Fabulous Fellows: Students Earn Premier Honors in Public Interest Practice

July 14, 2021
UCLA Law public interest fellowships
Clockwise from top left: Maya Chaudhuri ’21, Shaunita Hampton ’21, Idalmis Vaquero ’21, Ming Tanigawa-Lau ’21, Melodie Meyer ’20, Joseph Yankelowitz ’21, and Hayley Hofmann ’21.

Highlighting the proud track record of UCLA School of Law students who aspire to be leaders in public interest law, seven recent graduates have earned esteemed post-graduate fellowships from top organizations in the field.

The awards – from Equal Justice Works, Gideon’s Promise, and Justice Catalyst – are among the highest honors for law students and recent law school graduates in the public interest arena. (Three other UCLA Law students were announced as Skadden Fellowship recipients last fall.) They cement UCLA Law’s nationally renowned standing as a school where students are inspired to make a difference through lawyering in low-income or otherwise underserved communities, receive the training to make the most of their skills, and gain invaluable boosts into careers helping less-fortunate people who need legal assistance and may live far from Los Angeles.

“We are so proud of our students for earning these leading fellowships, which will help them launch their careers as impactful public interest lawyers,” says Karin Wang, executive director of UCLA Law’s David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. “It is gratifying that these honors recognize what we at the law school have always known: UCLA Law students are supremely prepared to go out into the world and make a difference as thoughtful and capable attorneys – especially in communities of color or elsewhere that the need is the greatest.”

Maya Chaudhuri ’21, Shaunita Hampton ’21, and Idalmis Vaquero ’21 earned Equal Justice Works fellowships. They are part of a class of 77 new lawyers who will work for two years in a community with unmet legal needs. Chaudhuri will work at the Texas Fair Defense Project in Austin, Texas, where she will work to bring transparency to hearings where people can be jailed for being unable to pay cash bail or fines. Hampton will work at Legal Aid of San Mateo County in Redwood, California, where she will work with residents to gain affordable and fair housing. And Vaquero will work at Communities for a Better Environment in Huntington Park, California, where she will work to defend families against environmental contamination in east and southeast Los Angeles.

Hayley Hofmann ’21 and Joseph Yankelowitz ’21 won fellowships through the Gideon’s Promise Law School Partnership Project, which places graduates in public defender offices around the country to offer superior legal representation to low-income individuals in the criminal justice system. Hofmann will work for the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy in Stanton, Kentucky. Yankelowitz will work with the Mecklenburg County Public Defender in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Melodie Meyer ’20 and Ming Tanigawa-Lau ’21 received Justice Catalyst fellowships, which allow recent graduates to apply their legal skills to boost people who have been denied equal access to justice. Meyer is working at the Yurok Tribe’s Office of the Tribal Attorney in Klamath, California, where she is serving as an advocate for indigenous communities that have been negatively impacted by climate change. Tanigawa-Lau will join the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, where she is working with more than 100,000 asylum seekers to achieve systemic reform in the asylum process.

“I am so grateful for the public interest family at UCLA Law,” Tanigawa-Lau says. “The relationships I’ve built during law school make me excited to step into this new position, knowing that I am part of a community of badass attorneys ready to reform oppressive systems and have each other’s backs along the way.”

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