Category Archives: Pro bono law

Student-attorney snags win in red snapper case

With her final year of law school approaching, Michelle Felterman (L ’17) last summer agreed with her father on graduation gift: a charter-fishing excursion.

So it was serendipitous when the first case she undertook as a student-attorney in Tulane’s Environmental Law Clinic had her representing the Charter Fisherman’s Association in its effort to uphold a rule on red snapper fishing quotas in federal waters.

Tulane Environmental Law Clinic student-attorney Michelle Felterman (L ’17) secured a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of her client, the Charter Fisherman’s Association.

Felterman argued the CFA’s position before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2016, and on Jan. 17, the court ruled 3-0 in favor of her client.

“The clinics are about learning by doing and representing actual clients, and that’s what we did here,” said Professor Adam Babich, Environmental Law Clinic director. “We also serve a public interest to help represent people who would find it difficult to pay for it otherwise.”

The CFA came to the clinic in early 2014 to intervene in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Commerce Department by a nonprofit group representing recreational anglers, such as private boat owners. The charter fishermen, who are hired to take people fishing, wanted to keep the regulation the other group opposed. While the legal arguments centered on a government agency’s interpretation and enforcement, the case boiled down to the competing interests of different groups of anglers over access to limited numbers of red snapper.

In 2015, Alison Dunbar (L ’16), then a clinic student-attorney, argued for the CFA in U.S. District Court, which later ruled in the group’s favor. But that decision was appealed, which led to Felterman’s chance at appearing in the 5th Circuit for her first-ever court argument.

Felterman came to the case with appropriate scientific background, having studied the impact of commercial fishing on alligator gar off the Louisiana coast. But she had to immerse herself not just in the case details and the law but also the art of preparing for appellate court.

On argument day, a Justice Department attorney presented the government’s case. Felterman then told the three-judge panel about the real-world impact on “small businessmen trying to make a living.”

When she finished and Chief Judge Carl Stewart welcomed her to the court, she said, “I think at that point is when I started breathing again.”

Tulane’s new experiential learning director has immigration law expertise

Professor Laila Hlass, Tulane Law’s new director of experiential learning, said she found working with children through an immigration clinic the “most meaningful part of my law school experience.”

Professor Laila Hlass, an experienced clinical instructor and immigration law specialist, is Tulane Law’s new director of experiential learning.

Because the work proved so formative, most of her career since then has involved helping immigrants with legal needs and teaching law students to assist vulnerable populations.

A talented clinical instructor — she most recently was director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Boston University School of Law — Hlass joined the Tulane Law faculty in January. Already-growing interest in immigration law then exploded because of the Trump administration’s executive orders temporarily barring citizens from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
She’s become a sought-after authority on immigration law while undertaking her new role as Tulane Law’s director of experiential learning.

“It’s a really important time for experiential education,” said Hlass, who’s also a professor of the practice.

Law firms, nonprofit agencies, clients increasingly expect new graduates to be practice-ready, and students are eager to put their classroom learning to work. In 2016, Tulane Law drew its array of skills-training offerings under a single umbrella with pro bono and public interest partnerships to better integrate opportunities for students to prepare for their careers. Associate Dean Stacy Seicshnaydre (L ’92), a former Civil Litigation Clinic director, heads the team.

“We want to expand the program to ensure that all students have opportunities that align with their areas of interest and to ensure that there’s enough academic rigor and support,” Hlass said.

She grew up in Long Beach, Mississippi, then attended Rice University in Houston. She received her JD from Columbia Law School and an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center, where she supervised students in a legal clinic working with asylum-seekers facing court hearings.
She also spent four years at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, where she assisted in supervising clinic students and pro bono attorneys representing immigrants in state and immigration courts, as well as teaching refugee law.

At that time, just a few years ago, Louisiana nonprofit groups had only a handful of attorneys handling immigration cases statewide, she said. The number of attorneys has multiplied, but still there aren’t enough attorneys to serve that population, she said.

“Professor Hlass brings a wonderful combination of academic credentials, immigration practice background, clinical teaching experience, national networks dedicated to experiential learning and deep ties to the New Orleans public interest community,” Seicshnaydre said. “I think we can expect that she will be a dynamic, productive and engaged director of experiential learning.”

Six unique opportunities to give back

Law students meet with representatives from a variety of local public service programs at Tulane Law's Pro Bono Fair every fall.

