Twenty-three from HLS receive Public Service Venture Fund grants

Also announced: 2014 recipients of Skirnick, Kaufman and One Day’s Work Fellowships for public service

Seedling_464702315-2Twenty-three public service visionaries and social entrepreneurs from Harvard Law School have been selected as recipients of grants from the Public Service Venture Fund, a unique program that awards up to $1 million each year to help graduating Harvard Law students and recent graduates obtain their ideal jobs in public service.

This year’s recipients were chosen based on their vision for how to approach a public service problem or help a particular community. The Public Service Venture Fund, a first-of-its kind program at a law school, was launched in 2012 to invite law students and recent alumni to identify unmet legal needs and develop new initiatives to meet them.

Supporting “seed grants” for start-up public interest ventures and salary support for fellows undertaking projects at existing organizations, the Venture Fund spearheads social entrepreneurship. The selection process is advised by experienced entrepreneurs, and is rigorous and competitive.

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2013 Seed Grant Recipients: Alec Karakatsanis ’08 and Phil Telfeyan ’08

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Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil rights organization founded by Seed Grant Recipients Alec Karakatsanis ’08 and Phil Telfeyan ’08 challenged the profit motive in the criminal justice system.

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“The public service visionaries receiving these seed grants are remarkable in their ability to identify where justice is lacking and to craft a way to deliver it,” said Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School. “They are true social entrepreneurs, and I am immensely proud of their vision, passion and effectiveness. I am also deeply grateful to those whose financial support of these students and alumni enable their pursuit of such imaginative dreams of justice.”

Alexa Shabecoff, assistant dean for public service and director of the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA), who is directing the Fund, said, “I am proud that the pioneering HLS Public Service Venture Fund and postgraduate public fellowships allow HLS to support the work of our extraordinary graduates and truly expand the pie of social justice services. Through our seed grant, our grads are able to launch innovative nonprofits that will provide new solutions to the problems they seek to address.”

Through a competitive application process, three alumni were chosen as this year’s seed grant recipients:

Gina_ClaytonGina Clayton ’10 received a seed grant to establish the Essie Justice Group, in San Francisco. The Essie Justice Group will work nationally to connect women with incarcerated loved ones, creating a community in which women are trained and empowered to advocate against mass incarceration.

LamNguyen Ho (low res only)Lam Ho ’08 will use his grant to establish the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA) in Chicago. This new nonprofit organization will bring legal services directly to disadvantaged communities that otherwise do not have access to legal assistance.

Mercedes Montagnes (low res only)Mercedes Montagnes ’09 was awarded a seed grant to support her newly established nonprofit organization, the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI), based in New Orleans. PJI advocates for humane, fair and equal treatment of individuals in the criminal justice system, including the abolition of the death penalty in Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the United States and prison conditions that often fail to meet basic constitutional standards. PJI works to address these conditions through targeted impact litigation, individual representation and policy reform.

Read complete bios for seed grant recipients below.

Seed grant fellows will receive $80,000 per year, which includes a $45,000 stipend, with expectation of renewal for a second year.

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2013 PSVF Recipient: David Wertime '07

David WertimeNow a destination for Western journalists, academics and decision-makers seeking insights into what average Chinese people are thinking, Tea Leaf Nation is an English-language online magazine co-founded by Seed Grant Recipient David Wertime '07.

For more on the venture, read "Reading the Tea Leaves" from the Winter 2014 issue of the Harvard Law Bulletin.

In addition to this year’s seed grant recipients, 20 graduating students were named organization-based fellows. Organization-based fellows will receive $45,000 for one year to work in a nonprofit or government agency. Several partial fellowships will also be awarded to students who received third-party funding for international work, in order to allow them to extend their stays abroad and/or tackle additional projects.

“Through these fellowships, our talented graduates are able to provide badly needed assistance to underserved communities and causes,” said Shabecoff.

2014 Public Service Venture Fund Fellows: Organization-based Fellows

The organization-based recipients of support from the new fund are listed below, along with the organizations where they will work:

Read full bios for each PSVF organization-based recipient here.

The Skirnick Fellowships

The Maria, Gabriella, & Robert A. Skirnick Public Interest Fellowships were established by Maria Ann Skirnick ’69 and Robert A. Skirnick, along with their daughter Gabriella Skirnick ’07, to promote public service. This year’s recipients of the Skirnick Fellowships are:

The Kaufman Fellowships

The Irving R. Kaufman Fellowships were created in recognition of Judge Kaufman’s distinguished career in public service and are made possible by a gift from the late Honorable Walter Annenberg, philanthropist and former ambassador to the Court of St. James. This year’s new Kaufman Fellows are:

2014 Public Service Venture Fund Fellows: Seed Grant Recipients

Gina_ClaytonGina Clayton ’10 received a seed grant to establish Essie Justice Group, in San Francisco. The Essie Justice Group will work nationally to connect women with incarcerated loved ones, creating a community in which women are trained and empowered to advocate against mass incarceration.

After graduating law school, Clayton won an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to represent low-income women in eviction cases at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. At NDS, she designed and established the Housing Defense Project, which seeks to curb the impact of criminal justice policies that threaten eviction of families following criminal arrest, charge or conviction. She said her time at NDS helped her to realize “that mass incarceration was the most significant generator of the barriers standing before women and families of color in the U.S. today.” It is with this belief, years of experience in the field of criminal justice, and the inspiration of her great-grandmother Essie Bailey, that she was motivated to start the Essie Justice Group.

Clayton spent two years as a member on the NAACP National Board of Directors, after having served as the president of her university’s chapter of the organization at the University of Southern California.

