A competitive program, SPIF is run through the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center and open only to rising 2Ls. During the summer of 2017, 13 students were selected as fellows and placed at public interest organizations across Miami-Dade County.
Social Justice Training and Preparation
In preparation for their summer placements, the fellows underwent a social justice boot camp—an intensive week of training focusing on access to justice, client interviewing, conflict resolution, cultural competency, legal research, and ethics and professionalism. This year the training also included a visit to the Federal Courthouse and a meeting with United States District Court Judge Darrin Gayles.
Based on their interests, SPIF fellows were matched with agencies in South Florida where they work for 8 weeks as full-time interns. Placements included Legal Services of Greater Miami, the City Attorneys of Miami and Miami Beach, Dade Legal Aid, Catholic Charities Legal Services, the Public Defender’s Office, and the State Attorney’s Office.
Fellowship Comes with Academic Credit and Stipend
Additionally, fellows took a social justice course, wrote a research paper on an issue of access to justice, and presented their paper topic to the class. As part of the course, members of the bench, bar, and legal community visit, and students share their work in the public sector. For their efforts, the fellows received academic credit and a $2500 stipend to help offset living expenses.
"Working this summer at Catholic Charities Legal Services as part of the SPIF program has allowed me to experience first-hand the reward of working one-on-one with the community and other motivated and passionate attorneys who have dedicated their lives to public service,” explained 2017 SPIF fellow Rebecca Wasif.
Support from Fundraising and Donations
In the past, the Florida Bar Foundation was in a position to financially support SPIF, but when their ability to do so ended, Miami Law stepped in to sustain the commitment. The HOPE Public Interest Resource Center raised the funds for the program through donations and their annual auction—the online portion of which opens again this November.
By investing in law students pursing public interest work, Miami Law has seen the difference it can make throughout the community. This investment has had a significant impact on what kind of lawyers it produces. For students, SPIF often affirms that public interest work will be a career focus for them. Wasif concurs, “The hands-on, at-work experience combined with the class sessions and amazing guest speakers this summer have given me a unique perspective on what it means to work towards social justice across many different areas of the law. Being a SPIF Fellow has really driven home that working for change and social justice will always be a priority in my legal career."
A History of Building Relationships with Community
Over the years, the consistent placements have allowed the SPIF program to build on-going relationships in the community. 2017 fellow Geena Kandel notes that working side-by-side with passionate attorneys is often a strong point of inspiration for the fellows. “It is inspiring to observe the passion my supervising attorneys have for their work and their commitment to public service," said Kandel who was placed at Dade Legal Aid.
"I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the SPIF program. This fellowship has allowed me to gain experience outside of the classroom by interacting with clients, performing legal research and writing, and learning more about different areas of law.”
Experience Leaves Lasting Impression
By catering to students who have just completed their first year of legal course work, the fellowship can help shape their professional identities. That has been the experience for 2017 fellow Angela Audie who was matched with the Miami-Dade Office of the Public Defender.
"The SPIF program has been an exceptionally rewarding learning experience.” says Audie. “Through this program I am developing my professional identity, learning about the public interest legal world in ways that cannot be taught in a classroom, and making a difference while doing so."
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