spring Awards reception; learn about the impact our students have had through their pro bono service; and welcome Shafaq Khan, our new public interest counselor. I am thrilled to have Shafaq join our team and know she will be quickly integrated into the SLS public interest community.
We had also planned to host Aracely Muñoz as our second “Inspiring Voices of Justice” speaker this past quarter. Unfortunately, Muñoz’s visit had to be rescheduled after her flight was canceled during an unusual April snowstorm. We look forward to welcoming her during the next school year.
The Levin Center will also be holding receptions this summer to connect current and admitted students with alumni. Join us in San Francisco on June 25, New York City on July 9, Washington, DC on July 10, and Los Angeles on July 24. Students and alumni should RSVP through the alumni portal, which was sent via email from Alumni Relations. If you can’t find that email, please email the Office of Alumni Relations at email@example.com directly.
I hope you enjoy reading about what has happened on campus this past quarter as well as what is anticipated to come this summer. As always, I welcome your feedback.
Megan Byrne, JD ’14, Appellate Counsel at the Center for Appellate Litigation (CAL) in New York City, represents clients in criminal appeals and post-conviction proceedings in Manhattan and The Bronx. CAL’s work includes challenging excessive sentences and severe post-incarceration penalties and punishments; conducting investigations to unearth wrongful convictions; monitoring and responding to prison conditions that threaten clients’ safety or well-being; and advocating for clients’ early releases.
Byrne observes, “As an appellate public defender, legal victories can often be few and far between. One learns not only to savor a successful case when it comes along, but also to see the successes that can result outside the courtroom, such as making a connection with a client or helping a client with a conditions issue at their prison facility. Being an appellate attorney has also allowed me to gain a lot of experience in oral argument. Even though still relatively early in my career, I have had the opportunity to argue numerous times in trial court and the appellate court, and even once in New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. One of my most memorable work-related accomplishments to date involved an argument before the appellate court, in which I won a new trial in a case where my client was serving a sentence of 16 years to life.”
Byrne’s path to CAL started with an interest in social justice and juvenile justice in particular. She shares, “I did not personally know any lawyers growing up. However, I quickly realized that attorneys held a powerful place in society and that their legal knowledge put them in a unique position to benefit their communities. I knew that I wanted to have that same opportunity, and I came to law school to figure out how I could best give back. Coming into law school, I was particularly interested in issues revolving around juvenile justice, but I was also open to discovering other venues for positive change.”
Byrne holds a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Indiana University, where she graduated with high distinction before coming to Stanford Law School. As her five year law school reunion approaches this Fall, Byrne thinks fondly of her time at SLS. Byrne states, “I decided to go to Stanford only a matter of hours after arriving at its Admitted Students’ Weekend. Everyone I met at Stanford, from the faculty, to the staff, to prospective and current students, was not only very impressive, but extremely welcoming. I had heard much of the stresses of law school, but I wanted my learning experience to be as supportive and collaborative as possible. The reality of attending Stanford did not at all disappoint. I absolutely loved being a part of the Class of 2014 and could not have imagined going through law school with a better group of people (including the wonderful man I eventually married [Kevin Jason, JD/MA ’14, who is a staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union]). We had so many great times as a class, from trips to Tahoe to nights out in Palo Alto, but some of my fondest memories honestly might involve just sitting around a table talking with classmates in the courtyard, in a dorm, or at the Axe and Palm.”
At SLS, Byrne was involved in the Spark Mentoring Program and served as Vice President of the Black Law Students Association. During her 1L summer, she worked for the New York Center for Juvenile Justice. She also represented clients at the trial and appellate levels in Stanford’s Criminal Defense Clinic.
She offers, “I would advise law students to really take the time to explore different areas of the law, as they might find an interest in something that surprises them. In addition, I found Stanford to be very supportive when it came to supporting student ideas for programs or groups, so I would encourage anyone with an idea to really believe in it and run with it.”
Byrne adds, “I very strongly recommend that any student interested participate in a clinic. I personally did the Criminal Defense Clinic, and learned so much more in a quarter than I could have through any other means. It was certainly one of the highlights of my time at law school, and I learned many skills and life lessons that I still use today.”
After graduating with Pro Bono Distinction, Byrne joined Kirkland & Ellis LLP as a litigation associate, where she continued working on criminal appeals on a pro bono basis. She worked there for almost two years before joining the Center for Appellate Litigation in June of 2016.
Byrne explains, “The biggest change in shifting from a firm to a nonprofit for me, other than the obvious differences in hours and pay, is the increase of autonomy I have in my day to day life. On the whole, this is something that I love, as much of the work at a firm involves being delegated discrete tasks, each of which have their own timeline attached. On the other hand, the autonomy at my current job does require that I manage my time well, and that I prioritize certain tasks over others, a skill that I certainly used often at law school as well.”
