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W&L Law Student Wins Prestigious Skadden Public Interest Fellowship

Washington and Lee University third-year law student Jan Fox has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Skadden Foundation. These highly-coveted, post-graduate fellowships provide funds to law students who want to devote their professional life to providing legal services to the poor, the elderly, the homeless and the disabled, as well as those deprived of their civil or human rights.

The Skadden Fellowship Program, often described as a “legal Peace Corps,” provides fellows with a salary and benefits consistent with the public interest organization sponsoring the law student’s fellowship application. In Fox’s case, this organization is the Delaware Community Legal Aid Society (CLASI). She will work with the organization to expand services to immigrant victims of domestic violence, representing them in custody matters, protection orders, and housing issues.

Fox’s interest in immigrant populations and domestic violence issues evolved over time. During college, she tutored ESL students in English, and while in law school, she has worked for Project Horizon, Lexington’s domestic violence shelter and prevention organization. She often helped staff Virginia’s statewide domestic abuse hotline, where she spoke with immigrant victims of abuse from across the Commonwealth.

“I have always admired the tenacity of immigrant populations in the face of such huge obstacles,” says Fox. “Immigrant victims of domestic violence have a special vulnerability because they don’t know who to trust. They are often afraid if they call the police that immigration authorities will be contacted or that they will lose custody of their children.”

Fox sought out a summer externship with CLASI in her home state of Delaware after her 2L year, working in the agricultural regions near Georgetown in the southern part of the state. There she saw a growing population of mostly Hispanic immigrants with very little access to legal services.

“There is a scarcity of financial support from the state to expand legal aid services to the immigrant population,” says Fox. “That is why Skadden is so essential. My project would not be possible without them.”

The Skadden Fellowship Program was started in 1988 by the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to commemorate the firm’s 40th anniversary and in recognition of the dire need for greater funding for graduating law students to enter public interest law. So far, the Program has funded about 700 law school graduates and judicial clerks to work full-time for legal and advocacy organizations.

Fox is only the third W&L Law student to receive a Skadden Fellowship, although this is the second year in a row that a student from W&L Law has received the honor. Last year, Sam Petsonk ’13L received a fellowship to represent coal miners who have experienced unsafe working conditions. He is working with Mountain State Justice, a non-profit, public interest law firm based in Charleston, WV.

Fox is preparing for the two-year fellowship by getting a broad range of exposure to this practice area during her third year. In addition to taking a family law practicum, she will extern in Richmond with the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s domestic violence unit and also work on a project helping immigrant victims of domestic violence obtain visas.

After the fellowship is over, Fox intends to stay with CLASI in southern Delaware and will be actively developing funding sources to continue her work.