During her time at HLS, she served as co-editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review; social justice chair of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, and student attorney for the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. She also completed an internship with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, and summer internships at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, and the Public Defender Service, in Washington, D.C.

After finishing her Equal Justice Works Fellowship in New York City, Clayton moved to South America to study Spanish. She then returned to the U.S. and has moved to San Francisco to build the Essie Justice Group.

Clayton graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California in 2006 with a B.A. in American Studies and a minor in education.

Clayton has also been awarded a 2014 Soros Justice Fellowship and a 2014 Echoing Green Global Fellowship to support her work with the Essie Justice Group.

LamNguyen Ho (low res only)Lam Ho ’08 has been awarded a seed grant to establish the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA) in Chicago. This new nonprofit organization will bring legal services directly to disadvantaged communities that otherwise do not have access to legal assistance. It will use an innovative practice model—community activism lawyering—not only to provide legal services but also to support grassroots activism in the community. This will be accomplished through law clinics located directly in the communities they serve in collaboration with local activist organizations. Local partner organizations include Enlace Chicago, the Sex Workers Outreach Project, the Immigrant Youth Justice League and Organized Communities Against Deportation.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Ho joined Chicago’s Legal Assistance Foundation as a staff attorney through the Skadden Foundation Public Interest Fellowship. During his time at LAF, he established and ran 10 community-based clinics providing free legal services to youth and their families on the west side of Chicago. He experienced firsthand the challenges of community lawyering and civil legal services, and was inspired to confront these challenges through the creation of CALA.

Before joining LAF, Ho was very involved in legal services at Harvard Law School, serving as president of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. He also worked as a research/teaching assistant to Professor Lucie White and a student attorney in the Harvard Defenders Program, while participating in several on-campus organizations and activities, including the Model Campus Sexual Assault Project, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, the Harvard Law Record, the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and LAMBDA. In his three years at the law school, Ho worked with two off-campus organizations – Reaching Out About Depression, in Cambridge, and the Gay-Straight Alliance, in Brockton, Mass., which he co-founded when he was in high school. He completed summer internships at the ACLU National Legal Department in New York City, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute in Boston, and the Urban Justice Center in New York City. He also founded and ran the HLS Chapter of the Giving Tree, a charity organization he had started as an undergraduate.

Ho received multiple awards during his time at HLS, including the 13th Annual NALP/ PSLawNet (now PSJD) Pro Bono Publico Award; the Gary Bellow Public Service Award; the Maria, Gabriella, & Robert Skirnick Public Interest Fellowship; the HLS Dean’s Award for Community Leadership; the Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award; the Beinecke Scholarship; the Point Foundation Scholarship; the Sonnenschein Scholars Summer Public Interest Fellowship; and the Lenn Thrower ’83 Memorial Fellowship for Research in Queer Studies.

Since finishing his Skadden Fellowship in 2010, Ho has worked as a staff attorney for Equip for Equality, where he represents children with disabilities and their families at all levels of administrative and judicial proceedings in state and federal courts. In 2014, the Governor of Illinois appointed Hothe chairperson of the Illinois HIV/AIDS Response Review Panel, a state commission on HIV prevention and treatment in the Illinois prison system.

Ho graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 2001 with an A.B. and M.A. in English. He received his M.St. in English in 2003 from the University of Oxford, after having received the Marshall Scholarship.

Mercedes Montagnes (low res only)Mercedes Montagnes ’09 has been awarded a seed grant to support her newly established non-profit organization, the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI), based in New Orleans. PJI advocates for humane, fair and equal treatment of individuals in the criminal justice system including the abolition of the death penalty in Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the United States and prison conditions that often fail to meet basic constitutional standards. PJI works to address these conditions through targeted impact litigation, individual representation and policy reform. In the organization’s first year, it successfully challenged excessive heat on death row and compelled Louisiana to disclose its execution plan in the wake of drug shortages. [Listen to an interview with Montagnes, “Do heat-sensitive inmates have a right to air conditioning?”, that aired July 24, 2014, on NPR.] In the future, PJI will bring broad-based challenges to create an even greater impact, particularly in the area of the provision of health care to inmates across the state.

Since 2012, Montagnes has worked at the Capital Appeals Project (CAP) in New Orleans where she is now the deputy director. She began working at CAP as part of a Harvard Law School organization-based fellowship. Before she began at CAP, Montagnes served as a law clerk to Judge Carl J. Barbier of the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans and to Judge Roger L. Gregory of the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.

Montagnes has shown a passion for the criminal justice system since her time at Harvard Law School, where she worked as a student attorney for the Massachusetts Prisoners’ Legal Services and the Criminal Justice Institute. She was also the president of the Harvard Law and Policy Review, contributor at Warren Reports and Talking Points Memo Café, vice president of the American Constitution Society, and coordinator for the Hurricane Katrina Legislative Tracking Project. She also received multiple honors, including the Vorenberg Fellowship and the Myer Dana and Etta Dana Scholarship.

As an HLS student, she completed three summer internships including: the law offices of Robert McDuff in Jackson, Miss.; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.; and the Orleans Public Defender in New Orleans, a city which would become her home and the home of PJI.

Montagnes graduated from Barnard College in 2005 with a B.A. in urban studies.

The Public Service Venture Fund, administered by the Law School’s Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA), comes with a host of related services for applicants, especially those applying for seed grants. OPIA has enlisted alumni and others to assist applicants with business advice and with developing the business plan and budget required to apply for a seed grant and also to help fellows incorporate their startups.