When asked to compare the experiences, Byrne reflects, “At the firm, I worked primarily on cases involving breach of contract, unfair competition, and white collar investigation. I would often work on multiple cases, and with multiple case teams, at a time. While I did spend time working on document review as any other junior associate does, I appreciated that at the majority of my time at Kirkland was spent otherwise: developing case strategies, conducting legal research, assisting with discovery requests, and writing briefs or memoranda.
“In my current position, I still spend the vast majority of my time in legal research and writing, but now also have a lot more client contact than I have ever had before. I now interact directly with clients on a day-to-day basis, sometimes via letter, sometimes on the phone, and sometimes in person. While I had done this only rarely before coming to my current job, I feel that my experience at Stanford in the Criminal Defense Clinic really prepared me for this, as I had a lot of client interaction there and was able to build strong relationships with clients. Communicating and building relationships with clients is one of the best aspects of my job.”
Byrne concludes, “Because my focus is now purely on criminal law, I feel as though, even though I’m still learning all the time, I’ve been able to build up more of a knowledge base and expertise than in previous positions. And while I do have the autonomy that I mentioned before, I also work in a very collaborative environment where co-workers feel comfortable to informally discuss cases or clients with one another regularly, which for me is the best of both worlds.”
This spring quarter the Levin Center hosted Mbekezeli Benjamin as our Global Practitioner in Residence. Benjamin is a passionate young human rights lawyer. Originally from the South African township of Soweto, outside of Johannesburg, he is committed to addressing the obstacles faced by disadvantaged communities in accessing educational opportunities. His visit grew out of previous work the Levin Center has done in partnership with Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Center (EELC).
EE was established in 2008 and mobilizes thousands of high school students to advocate for quality and equality in the South Africa education system. It is widely acknowledged that a quarter century after the end of apartheid, most of South Africa’s schools remain in shambles. As recently described in this New York Times article, the education system is so gutted by corruption that there is widespread dismay at how little students are learning, in schools so decrepit that children have plunged to their deaths in pit toilets.
EELC was established in 2018 to serve as the legal arm of EE. EELC lawyers are activists who are actively engaged in the struggles of EE, providing legal support, litigation and on the ground interventions to assist marginalized learners and community members in realizing their rights to equality, dignity and education.
Last summer, Titi Liu, our Director of International Public Interest Initiatives, traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to train the EE and EELC leadership teams on two of our leadership modules: Real-Time Strategic Planning and Defining and Measuring Success. You can read more about that trip in our Fall 2018 newsletter.
Benjamin has worked on various matters that have come before South African courts at all levels from the Magistrate’s Court up to the Constitutional Court. He has been involved in matters related to the right to housing, the right to protest and the right to a livelihood. These matters have touched on various fields of the law including property, land, constitutional law, criminal law and labor law.
During his visit, our students had many opportunities to hear from him and learn from his reflections on the relationship between community lawyering and building movements for social justice. He spoke to students in our International Human Rights Clinic and participated in a number of convenings with the Stanford International Law Society and Stanford Human Rights Law Association.
He also met with education advocates in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Sacramento with a focus on learning about litigation and legislative advocacy strategies to advance educational equity and access.
First-year student Justin Bryant, JD ’21, shared, “It’s been great having Mbekezeli as a part of this community. We had a wonderful chat about my interests in digital rights on the African continent, and afterwards he managed to connect me with one of his friends in Johannesburg who directs a public interest advisory firm that works on these issues. We’re currently discussing the possibility of me doing a project with them, which I’m really excited about. We’ll miss having Mbekezeli around, but it was a pleasure to be able to bounce ideas off of him, and learn from him during his time with us.”
Please click on individual photos in the photo gallery below to read the captions and see full-size images taken during Benjamin’s quarter-long residency.
The Russo Law Lounge filled with faculty, staff, and students on the evening of May 14, 2019 for our annual Spring Awards ceremony. Each year, we present the Deborah L. Rhode Public Interest Award and the Lisa M. Schnizter Memorial Scholarship to outstanding public interest students. Makeba Rutahindurwa, JD ’19, and Cynthia Amezcua, JD ’19, are this year’s Deborah L. Rhode Award recipients and Lauren Shepard, JD ’21, is this year’s Lisa M. Schnizter Memorial Scholarship recipient. We also recognized students who earned Pro Bono Distinction and secured entry-level public interest positions.
This year, working with the Office of Student Affairs, we added the Leon Cain Community Service Awards to our annual spring awards reception. This award was developed in response to input provided by students to the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. The award was renamed this year in honor of Leon M. Cain ’19, who personified the spirit of it.
