The Public Service Fellowships support the most recent BU Law graduates as they start their careers with nonprofits or government agencies.
The Boston University School of Law Public Service Fellowships have aided recent graduates who have demonstrated a commitment to public service since they were launched in 2010. In addition to these fellowships, 2012 saw the initiation of the N. Neal Pike Disability Rights Fellowship to assist a graduate working in disability rights. The fellowships provide a year’s salary and benefits to graduates working in under-resourced public interest organizations in the US and abroad.
The fellowships were named in recognition of donors or their matching firms after a 2015 fundraising challenge issued by BU President Brown drew generous support from alumni and friends of the School of Law.
This year’s recipients are Mario Paredes, Xinia Bermudez, James van Wagtendonk, Ramiro Gonzalez Lorca (not featured), and Nicole Holbrook.
Xinia Bermúdez, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP Fellow
Center for Justice and International Law
Xinia Bermúdez will work with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in its Washington, DC office. CEJIL does advocacy work before the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, bringing human rights violations in Latin America to the attention of the two organizations in order to obtain justice for victims and to prevent these issues from reoccurring. According to CEJIL, “alongside 380 partner organizations [CEJIL] represents more than 10,000 victims and beneficiaries of protective measures in more than 313 cases and precautionary and provisional measures.” Bermúdez will be assisting in hearings and working to educate individuals about possible human rights violations in the Andean states and Caribbean nations in Latin America.
Bermúdez previously worked at an education nonprofit in Washington, DC, and learning more about civil and human rights led her to pursue a law degree. She had her heart set on working on human rights issues in Latin America after graduating from BU Law, but was unsure about how to pursue it. Professor Susan Akram, director of the International Human Rights Clinic, was instrumental in helping her obtain the fellowship and figuring out how to work with CEJIL.
Bermúdez says that her experience in the International Human Rights Clinic prepared her for this next step. The clinic brought her to BU Law, and she notes that it helped her learn the right skills to effectively educate and advocate for her clients. “Being able to put what I learned in school to direct use in my job is pretty awesome,” she says.
Bermúdez transferred to BU Law after her 1L year and quickly found her place. She joined student groups, the Latin American Law Student Association, the Immigration Law & Policy Society, and spent her 3L year as an articles editor for the International Law Journal. During the summer after her 1L year, she held a judicial internship with the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York and was also one several student volunteers who provided legal support at Logan Airport in the wake of President Trump’s executive order barring travel from certain countries.
In the future, Bermúdez hopes to work for the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court and knows that the fellowship is great first step towards her long-term goals.
Nicole Holbrook, N. Neal Pike Disability Rights Fellow
Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee
Nicole Holbrook will be spending her fellowship at the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC). The organization aims to protect and enhance the rights of individuals with mental health concerns in Massachusetts. Holbrook will be working on a variety of projects focused on increasing mental healthcare in correctional facilities, establishing language centers in schools for parents to understand learning plans for students who may have mental health concerns, and advocating for legislation that increases and protects the rights of those who have a mental disability.
“I’ve always been interested in the intersections of our identities,” says Holbrook, and while working for Aids Action during her 1L summer she noticed how much mental health affects all aspects of life. She strongly felt that individuals should have the same opportunities as those unaffected by mental health issues. She wanted to use the legal system in a way that could aid people, and that brought her to MHLAC.
Aside from working with Aids Action, Holbrook worked at the Community Activism Law Alliance in Chicago supporting immigrant communities and communities of color, providing legal services to activists and community members within those groups. She spent last summer at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and volunteered with Great Boston Legal Service’s Consumer Unit defending individuals with credit card debt in small claims court.
At BU Law, she was on the board of the National Lawyers Guild during her 1L and 2L years, and was recognized by the Massachusetts chapter for her contributions. She also served as copresident for If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice.
Holbrook named Elizabeth Cho, assistant director for public interest & government careers, and Carolyn Goodwin, director for public service & pro bono, as her greatest supporters in finding her position and applying to the fellowship. She pursued a law degree in order to help and support disenfranchised individuals and the fellowship will give her the access to do so.
