Melanie Kushnir Access to Justice Fellowship
About Melanie and the Fellowship that Honors Her Memory
The Melanie Kushnir Access to Justice Fellowship was created in honor of Melanie Kushnir, who dedicated her life to inspiring pro bono attorneys, law students, bar leaders, the judiciary, the community, and co-workers to donate their time, knowledge, and experience to those in need. She believed that those who face domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, consumer fraud or other civil legal challenges can have their lives forever changed for the better with an attorney who will stand and fight for their rights -- and that they deserve nothing less.
Melanie’s career in law reflected her passionate commitment to access to justice for the poor, middle class and underserved. Her enthusiasm, intelligence, resourcefulness and warmth won over legions of new volunteer attorneys for the Pro Bono Project at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and increased participation by nearly 35 percent over her five years with us. From the start of her legal training, Melanie demonstrated a singular focus on pro bono work. Prior to graduating from Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, she served as a public service fellow, a research fellow with the Pro Bono Research Group, and President of the Public Interest Law Foundation. Melanie won the CALI Award for Children and the Law. After law school, she spent eleven years in public interest law representing abused children in Chicago; working to place students in public interest careers at Chicago-Kent College of Law; as Assistant Staff Counsel for the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono; and finally as Directing Attorney of the Pro Bono Project at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. She also published and lectured on pro bono and access to justice topics. In her time in Southern Nevada, she made an indelible imprint on the lives of so many and we wish to keep her memory and spirit alive in a way that she would have loved, through support of public interest law education.
About Access to Justice and Civil Legal Aid
In our system of justice, if individuals accused of a crime cannot afford an attorney they are provided with free counsel by the court. However, victims of civil legal issues have no right to a free attorney. Civil legal aid is defined as free legal assistance provided by a nonprofit law firm to low and middle income people who have non-criminal legal challenges. Civil legal aid is funded at a severely anemic level in relation to the intense need that exists.
Legal Aid Center provides free legal assistance on issues that include safety and stability (domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse), basic necessities (Social Security benefits, veterans benefits, and housing), and economic security (predatory lending, consumer protection, and managing debt). Assistance is by provided by Legal Aid Center staff attorneys and by volunteer attorneys who are recruited through our Pro Bono Project. Free assistance is offered in many forms, including:
- Legal information community service classes;
- Ask-A-Lawyer sessions;
- Self-Help Centers located in the Family Court and the Regional Justice Center; and
- Direct representation.
One law student from an ABA-accredited law school will be selected annually to receive the Melanie Kushnir Access to Justice Fellowship. Each fall, interested law students will submit a proposal on how to improve access to justice in Southern Nevada or increase pro bono participation. Ideas can include identifying barriers to access to justice and ways to eliminate them and/or targeted initiatives to involve more volunteer attorneys in pro bono activities. Advisors are available to work with students on their chosen topic and help guide them toward new ideas. Finalists may be asked to present their ideas to the Selection Committee. The Melanie Kushnir Access to Justice Fellowship selection committee is comprised of one Legal Aid staff member; one Legal Aid Center board member; one member of the Legal Aid Center Pro Bono Advisory Council; one representative of the William S. Boyd School of Law; one Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court or their designee; one representative of the Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission; and Ira Kushnir, Melanie’s father, or a family representative, if available.
Through their proposal, the winning student will have demonstrated a commitment to public interest law and the capacity to carry on Melanie’s work in assisting those unable to afford the civil legal help they need. The Fellowship begins in May or at the end of the law school year. The Fellow will receive a $10,000 stipend for the summer to develop their idea at Legal Aid Center while working within the Pro Bono Department assisting with access to justice projects currently underway.
In addition to the Fellowship, the Fellow will attend the State Bar of Nevada Annual Conference during the summer of their Fellowship and may present their winning idea and proposed implementation to the Board of Governors. While the full time employment of the Fellow will come to a close at the end of August, the Fellowship will officially conclude at the end of the year. During that time, the Fellow will be able to take advantage of judicial mentoring organized by the Eighth Judicial District Court in honor of Melanie. The Honorable Frank Sullivan will coordinate court observation and/or mentoring with the Fellow. The Fellow will also be invited to attend the Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission meeting during the fall to present their final work product. Finally, the student will be recognized at the Annual Pro Bono Project Awards Luncheon, to be held in December of each year, before the Nevada Supreme Court, the judiciary, and the attorney community.
Upon conclusion of the fellowship, the Fellow will be asked to participate as an ambassador in publicizing the availability of the fellowship during the following year. The Fellow may also be asked to serve as a mentor to the Fellow selected in the following year.
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