The Independence Foundation awards public interest law fellowships to four people annually. This year, three of the four fellowship recipients—Emily Miles, JD ’21, Nicole Scott, JD ’22, and 3L Hilary Pearsall—graduated from or are studying at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law.
The fellowship program draws from a national pool of applicants and provides up to two years of funding for positions with Philadelphia-area organizations that provide pro bono legal representation to the underserved.
“The support offered by the Independence Foundation will allow Emily, Nicole and Hilary to address some of the inequities within the legal and health care systems,” said Elizabeth Dunn, senior director of Drexel Kline Law’s Career Strategies Office. “Each of these Fellows has a specific background that gives them insight into the practical realities their clients face. We are incredibly proud of the work they are doing.”
According to the Independence Foundation’s Senior Program Officer Ann Torregrossa, many public interest law leaders in Philadelphia are former Independence Foundation Fellows.
The fellowships will begin in fall 2023.
Emily Miles, JD ’21
Emily Miles, JD ’21, will work with HIAS Pennsylvania (HIAS PA), a non-profit that supports low-income immigrants through legal aid and social services during her fellowship.
Miles, who provided pro-bono service to HIAS PA while a student at Drexel Kline Law, will serve as an embedded immigration expert within a support team of law enforcement, survivor service agencies and medical professionals that aids children and their families. She will focus on increasing referrals for child survivors of sexual abuse in need of immigration legal services.
“Through a unique combination of approaches to legal advocacy, I will help survivors and their families pursue stable immigration status,” Miles said. “This is an important step in their path to justice and healing.”
Undocumented children and U.S.-born children within undocumented families are highly vulnerable to sexual abuse, Miles said. The fear of deportation prevents undocumented immigrant families from seeking the protections they need, while challenges in undocumented populations, such as language barriers, conflicting cultural norms and limited understanding of the legal system, further deters reporting sexual abuse.
HIAS PA provides legal immigration information and representation to undocumented survivors of abuse through its Domestic Violence Program.
Currently, Miles is completing a clerkship with the Department of Justice Executive Office of Immigration Review, Appeals Division.
Nicole Scott, JD ’22
Philadelphia Legal Assistance
Nicole Scott, JD ’22, will work with Philadelphia Legal Assistance, providing free legal representation to victims of domestic abuse and families experiencing housing instability.
Scott, who currently clerks for Camden Superior Court Judge Thomas Booth in the criminal division, said she became especially interested in advocating for women prior to law school, while serving as an army medic for five years. During her army service, Scott said she encountered victims of sexual assault and witnessed the effects of the sexual assault on their mental and physical health. Many of these survivors were disparaged and discredited when they spoke out about their assaults and ultimately separated from the military.
“These experiences lit a fire in me to advocate for women who experience injustice,” Scott said.
Survivors of domestic violence are plagued with poverty and housing instability, Scott said. She credits her time in Drexel Kline Law’s Civil Litigation Field Clinic, which operates in tandem with Philadelphia Legal Assistance’s Family Court Unit, for inspiring her to pursue the Independence Foundation Fellowship. The clinic afforded Scott the practical knowledge of providing trauma-informed legal assistance to clients as they navigated child custody issues and Protection from Abuse orders.
“During the clinic, I noticed that almost all of my clients had an issue with housing that was relevant to their matter,” Scott said. “This realization led to my fellowship idea.”
Scott also plans to maintain close contact with local housing organizations to ensure her clients living needs are properly addressed during her fellowship. Scott will provide per se assistance to litigants at the Philadelphia Family Court help center, as well.
Hilary Pearsall, 3L (JD-MPH dual degree program)
Pennsylvania Health Law Project
The fellowship will fund 3L Hilary Pearsall’s work with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project, a non-profit that protects and advances health care rights through free legal services, community education and advocacy.
Pearsall’s Independence Foundation proposal highlighted the need for equitable access to mental health resources for young people—specifically, the 1.4 million children in Pennsylvania who rely on Medicaid. During her fellowship, Pearsall will seek relief for youths who experience mental health emergencies, such as major depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts or self-harm. During these crises, they might spend weeks in hospital emergency wards as they experience barriers to more appropriate health care.
Pearsall will approach barriers to medically necessary care as de-facto denials under the Medicaid program. She will also document and expose “phantom barriers” to health care access and challenge these cases in court to gain coverage for her clients. The term “phantom network” refers to the misleading practice by some health insurers of listing providers as members of a network when they are not actually accepting patients, or listing a provider that simply doesn’t exist.
In some instances, insurance companies offer a list of providers that Pearsall said is “wildly inaccurate,” citing cases of people calling phone numbers to seek health services, only to reach jewelry stores or fast food delivery numbers. This can lead to crucial time wasted as families try to reach a provider during a mental health crisis.
Pearsall will represent families challenging insurers to gain coverage, which, she said, will ease the strain on hospital emergency rooms, as well as foster care and juvenile justice systems. Additionally, she will partner with local family and adolescent support groups to connect people with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project’s free legal services.
“This fellowship will allow me to build my understanding of the behavioral health care landscape, an aspect of health care that is both critical to well-being and gaining much needed attention,” Pearsall said.
Presently, Pearsall is a student in Drexel Kline Law’s JD-MPH dual degree program and serves as an intern at the Legal Affairs Office of Jefferson Health Network, where she supports general counsel on issues of health care business regulation.
Drexel Kline Law’s Public Interest Scholarship Program
The Public Interest Scholarship program expands the law school’s long-standing commitment to pro bono service and legal practice by financially supporting qualified students committed to the public good. Learn more.