UCLA School of Law students Akruti Chandrayya ’22 and Jenna Finkle ’22 have earned Gideon’s Promise fellowships. Both are students in the law school’s David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy, and they are just two of six law students across the country to whom the Gideon’s Promise fellowship program awarded the prestigious fellowships this year.
Thanks to the program, which places recent law graduates in the offices of public defenders seeking to change the culture of the criminal justice system in their jurisdictions, Chandrayya and Finkle will go where their talents and energy are much needed, to under-resourced communities with high rates of incarceration.
Starting this fall, Chandrayya will join the Law Office of the Shelby County Public Defender in Memphis, Tennessee, while Finkle will be in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with Still She Rises.
Chandrayya could sense from her early interviews that the Shelby County Public Defender’s office was an environment she was excited to join. “It felt like a conversation with my future colleagues and mentors rather than a formal interview,” she says. “I saw how supportive they were and the community they had.” Chandrayya says she is particularly eager to be immersed in client-centric work to become an effective trial advocate, and to gain insights necessary to “attempt to undo years of systemic wrongs that have lasting effects on people’s lives.”
Still She Rises, in Tulsa, is the first defense office in the country dedicated to the representation of mothers in the criminal and civil legal systems, a mission Finkle is passionate about. Women are the fastest-growing prison population in the country, and, in Oklahoma, those numbers are trending at twice the national average. “I am thrilled to join the fierce advocates at Still She Rises,” says Finkle, “and provide criminal defense for incarcerated mothers in a state with an acutely high incarceration rate, particularly for women.”
Gideon’s Promise launched its Law School Partnership program in 2013 and has since connected public defender’s offices with over 120 graduating law students. These new lawyers are committed to justice and to working in some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in America. The opportunities afforded by this fellowship will make it possible for Chandrayya and Finkle to make the kinds of immediate and impactful change they sought when they came to UCLA Law and pursued a course of study focused on public interest.
“I chose to apply to Gideon’s Promise to become part of the larger community of public defenders,” says Finkle. “Those who pursue indigent defense to help people navigate what can seem an insurmountably difficult period in their lives within a criminal system that inflicts wounds on individuals, their families, and their communities.”
In so doing, she hopes to recreate the close-knit community of public interest-minded students and faculty she found at UCLA Law and in the Epstein Program.
“We are immensely proud to see Akruti and Jenna begin their bright legal careers as Gideon’s Promise fellows” says Andrew Whitcup, the assistant director of the Office of Public Interest Programs. “This achievement stands as affirmation of their hard work, and of UCLA Law's and the Epstein Program's commitment to students pursuing public interest careers. We cannot wait to see the impact Akruti and Jenna will have for many years to come. They will no doubt represent their clients and the UCLA Law community well!”