A Day in the Life: Equal Justice Works

by Vault Law Editors | June 05, 2012

Kerry O'Brien, Director of Federal Programs and Strategic Initiatives at Equal Justice Works

Kerry O’Brien has devoted her entire career to increasing access to justice for the neediest individuals and families. After attending law school at Georgetown University, Kerry was an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Bread for the City, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that provides vulnerable individuals with food, clothing, medical care and legal and social services. Just two years out of law school, Kerry co-founded the D.C. Employment Justice Center, a workers’ rights organization. As co-executive director, she was responsible not only for providing legal services, but also for fundraising, accounting and program development, and she developed a strong interest in systems and project management. Now, as the Director of Federal Programs and Strategic Initiatives at Equal Justice Works, Kerry oversees the AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship, Public Defender Corps and Summer Corps programs.

8:15 a.m. Arrive at my desk and check email. Follow up with the eight fellows who were in town yesterday for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Conference. I attended the conference with them to learn more about the state of funding for veterans, as I’m currently putting together a proposal to place more fellows in the field to work on veterans’ issues. I spend a lot of time studying emerging areas of legal need where Equal Justice Works could make a difference, and there is a growing population of veterans who urgently need legal assistance.

9:30 a.m. Meet with my staff to review the progress of our Summer Corps members, many of whom recently began their placements. The Summer Corps is funded by AmeriCorps, so we spend significant time making sure we are correctly following funding rules.

10:30 a.m. Another staff meeting, this time to review the progress of our 2011 Public Defender Corps members who are nine months into their first year. We launched the Public Defender Corps as a response to underfunded and understaffed public defender offices across the country. The Corps is funded through a grant from the Department of Justice, and we are putting together a report on how we have used this funding to create measurable impacts on the administration of justice.

12:00 p.m. Lunch at my desk while scrolling through my twitter feed. I like to keep up on what’s going on in the legal services and law school worlds, as well as in specific areas I’m on working on, such as consumer financial protection and veterans’ issues.

1:00 p.m. Review reports from my staff on the work of our fellows. We have 80 AmeriCorps Legal Fellows, 18 Public Defender Corps Fellows and 700 Summer Corps members, and my staff and I spend a lot of time reviewing data about the work they are doing. I also conduct research into how I can promote the work our fellows are doing at the national level.

2:30 p.m. My team and I have a phone call with a potential new host site for our AmeriCorps Legal fellows. When an organization wants to host a fellow, we spend time talking to staff there to make sure they will provide a meaningful experience for the fellow and will be able to host and support a project where tangible outcomes can be demonstrated at the end of the fellowship.

3:30 p.m. Follow up with contacts from the Equal Justice Conference, which I attended last month in Jacksonville, Florida. The Conference, which was hosted by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the American Bar Association, explores partnership and collaboration opportunities between pro bono and legal services. While in Jacksonville, I met some attorneys who are doing incredible work on issues of identity theft, and I immediately got in touch with the Department of Justice to see how we could work together to get ten new fellows to represent victims of identity theft across the country. One of the things I love about working at Equal Justice Works is that we have the flexibility to respond to legal services crises as they arrive. For example, after Katrina, we had 26 lawyers in the Gulf Coast within just a few months. Now, we’re seeing a lot of need in the area of identity theft, and I am working to set up a program for fellows to work on that.

5:00 p.m. Management team meeting. As a member of Equal Justice Works’ management team, I help set the overall direction for the organization as a whole, including creating strategies for collaborating with law schools as well as legal aid organizations and public defender agencies.

6:00 p.m. Head home after a busy day!

--Rachel Marx, Law Editor

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Filed Under: Law | Workplace Issues


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