“The fellowship gives me a great opportunity to start a career in doing disability rights and becoming a better advocate,” says Holbrook.
Mario Paredes, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP Fellow
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Mario Paredes will be spending his year working for the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), a nonprofit statewide poverty law and policy center that aims to advance economic, racial, and social justice through legal action, advocacy, and coalition building. Paredes will be joining MLRI as a staff attorney working on the Immigrants Protection Project, doing a mix of policy, litigation, and community organizing. He will work directly under Iris Gomez (’80), the senior immigration lawyer of the MLRI.
Paredes says he “wanted to make sure that [he] always stayed connected to community members that [he] advocated on behalf of,” and MRLI gave him the opportunity to do that.
Paredes chose BU Law because of the reputation of its professors and the work that students do during their time at the school and beyond. Sarah Sherman-Stokes, associate director of the Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking Program, acted as a mentor throughout his time at BU Law and suggested he connect with MLRI about the fellowship so he could gain more experience working in the community. “She understood that law and just working in a courtroom wasn’t going to be enough,” he says.
At BU Law, Paredes served as president of the Immigration Law & Policy Society, helped establish the BU Law chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and was involved with the Latin American Law Student Association and the Black Law Student Association. He was a 2017 fellow with the Rappaport Center for Law & Public Policy at Boston College and took part in the Immigrant’s Rights & Human Trafficking Program. In addition, he volunteered for two Spring Break Pro Bono Service Trips and was part of a group of BU Law students who volunteered to provide legal support at Logan Airport in the wake of President Trump’s executive order barring travel from certain countries.
Before and throughout his time at BU Law, Paredes worked for Centro Presente, located in East Boston, and stayed connected to the organization. He now serves on its board of directors. He has also taught Leadership for Social Change, a class for first-year community college students for the Office of Community Engagement at Bunker Hill Community College, and worked with A Better Chance, a national nonprofit dedicated to extending educational and career opportunities to students of color.
“Way down the road, I want to translate my work where I can help effectuate more wide-scale change when it comes to supporting civil rights or immigration reform or criminal justice reform,” Paredes says. “But first, I want to work locally.”
James van Wagtendonk, Yanan and Dan Schwartz Fellow
Greater Boston Legal Services (Employment Law Unit)
James van Wagtendonk will work in the employment unit of the Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). The organization helps low-income families and individuals with civil (non-criminal) legal problems, and van Wagtendonk’s work will focus on issues that face workers who are subcontractors, in gig-economy jobs, or who enter agreements with on-demand companies to provide services to the company’s clients. His work will examine the overlap between immigration and employment issues.
During the summer after his 1L year, van Wagtendonk interned at GBLS and enjoyed how the organization worked to address their clients’ issues in holistic ways. He felt that the organization was a natural fit for him and for the fellowship.
Before law school, van Wagtendonk was an immigrant rights and labor organizer, and he decided to pursue a legal education to help his work in the field. He was a labor organizer in Connecticut, working with homecare and nursing home workers who primarily came from the Caribbean and lacked proper support and care in their employment. He then went on to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), focusing on organizing projects to increase healthcare access for undocumented individuals.
“As a lawyer, you can work for and on behalf of movements that are trying to build power,” he says.
Carolyn Goodwin, director for public service & pro bono, served as a guide for van Wagtendonk, and when it came time to looking for a position after law school, she helped put him in contact with individuals working in the field. Sarah Sherman-Stokes, associate director of the Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking Program, and Professor Michael Harper also played a central role in helping him think about working with organizations focused on immigration, labor, and employment issues in the Boston area.
While in law school, van Wagtendonk took part in the Immigrants’ Right & Human Trafficking Program, was a member of the National Lawyers Guild, and BU Law Review. He volunteered with Project Citizenship and Justice at Work. During his 2L summer, he interned with the National Labor Relations Board’s Appellate and Supreme Court branch in Washington, DC, mainly as part of a team drafting a brief in a Supreme Court case focused on employment arbitration agreements.
After the fellowship, van Wagtendonk will clerk for Judge Indira Talwani of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. He hopes to return to immigration and employment law after his clerkship.
Reported by Yadira Flores (CAS’19)
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