In January 2018, Faber Daeufer & Itrato PC proudly introduced Jen Rasay as the recipient of the firm’s first two-year Faber Fellowship. A third-year law student at Northeastern University School of Law, Rasay will be leading a new public legal service project at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) in New York City upon graduation. Through advocacy, impact litigation, and community-based organizing, she will work to challenge work requirements that effectively bar individuals with hidden disabilities to access to public benefits. Rasay’s efforts could position the organization as the nation’s foremost advocate for low-income persons with hidden disabilities.
History of the Faber Fellowship Program
Joe Faber, the Managing Principal at the firm, spoke about its decision to offer the fellowship, which fully covers salary, employee benefits, and student loan assistance during the two-year term. “When we look at our overall approach to community engagement, we see that the firm has a substantial philanthropy program and an active schedule of team-based volunteer work, but we’re not satisfied with the amount of pro bono legal services we’ve providing to address critical needs of individuals and families without adequate financial resources,” he explained. “We’re working to find more opportunities for our transactional lawyers to apply their skills in this area, but we thought we could more quickly and dramatically increase our impact by enabling another lawyer who would work full-time, and would bring more directly relevant expertise, to provide this kind of help.”
Initially, the firm sought advice from other law firms and law schools with successful fellowship programs. Faber credits Susan Butler Plum, the founding director of the Skadden Fellow Program, not only for illuminating what fellowships can achieve, but also for convincingly arguing that even a smaller firm like Faber can be successful with this model. (Somewhat uniquely, funding for the Faber Fellowship Program comes not only from the firm, as an additional grant above it’s regular philanthropy budget of 1% of revenues, but also through voluntary, anonymous financial giving from most of the firm’s employees.)
To launch the Faber Fellow Program, the firm decided to partner with Equal Justice Works (EJW). The organization creates opportunities for new lawyers seeking to dedicate their legal careers to the pursuit of equal justice for all. By administering fellowship programs funded by law firms, corporate law departments, foundations, and individual donors, EJW removes the barriers that often keep attorneys from pursuing public service careers. Having supported more than 1700 attorneys with the funding, training, and guidance to pursue their public interest dreams, EJW has established itself as the nation's largest provider of post-graduate legal fellowships.
“This isn’t simply about helping large, established not-for-profit organizations fill open legal positions, and it isn’t simply about helping development offices of large, established not-for-profit organizations by providing directed giving to fund their legal departments,” said Faber. “EJW goes out and encourages the strongest law students to seriously consider careers in the not-for-profit sector. And, their model requires students to create new initiatives, find an appropriate not-for-profit organization to partner with, and then compete for funding by distinguishing the goals they believe they can achieve within a two-year period” said Faber.
EJW reports they’ve seen over 80% of the fellows remain involved in public interest law after their fellowships – effectively making sure these programs have both immediate value, through achievement of the goals of the initiative pursued during the two-year fellowship, and long-lasting and growing value, by catalyzing a full career of public legal service.
The 2018-2020 Faber Fellowship
The road to identifying the first Faber Fellow started with almost 20 candidates identified by EJW. They each submitted a resume, recommendations, and a description of the position they created for a host not-for-profit organization. Faber received proposals seeking to address such important issues as discrimination against the LGBTQ community, assistance for victims of the opioid crisis, and contraception availability for underage women. “All 20 candidates were incredible, inspiring and would likely have meaningful positive impact on really compelling unmet legal needs,” said Faber.
Once the applications were received, the firm took a team approach to evaluating the candidates and selecting the finalist. Every employee in the practice was encouraged to participate in the process, which Faber said was a very important aspect of this initiative. “The need for this kind of pro bono legal service is behind the ethical precepts in the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the ethical rules adopted and in force many states, including Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and California, which strongly encourage every lawyer to donate some of his/her time and/or some of his/her income to provide this help. Encouraging every employee of the firm to contribute time and/or money to the Faber Fellow Program was a way to help everybody meet these moral obligations.”
A multi-stage selection process led the firm to offer their first Faber Fellowship to Jen Rasay. Her impressive resume demonstrated a long-standing commitment to public service, having worked and volunteered in numerous social justice and public interest settings throughout high school (at I'olani School in Honolulu), college (at the University of Hawaii), and law school. “Those of us who met with Jen were convinced that she’ll have tremendous success in her professional career, and it’s exciting to think that we’ll help enable her to pursue that career in public interest law.”
Rasay is extremely grateful for the opportunity this fellowship offers. She said that she often thought about applying for fellowships, but the competitiveness made her hesitant to do so. It was only after an internship last summer that she finally decided to take the leap. “I was working on employment discrimination cases and a partner there was a former fellow. She told me that she thought I should go for a fellowship and offered me a letter of recommendation. I really started thinking seriously about applying and asked one of my professors to help me brainstorm.” Though Rasay still felt that she was late to the process, she said that her professor’s encouragement was the motivation she needed to apply.
Developing a service project struck a personal and professional accord with Rasay. “I had always been interested in discrimination and accommodation issues, and I was very interested in partnering with an organization that focuses on similar issues.” NCLEJ was a perfect fit for Rasay’s interests. The well-established not-for-profit achieved national prominence in 1970 after successfully arguing the US Supreme Court case Goldberg v. Kelly, which recognized the right for welfare recipients to receive notice and a fair hearing before being deprived of benefits. The organization recently took a stand against a Trump administration proposal to allow state imposition of work requirements for recipients of Medicaid. “This means that states will be able to take away Medicaid from people who can’t show that they are working,” stated the NCLEJ website. “Millions will lose access to health care.”
Rasay’s program will focus on advocating for this vulnerable community, particularly those with disabilities that are not immediately evident. “Persons with hidden disabilities face insurmountable challenges in applying for and getting Medicaid benefits’” explained Rasay. “Work requirements make the issue even more pressing. My ultimate goal is to protect persons with hidden disabilities, which will extend to people with apparent disabilities. We will represent their rights and represent their interests.”
Rasay said that her personal experiences also contributed to her interest in this area of public service. “I come from a low-income background and my parents took on multiple low-income jobs to care for their children. I connect with these people and I know that this is a vulnerable community.” She also considered the circumstances of her aunt, who has suffered from a hidden disability for years. “I kept thinking about her and the gravity of the situation. I ultimately hope to stop these Medicaid work requirements, but if it does happen, I want to make sure there’s a safety net to minimize the effects as much as possible.” For Rasay, this fellowship allows her to combine the three types of legal issues she feels most passionate about – discrimination, healthcare and public benefits law.
“We thought that Jen had an amazing commitment to putting her professional skills to use and improving the lives of others,” said Faber. “It’s exciting to think that we’ll help enable her to pursue that career in public interest law. And, we are convinced that there’s a real opportunity for Jen to quickly emerge as a leading national spokesperson and coordinator of efforts, not just by NCLEJ, but in cooperation with other organizations to advocate for PWHDs, particularly in response to the Trump administration’s efforts to impose broad-based work requirements on safety-net benefits.”
Rasay explained that the fellowship offers a rare opportunity for new lawyers. “There are many law students who believe in using their law degrees to help vulnerable communities, but the financial burden is a huge impediment. The fellowship takes that out of the equation. I only have to worry about where my help is going to impact the most people. I don’t have to worry about how I am going to take care of myself. I only wish there were more of them, so more students could go where their work is needed. I am really excited and so incredibly grateful that the firm believed in this pressing issue.”