Alexis McLeod, who graduated from William & Mary Law School on May 20, has been awarded one of fifty 2007 Equal Justice Works Fellowships, and is the first William & Mary law graduate to receive one. The fellowship will pay McLeod's salary for two years at the Public Law Center (PLC) in Santa Ana, California.
While there, McLeod will be implementing her fellowship proposal by acting as the primary attorney representing people with HIV/AIDS. She will use a Legal Check-up program with new clients to discover legal soft spots, or areas of potential legal trouble, including, for example, immigration status, history of substance abuse and chemical dependency, mental and physical health status, discrimination, and estate planning.
The Legal Check-up - a program McLeod is introducing to PLC - helps attorneys deal with issues proactively before they reach crisis levels and require in-court litigation. McLeod believes these Check-ups are particularly beneficial for people with HIV/AIDS because they help clients avoid the stress of litigation and discrimination, which may help delay the onset of AIDS and facilitate their general physical and mental well-being. She will be responsible for assessing her clients' legal issues after the Check-up and either providing direct legal assistance or referring the client to one of about 600 volunteer attorneys.
Drawn from a national pool of candidates who put forward comprehensive proposals on their desired field of public interest work, McLeod is a highly qualified candidate. Coming to law school a year after graduating from the University of California at Irvine, McLeod knew she wanted to represent underrepresented and disenfranchised people.
William & Mary Law School was the right choice for McLeod because, she said, "There is a very strong public interest culture among students, administration, and faculty, which I believe is unique to William & Mary. Securing post-graduate public service work can be difficult, but my ability to pursue a career in this field has been facilitated by the support of Dean Kaplan, and professors like Judge Baker, Professor Tortorice and Professor Dwyer who have been both helpful and inspirational."
Noting the funding opportunities at the Law School for summer public interest work, McLeod said, "The road to public service law was made so much easier by the Public Service Fund (PSF), and by alumni and other organizations that contribute to summer funding." A William & Mary law alumnus, Doug Pinter '77, provided funding for McLeod's two summers of public interest work.
According to Law School Dean Taylor Reveley, however, receiving this fellowship is a testament to McLeod's long-term devotion to public service. Reveley said, "Alexis has an extraordinary record of service to others reaching back into her teens and involving many ways of making a difference for the better. While at the Law School, she was a major force for PSF, quite active in the Therapeutic Jurisprudence Society (a founding member), and served as an ESL tutor for Refugee and Immigration Services. The Law School was proud to bestow upon her the Thurgood Marshall Award, presented at graduation to a member of the graduating class who exhibited the ideals of distinguished public service exemplified by Justice Marshall."
McLeod's history of public service is extensive. She helped with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Sexual Assault Victims Services in California and, from August 1996 to April 2002, she worked as a teen advocate and reproductive health assistant for Planned Parenthood Federation of America in Mission Viejo, CA. In summer 2004, she was at Laura's House Domestic Violence Agency in San Juan Capistrano, CA. The following summer, she worked at Families Forward in Irvine, CA. In summer 2006, McLeod was at the Public Law Center in Santa Ana, CA, dealing mainly with HIV/AIDS issues.
Her focus on persons with HIV/AIDS began before McLeod came to law school. For example, in undergraduate school she taught a course on HIV/AIDS. McLeod said, "This issue, in particular, has had such an impact on me because people with HIV/AIDS still face discrimination and so much of the problem is linked to poverty."
After working with the Public Law Center last summer, McLeod recognized the need for her continuing commitment to the organization and so pitched her program of implementing Legal Check-ups at PLC to Equal Justice Works.
Equal Justice Works facilitates public service fellowships by recruiting students and attorneys and matching them with law firms, which will then provide the direct funding. Morrison & Foerster, LLP, is contributing the funding for McLeod's two-year fellowship. McLeod comments, "Law firms are increasingly acknowledging their responsibility and ability to contribute to social justice causes. Morrison & Foerster, through the Morrison Foerster Foundation, has been an exemplar to the entire legal community - I am very grateful for their support and recognition of the need for services and programs like mine."
The goal of EJW fellowships is "to develop the public interest law leaders of the future, whether they continue to work in the nonprofit arena or become pro bono advocates in the private bar" and McLeod will no doubt remain a public interest leader far into the future. She said, "I've been committed to public service work for so long, and I feel that this is the natural path for me to pursue in terms of my legal career. I am fairly certain I will remain in public service work for the entirety of my career."