Frances Kirby is a rising 3L at Washington and Lee. She was awarded a NAACP/Kellogg Fellowship and spent her summer working at the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore. Kirby is Research Chair for the NBLSA Amicus Curiae Program and Associate Editor of the SRBLSA Law Journal. She will be a student attorney in the Community Legal Practice Clinic during the upcoming year.
Each year, the Office of the General Counsel at NAACP headquarters in Baltimore, MD selects six law students, based on “commitment to excellence and passion for civil rights”, to participate in the NAACP/Kellogg’s Law Fellow Program. Having an opportunity to work with the oldest civil rights organization in the nation was a privilege unparalleled. Being a beneficiary of an amazing summer of professional development was a dream realized for me, as a future civil rights advocate.
Because the Office of the General Counsel serves as in-house counsel for NAACP Conferences and Branches, in addition to representing classes, I researched varied legal issues including contracts, torts, non-profit corporations, and—to my surprise—defendant side employment law. During a visit to Battle Creek, MI, to thank our benefactor, an employment lawyer convinced me that a lawyer on either side has the power to positively impact workers’ rights. She helped me to understand how important the spirit of the lawyer is to the practice.
While I anticipated being exposed to civil rights, I had no idea the work would run the gamut of virtually every area of social justice including: access to education, criminal defendants’ rights, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, and fair housing. Had I made a list at the outset of what I wanted from the Fellowship, I would have foreclosed for myself the opportunity to help address important legal issues facing underrepresented communities.
The summer was filled with challenge and triumph, as we worked tirelessly to finish the constant flow of assignments, dealing with issues from both plaintiff and defendant sides of the law, while managing a full schedule—in and out of the Office. In addition to providing us with great legal experience, the Office created the most awesome networking opportunities—including informational sessions with attorneys at federal agencies, small and large law firms, and a myriad of social justice organizations. We sat through the Dukes decision at the Supreme Court (played basketball on the highest court of the land afterward), and the morning docket at the Baltimore City District Court. From coordinating and moderating CLE panels on civil rights, to networking with hundreds of lawyers and judges at the National Bar Association Convention, the summer was an experience unmatched by any other. In fact, the Fellowship opened up for me another opportunity—I will be working during the school year with a D.C.-based civil rights “action tank”.
I will be eternally grateful to Kim Keenan, our General Counsel, for being so personable and so willing to share with us her wealth of knowledge, experience, and countless connections; Dorcas Gilmore, our supervising attorney and a former educator, for bringing great pedagogical value to the Program; Victor Goode for showing me sophisticated lawyering in action and for being unnaturally patient and available to us, and to Anson Asaka for showing me that excellence can combine well with silence and humility. Facilitated by Kellogg, the NAACP Office of the General Counsel made a tremendous contribution to my personal and professional growth.