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Equal Justice Foundation Report - Jasmine Rice
ACLU of Georgia
The American Civil Liberties Union, known more familiarly as the ACLU, is the guardian of our nation's liberty. They stand up in courts across the country every single day to preserve and defend the rights and liberties granted to individuals in the United States by our Constitution. The ACLU also works to extend these rights and liberties to marginalized people in our population that have traditionally been denied them, including women; people of color; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people; prisoners; immigrants; and people with disabilities. Being afforded the opportunity to work at the ACLU, thanks to the fellowship funding I received from the Equal Justice Foundation, was an immensely rewarding experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
During my time as a law clerk at the ACLU, I was exposed to a wide variety of different kinds of cases. Personally, I was able to work on cases involving reproductive rights, prisoner's rights, LGBT discrimination, housing discrimination, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech and assembly, among other things. I was able to attend meetings of concerned citizen groups that were fighting back against institutionalized racial and socioeconomic discrimination and political corruption. We got to watch, and in some cases do research for or otherwise participate in, cases that were covered in the national news, as they were unfolding. We attended court to watch lawyers from huge Atlanta firms argue on the ACLU's behalf to both the Georgia Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The diversity of experience helped me understand the subjects I was learning in school much more comprehensively than I could have learned in a place that specializes in only a few things.
As one might imagine, the ACLU receives an incredible volume of requests for litigation assistance. I also learned how many things were disposed of and taken care of without going to court. In addition to the awesome research and writing experience (clerks write at least 7 pre-litigation memos), we found many administrative solutions for people. I now know how to issue an Open Records Request, write a demand letter, and get together an amicus brief. Also, working with such a wide diversity of claims and complaints really teaches you what the elements of a good case are and are not in the real world. The litigation that does happen through the ACLU is taken up by various lawyers in the area or in the necessary specialty via our Board of Directors at King and Spalding, where we were able to attend board meetings and meet attorneys from many Atlanta firms. Those same firms also hosted many mixers for public interest clerks and interns over the summer, allowing us to network with many other students and lawyers with similar career trajectories.
I came to law school, like many people, wanting to help marginalized members of society, and believing I could really make a difference in the world. It is so easy to get caught up in cynicism when you're in the midst of the law school grind. It can seem like working for a large firm or corporation is the only avenue open to you, because that's the area in which most people focus. There's more than that out there, though. Not only did I get to work for a very cool alternative employer this summer (think: casual dress, telecommuting, potluck lunches), I was reminded that even within firms, there are lawyers out there making a difference, pro bono. The generosity of programs like the Equal Justice Foundation is there to help people who want to go out and work in the public interest, and really make a difference. I strongly encourage everyone with public interest leanings to take advantage of this valuable resource.