Rutgers Law graduate Ashley Maddison RLAW ’19 is in a two-year graduate fellowship through Equal Justice Works, an organization that pairs law students with public interest organizations so they can become public service leaders.
Maddison works with the Camden Medical-Legal Partnership, a collaboration of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and Rutgers Law School. It offers innovative, holistic, and community-based legal services to Camden residents with complex health needs. Her fellowship is sponsored by Covington & Burling LLP and Merck & Co., Inc.
“I'm super excited to be an Equal Justice Works Fellow, not just for myself but for Rutgers,” she said. “The number of fellowships Rutgers students have been granted this year reflects the value that our school places on public interest work. It demonstrates that support throughout a student's law school career leads to tangible employment outcomes. I am proud to represent our school.”
She said she integrates complex care principles into her legal work, “We’re all about building authentic healing relationships and empowering clients to take control of their health. Legal health is no different. My recommendations as a lawyer aren’t going to mean anything if they don’t align with the client’s own vision and values. I try to get to know them and observe where they’re coming from, so that when we make a plan to tackle a legal issue, like outstanding warrants for nonpayment of fines, they are more likely to succeed.”
Maddison has been working remotely throughout the coronavirus pandemic and said a big challenge is ensuring her clients have access to the court system, “Most of my clients don’t have smart phones or internet access. So, lawyering in a pandemic has been all about flexibility. If we have a really important hearing via Zoom, I go to my client in person. I wear an N95 and cloth mask, and I make sure my client is masked too. Our clients all have multiple serious health conditions, so I never want to take any chances. I am here to help improve health, not harm it. I use two laptops and a mobile hotspot. It’s quite the setup.”
In addition to providing direct legal services, Maddison works on educational and policy advocacy at the partnership. She keeps the care teams updated on changing laws and policies related to the pandemic, including getting clients to give their information to the IRS to receive federal stimulus checks. She also informs them about changes in housing policy. When the Camden Coalition ventured into a pilot program at a local hotel for individuals to quarantine safely, the partnership helped the care team navigate the unfamiliar world of quarantine orders. “I can’t say I would have predicted I’d need to learn quarantine law in my first year of practice, but here we are,” she said.
Maddison cites her time in the Child and Advocacy Clinic as one of her singularly most helpful experiences in law school. “The actual process of taking a case from intake to hearing (and all of the steps in between) is something that’s impossible to learn in a lecture-based course. The value of taking a clinic cannot be overstated.” Now that she works in the medical-legal partnership, which is part of the Rutgers Clinic, she said she gets wisdom and assistance from the faculty and staff, “They have all been incredibly supportive. I work in such a variety of areas, and it seems like there’s always someone who is an expert in what I am working on. I find that whenever I have a question or need help, they are more than willing to offer assistance.”
She said the biggest thing she’s learned in her fellowship, particularly during the pandemic is, “the more open you are to adapting, the better you’ll fare as a public interest lawyer.” Prior to law school, Maddison worked for several social services agencies, “There was a great need for practical, sensitive, comprehensive, accessible legal services for individuals with complex physical and psychological health needs.” That inspired her to go to law school and she chose Rutgers for its commitment to public interest.
While at Rutgers, Maddison took part in the Social Justice Scholars program, the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, the Association of Public Interest Law Students, the Women’s Law Caucus, and was a teaching assistant for Professor Herbert Hinkle. She also spent two summers as a Maida Fellow at Disability Rights Pennsylvania and Legal Clinic for the Disabled, completed an externship with the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender’s Division of Mental Health Advocacy, and worked in the Rutgers Child and Family Advocacy Clinic.
She said her goal is to serve in public interest throughout her legal career, and she cites the Social Justice Scholars Program and her mentorship under Rutgers Law Professor Katie Eyer in helping her make her goal a reality. Her advice for law students is, “If you think you have an idea of what you'd like to do with your law degree, try it on! With summer internships, externships, clinics, and possibilities for part-time employment, you have plenty of chances to try out various types of jobs to get a feel for what you might like to do after graduation. Plus, each new position is great for networking! You might find something you love or something you hate, and both of those bits of information are valuable for shaping your career.”