The Class of 2015 graduate learns the ropes as a staff attorney working to preserve affordable housing.
A recent graduate of Boston University School of Law, Jack Underwood (’15) has been working since February as a staff attorney in the Preserving Affordable Housing, Group Representation Unit of New York-based Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A (BKA).
Originally from a small town in Minnesota, Underwood completed his undergraduate degree at Gustavus Adolphus College and worked in New York City before attending Boston University School of Law.
Having taken constitutional law as an undergraduate and retained a keen interest in the field, Underwood decided to pursue a legal degree. “I felt BU was the most appropriate choice for me since BU Law alumni seem to flourish all across the country and in diverse fields of law.”
“I really liked the nuts-and-bolts of law study at BU Law,” says Underwood. “My professors brought a lot to the classroom on an everyday basis, and this day-to-day quality made even a mid-semester Tuesday lecture a lot of fun.” Of his many memorable classes, Underwood notes the influence of Professor Pnina Lahav’s Constitutional Law class, for which he later served as a teaching assistant.“It was my second time through most of the cases on the syllabus and I felt like the familiarity really helped me dive deeper into the morass of constitutional jurisprudence.”
Underwood credits a summer internship with BKA, which he learned of from the Office of Career Development & Public Service, with further honing the key skills he developed at law school and facilitating his transition to a permanent position there.
“I feel extraordinarily lucky about the whole process,” he says. One of the memorable things about the internship experience was the alacrity with which he was accepted into the organization’s fold. He quickly began meeting with clients for investigations, interviews, and trial prep. By mid-summer, he was representing the organization in politicians’ offices and presenting to stakeholders in a housing cooperative. “They had a casual confidence in me that I found really empowering—their attitude was always ‘you got this’ and that boosted my confidence.”
Currently, Underwood is “in training mode,” learning the ropes of his new role. As a staff member, his work largely covers the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York, where he represents wronged tenants in rent-stabilized buildings. In many cases, he explains, landlords neglect to make necessary repairs in the hopes that the low- and moderate income occupants will move out, thus allowing the landlord to flip the building and charge existing and incoming tenants higher rents. He aims to represent harassed tenants, organize them in a united front and bring lawsuits against abusive and unscrupulous landlords. Underwood says, “I feel happiest and most effective doing public interest law and hope to excel in the field.”
Underwood’s concern for his clients and passion for problem solving is evident. “Representing wronged or harassed tenants, forming tenant associations, and organizing rent strikes before filing the court papers is a process both challenging and invigorating,” he says. “But watching tenants unite to take a hard line against their crooked landlord is a powerful thing.”
Reported by Indira Priyadarshini (COM’16).