Law students meet with representatives from a variety of local public service programs at Tulane Law’s Pro Bono Fair each fall. Photo by Ali Mansfield.

With the fall semester winding down, Weinmann Hall seems quieter as students hunker down for finals. But that only temporarily masks how active the past few months have been as students juggle classes, extracurricular activities and service to the community.

Tulane Law values its leadership role in public service. Tulane was the first U.S. law school to require pro bono work as part of the curriculum, and students collectively have provided more than 200,000 service hours during the program’s 25+ years. Other schools have added pro bono to their graduation requirements, but even Jeopardy! recognizes Tulane’s distinction as the leader: it was a clue on the show in October.

While Tulane Law students have dozens of different pro bono opportunities with community partners, Assistant Dean for Public Interest Programs Julie Jackson points to these six as her most interesting:

  1. Entertainment Law Legal Assistance (ELLA)

New Orleans is an exciting hub for art, music and drama. But how can upcoming artists afford to protect their interests in the often-cutthroat entertainment industry?

ELLA, a collaboration of Tulane Law School, the Tipitina’s Foundation and the Arts Council of New Orleans, provides legal advice for performers and artists. Students help clients protect their interests and recognize their rights under contract and intellectual property law.

“ELLA’s perspective is unique,” Jackson said. “Students quickly see that lawyers can be proactive and can help clients avoid or minimize future legal problems.”

  1. Gulf Restoration Network (GRN)

One of south Louisiana’s less-celebrated claims to fame: its rapidly eroding coastline. But students can get involved in ongoing efforts to save the coast through legal channels and raising public awareness.

Public Interest Program Coordinator Eileen Ryan and Assistant Dean Julie Jackson help students find service opportunities locally and nationally each year. Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano.

Public Interest Program Coordinator Eileen Ryan and Assistant Dean Julie Jackson help place students in a host of unique service opportunities locally and nationally each year. Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano.

The GRN is dedicated to protecting and restoring the Gulf Coast, and it offers law students invaluable experience in environmental law. The GRN tackles water quality, sustainable fisheries, smart energy, hurricane rebuilding and endangered species protection. Law students at the GRN may review permit applications, help develop corporate accountability resolutions and perform legal research.

  1. Eden House

Eden House, a residential program for victims of commercial and sexual exploitation, provides exposure to the legal issues surrounding human rights violations. Founded and run by Tulane Law graduate and former U.S. diplomat Kara Van de Carr (L ’98), Eden House connects its clients to various rehabilitative services, including legal aid. And cities across the nation are now looking to it as a model for supporting human trafficking survivors, Jackson said.

“The program takes a holistic approach to helping clients, who may have legal concerns but also have social, educational and healthcare needs,” Jackson said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for law students to be exposed to the interrelationship of law with other fields.”

  1. New Orleans City Hall

Fascinated by politics and government? Through Tulane’s partnership with the City of New Orleans and its Volunteers in Government of Responsibility program, law students work alongside undergraduates at City Hall, assisting with various aspects of municipal government. (B.Y.O. political aspirations.)

  1. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Tulane’s newest pro bono offering is with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, providing a chance to see the operation of an office within a vast federal agency.

Although the department offers assignments covering an array of legal projects, much of the local DHS office’s work pertains to immigration issues, a key area overseen by the department and one where students can get timely experience in immigration law.

Caroline Wick and Angela Pokorn (both L '15) attend a hearing for a POPS client at Angola Penitentiary.

Caroline Wick and Angela Pokorn (both L ’15) attend a hearing for a POPS client at Angola Penitentiary.

  1. Tulane Project for Older Prisoners (POPS)

This program originated at Tulane Law School, focusing on an often-overlooked segment of Louisiana’s overcrowded prisons: inmates over age 50 who have already served the bulk of long sentences. POPS represents selected, older inmates in parole hearings. This sector
of the prison population poses a significantly lower risk of recidivism, or committing more crimes. The program benefits the public by saving funds spent on costly, continued incarceration and freeing limited prison space
that may be better utilized for younger, higher-risk inmates.

Under the supervision of Tulane Law alumna Suzy Mixakis (L ’03), POPS successfully represented four clients this fall.

“Students learn to interview the clients and also see the correctional system from the inside out, which is an invaluable experience for all citizens, as well as for future lawyers,” Jackson said.