Seton Goddard ’15 - Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote about the American justice system, pointing out that, “If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.” Justice Brandeis was a Louisvillian and a Kentuckian whose zeal for the law, fairness, and justice for all was unmistakable. His spirit and his approach to justice lives on every day at the Legal Aid Society in downtown Louisville, where I’ve been working for the last eight weeks.
Legal Aid provides free civil legal services for people in Jefferson County, Kentucky (Louisville) and thirteen surrounding counties in Kentucky. This means that Legal Aid doesn’t handle any criminal cases, and they see none of the glamorous and stunning Law and Order cases. Instead, Legal Aid’s attorneys and staff work on behalf of families and individuals who have been victims of abuse, are suffering post-war effects (veterans), live in dangerous housing conditions, or who struggle with a wide range of other issues. Without Legal Aid, none of the 4,000 clients they work with annually would have access to attorneys or legal assistance in a system that is nearly impossible to navigate. Indeed, Legal Aid’s work is hugely important, and its effects are profound and widespread. As someone who believes that building strong communities starts with filling in the cracks that many of us have helped create, I was thankful to be a part of an organization that works every day to fill in those cracks and give assistance to the most economically disadvantaged among us.
While I am neither a lawyer nor a law student, I have been able to have a hand in these efforts, working with Legal Aid’s Development Director, Julia Leist. Through my work with Julia and also Jeff Been ’81, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society, this internship has given me the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of fund raising, development, and non-profit management. From grant writing, to donor relations, to administrative work, I had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects this summer, all related to funding the Legal Aid Society. Because Legal Aid is a non-profit and clients do not pay for their services my supervisor (Julia) is responsible for securing funding to pay the salaries of attorneys, cover administrative costs, and supplement the funding that comes from state and federal agencies. Without Julia’s work, Legal Aid’s resources would be even more limited, and when they must turn away many of the clients who apply for assistance, Legal Aid can use as much funding as they can track down. Most of this is secured through grants, and some of it also comes from private donations in the Louisville and greater Kentuckiana communities. My internship allowed me to write some of these grants, assist with the writing of others, and work with the private donors in Louisville – opportunities I certainly would not have gotten without this summer experience.
Even though I don’t know that I’ll go into the legal profession after I finish at Wabash in May 2015, the work that Legal Aid does has made one thing even clearer to me: there are countless issues that lead people into poverty, and even more issues that keep people in poverty. That being said, while I could have an impact through America’s justice system, I think it is also important to address the issues that land people in poverty, and I hope to pursue opportunities in those areas once I graduate. Thanks to Jeff Been ’81, Julia Leist, and the Small Business Internship Fund for this great opportunity to put the skills I have gained at Wabash into practice for the sake of helping those who, in many ways, society has forgotten.