In firm news, Levinson and Stefani has recently made a donation to Equal Justice America’s summer fellowship program–an effort to provide stipends to law students who work, typically for free, in summer jobs at legal assistance organizations.
“Law students have numerous opportunities through law school to work and learn the profession,” said Jay Stefani, the firm’s managing partner. “Legal aid agencies, unfortunately, can’t compete with private firms in terms of pay–and law students have bills to pay. Places like EJA allow interested students to earn a stipend while volunteering their time helping others.”
For Stefani, specifically, this program hits close to home as he participated in a similar program to be able to work at Legal Aid Chicago (then called the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago) following his second year of law school. The firm’s donation is also specifically for students at Depaul Law School, Stefani’s alma mater.
“At Legal Aid Chicago, I learned invaluable lessons in terms of helping others and understanding the importance of being an advocate for my clients,” Stefani explained. “Without a stipend, I literally could not have afforded that experience.”
Stefani said the desire to donate to this program comes from the firm’s motivation to help people, and that while the firm focuses on bringing help to the injured, they “want to make sure to support legal assistance organizations that help people in so many other ways.” Additionally, the ability for these programs to carry on aiding students pursuing these jobs is vital in continuing the cycle of helping others throughout the legal profession.
“I think a lot of people go to law school because they realize the power and access lawyers have–and how that allows them to help others in profound ways,” said Stefani. “Unfortunately, the financial reality of law school–loans, needing to pay living expenses during those school years–often prevents those same people from pursuing their dreams. Organizations like EJA help remove the financial barrier.”
Additionally, Stefani explained that he empathizes with law students struggling to afford costs of living while studying, as well as with the feeling of unfairness that can accompany seeing more-privileged students being able to accept unpaid internships without a second thought.
“As someone who worked and paid my own way through college and law school, I am keenly aware of making decisions based on income and not necessarily on personal goals,” he explained. “I know full well that there are law students from lower-income backgrounds who have a strong desire to give back to their communities. Unfortunately, the financial burden of law school, and the student loan payments that come afterward, hinders many of them from being able to follow through on that dream.”
Equal Justice America, whose main objective is to help students and lawyers work for legal aid programs throughout the United States, has sponsored fellowships for more than 4,500 law students, given over $11,500,000 in grants, and helped provide more than 1,600,000 hours of free legal service.