The award is presented annually to an individual student from each class (first-year, second-year, third-year, and advanced degree) who has made outstanding contributions to enhancing the Stanford Law School community. Examples of such contributions include: advancing and improving diversity and inclusion within the community; building bridges across disparate communities; expanding and encouraging service activities by members of the Stanford Law School community; providing substantial personal or academic assistance to peers; or otherwise strengthening the quality of the student experience and helping build the capacity of the school to prepare students to serve as leaders in a diverse nation and world.
The inaugural Leon Cain Community Service Award recipients are Marlena Wisniak, LLM ’19; Meghan Koushik, JD ’19; Carra Rentie, JD ’20; and Rachel Sohl, JD ’21. Leon’s mother, Henny Naumann-Cain, and step-father, Kelvin Hicks, attended the reception, too.
A copy of the program listing all recipients is available on-line here. More information about the event and the recipients are available in the SLS news article. There is also a webpage featuring each graduate who received a postgraduate public interest fellowship or government honors program position here.
Stanford law students continue to set the bar for passionate, creative, and impact-driven pro bono service. This June, 119 students graduated with some form of Pro Bono Distinction, which requires at least 50 hours of service while SLS. Twenty graduates acheived Highest Distinction by logging at least 300 hours, and another 33 achieved High Distinction for logging between 150 and 299 hours. In total, the graduating class logged over 18,000 hours of pro bono work, arguably equaling the work of over 9 full time attorneys.
The impact of the 2019 graduating class goes beyond mere hours of service. Two of the most popular and prolific Student-Led Pro Bono Projects were founded by 2019 graduates. In fall 2016, Katherine Carey, JD ’19, (Distinction), Emma Carolyn Eastwood-Paticchio, JD ’19, (Highest Distinction), Rachel Green, JD ’19, (Highest Distinction), and Kelsey Woodford, JD ’19, (Highest Distinction) worked to develop a vital partnership with Bay Area Legal Aid to get students involved in programs that provide life-changing legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence.
That same quarter, Anjuli Branz, JD ’19, (Highest Distinction) and John Bonacorsi, JD ’19, (Highest Distinction) launched the Prisoner Legal Services Pro Bono Project, where students provide prisoners with legal assistance on criminal, conditions of confinement, collateral consequences, custody, and release matters. Since then, students have spent over 1500 hours working to ensure residents of the San Francisco County Jail #5 in San Bruno have the legal information they need to understand their rights and seek civil and criminal relief where available.
The future of pro bono at SLS looks bright, as 79 members of the Class of 2020 have already logged enough hours to graduate with some level of Distinction. And, 18 first-year students have already logged at least 50 hours. Rachel Sohl, JD ’21, who just finished her first year, logged 164 hours in her first year, making her already eligible for High Pro Bono Distinction.
Alternative Break opportunities have become a significant source of pro bono hours for students. This year, over 65 students used their spring breaks to assist asylum-seekers in Tijuana, detained immigrants in Arizona and Texas, indigent criminal defendants in New Orleans, low-income residents of St. Louis, and members of the Yurok Tribe in Northern California. More trips are planned for September 2019, including a return to Tijuana and trips to Western New York and the Florida Keys.
Shafaq Khan is joining the Levin Center staff as a Public Interest Career Counselor. As we mentioned in our last issue, Associate Dean Diane Chin is tackling a special project for the next 18+ months. Khan will join the team to help students and alumni to explore public interest nonprofit (domestic, foreign and/or international), private public interest firms, and public sector opportunities. She will also counsel law students and alumni on career planning, job search strategies and legal markets.
Khan brings a strong commitment to public service and expertise in direct client representation. For the past two years, Khan served as the Director of the Disability Advocacy Project at Brooklyn Legal Services. She and her staff represented clients whose Social Security disability and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits have been denied. Before that, she spent five years as a senior staff attorney at Mobilization for Justice’s Mental Health Law Project. Khan represented clients with mental illness in housing court and administrative hearings. While at MFJ, she established a legal clinic at Harlem Community Justice Center housing court as a community based initiative to provide immediate direct access to an attorney and ran a pro bono referral program with partner law firms. Earlier in her career, Khan served as a Fellow with South Brooklyn Legal Services. Khan earned her JD from Cardozo Law School and her BA from Columbia University. She will start in July.
“I am so excited to join the Levin Center team and be a part of the dynamic Stanford Law School community!” said Khan. “I look forward to working with students and alumni as they navigate their public interest/public sector job search,”
Create Change is designed and produced quarterly by the staff of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law. Unless specifically noted, all articles are written by staff:
Associate Dean for Public Service and Public Interest Law: Diane T. Chin
Executive Director: Anna Wang
Director, International Public Interest Initiatives: Titi Liu
Director, Pro Bono and Externship Programs: Mike Winn
Public Interest Counselor: Shafaq Khan
Assistant Director: Jodie Carian
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