The Brown Rudnick Civil Rights Summer Fellowship at Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) launched this year following the Firm’s successful representation with the Boston-based legal organization of a coalition of Hispanic and Black residents in a federal voting rights lawsuit challenging the city of Worcester’s method of electing its historically nearly all-white school committee. Berlindyne Elie, a soon-to-be second-year student at Boston College Law School, served as the inaugural fellow from May 31 to Aug. 5. When her fellowship ended, Elie accepted Brown Rudnick’s offer to join its 2023 summer associate program. In this Q&A, she discusses her experience working at LCR, which is dedicated to promoting equal opportunity and fighting discrimination on behalf of people of color and immigrants.
What makes you passionate about working at a civil rights organization?
I am passionate about civil rights work because I am aware of the magnitude of its impact on society. As a law student and, even more so as a black woman in America, I know it is primarily civil rights work that is the reason I have access to many opportunities that my ancestors could not have imagined. Civil rights work is, and has historically been, a direct vehicle to advocate for the marginalized and exploited populations of society. We have civil rights warriors and lawyers to thank for many of our modern-day freedoms, such as desegregated schools, interracial marriages, and queer marriages. Civil rights work allows one not to just be an advocate, but a social engineer, in which lawyers are able to design a society less racist, sexist, classist—less hateful, one client at a time.
Which project from this summer are you most proud of?
The project from this summer that I am most proud of is organizing LCR’s Annual BizGrow Conference. It is a part of the organization’s economic justice initiative in which law firm attorneys volunteer to provide free legal advice to small business owners, predominantly those of marginalized backgrounds. I am most proud of it because I believe economic justice is a critical component of social justice, especially when class differences are so apparent and prevalent amongst different races. This annual conference is just one of many steps that can be taken to close the socioeconomic gap between women and minority-owned business owners of the Greater Boston area. Not only was I very proud to be a part of it and help put it together, but I’m proud to see the different socio-economic benefits that will come from it.
What skills have you learned during your fellowship at LCR?
My fellowship at LCR has helped me to focus tremendously on my legal research and writing skills, as the organization primarily focuses on impact litigation. Even more so, my fellowship has allowed me to develop my zealous advocacy skills. So long as I stay within the ethical guidelines of the profession, I have learned to do everything, and get as creative as possible when working to make my aggrieved client feel whole again.
What lessons, if any, did you take away from your fellowship?
The most important lesson I am taking away from my fellowship is that change may seem most evident in the courtroom, but that is not where it begins or where it ends. Change occurs in the difficult conversations we choose to have; in the voices and narratives we choose to amplify; and in the envelopes we dare to push. I was privileged to see this in the most experiential way at LCR, which does plenty of work not only in the courtroom but with its community partnerships and affiliated nonprofit organizations.
What would you say to other law students about the importance of civil rights work?
Civil rights work is more important now than ever before. With a Supreme Court that seems committed to being regressive and political, and a world with pre-existing disparities being exacerbated because of pandemics, global warming, and a recession, marginalized communities are more vulnerable in unprecedented ways. Civil rights work is one of the many and, arguably the most, direct ways to tackle these issues and push the moral arc of the universe closer toward justice.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to thank Brown Rudnick again for creating the Civil Rights Fellowship at Lawyers for Civil Rights and selecting me as the first fellow. Getting the chance to work on some of the most pressing civil rights issues facing society today was an honor and is something that will always inform my practice as an attorney for the duration of my career.