February 26, 2024
Woman smiling at older man with glasses
Erinmarie Byrnes ‘23 speaking with veteran Harrison Morris at the Veterans Multi-Service Center in Philadelphia.

Erinmarie Byrnes ‘23 always had a passion for social justice, and knew she wanted to dedicate her legal career to serving communities in need. Unfortunately, this path is incredibly difficult for new attorneys because the nonprofit sector often lacks the time and resources needed to pay, train, and mentor them. But Byrnes is meeting this challenge head-on thanks to the Maida Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowship, a two-year program specifically designed to support and sustain public interest legal work by graduates of Rutgers Law School.

Byrnes was initially drawn to Rutgers Law because of the Social Justice Scholars program. Accepted into the highly competitive program as an incoming 1L, she knew it would give her access to a network of like-minded colleagues and mentors, but also that its funding would enable her to take unpaid summer internships in the nonprofit sector as a law student.

During Byrnes’ first summer internship as a Maida Summer Public Interest Fellow, she served the veteran clientele of the Homeless Advocacy Project, an organization providing free legal help to individuals and families experiencing or facing homelessness in Philadelphia. She was so moved by this experience that she joined the Veterans Advocacy Clinic upon her return to campus, where she worked during her 2L and 3L years.

“Erinmarie has always been someone who goes way over and above,” says Jill Friedman, associate dean for pro bono and public interest. “As a veterans’ clinic student, she spent spring break writing two alternative legal briefs, using two separate legal theories, for a single client. She also took advantage of every possible leadership opportunity the law school had to offer, serving as an executive editor of the Rutgers University Law Review, as a constitutional literacy teaching fellow and TA, and as a leader of the Association for Public Interest Law (APIL). She is an excellent student and person, and an exemplar.”

As Byrnes’ law school graduation approached, Friedman recommended she apply for the Maida Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowship so she might continue serving under-resourced populations.

Erinmarie Byrnes '23

Upon receiving the award, Byrnes returned to the Homeless Advocacy Project and soon joined her supervisors, Michael Taub and Alie Muolo, when they moved their veteran cases and clients over to the newly launched Veterans Law Center (VLC).

“For a new organization just getting started, the Maida Fellowship has allowed us to expand our capacity and reach far more veterans seeking legal help,” says Muolo, VLC co-executive director. “Not only is Erinmarie working directly with our veteran clients to address their specific legal needs, but she is also offering fresh and innovative ideas as we grow the new nonprofit.”

Currently, Byrnes fields intake calls, interviews clients, reviews military and medical records, researches the law, and summarizes cases, and she will soon take on her own caseload. Byrnes is also planning to help with outreach and staff training at partner organizations across Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware.

“VLC could not function in a manner that is consistent with our values without our Maida Fellow, Erinmarie,” says Taub, VLC co-executive director. “Like all of us, she is willing to do whatever is asked of her to meet the needs of our veteran clients. She understands why we do the work we do and she does it in a manner that lets our vets know that we are here and we are listening.”

As for Byrnes, the funding provided by the fellowship is just the beginning. Indeed, she’s developing skills and laying the foundation for what will undoubtedly be an influential career. “I wouldn’t be able to do this work at this stage in my career without the fellowship,” she says. “I love the work I’m doing, I’m challenged every day, and I’m constantly learning something new. I definitely see myself continuing in this field because I recognize the immense privilege of having a law degree and want to use that privilege for the betterment of others.”

Rutgers Law Media Contact:
Shanida Carter

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