Alyssa Rao ’21 has won a 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellowship, one of the most prestigious and competitive post-graduate legal fellowships in the country. She will advocate on behalf of survivors of domestic violence as a fellow in the Family Law Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS).
Each year, Equal Justice Works (EJW) selects a class of passionate public service leaders who have designed two-year projects in partnership with legal services organizations to help build sustainable solutions in the communities where they serve. These projects are funded by law firms, corporations, foundations, and individuals. This year, 77 new public interest lawyers were selected from over 466 applications, with Rao being one of them. Her fellowship is funded by The Morrison & Foerster Foundation.
“We take great pride in launching the careers of passionate public service leaders through an Equal Justice Works Fellowship,” David Stern, executive director at Equal Justice Works, said in a statement May 12 announcing the fellowships. “We look forward to supporting our new Fellows in bringing critical legal services to communities still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and in their work responding to ongoing racial injustice throughout our country.”
As an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Rao will represent predominantly Black and Latinx domestic violence survivors involved in the Massachusetts child welfare system while engaged in custody disputes with their abusers. She will participate in both the early stages of their child welfare cases—a form of preventative legal representation—and in their family law matters.
“I am incredibly honored to have been accepted for an EJW fellowship,” said Rao. “It is a really exciting way to start off my legal career, because I will be learning from some of the best legal aid attorneys at GBLS with the support of the Morrison and Foerster Foundation. I absolutely cannot wait to get started.”
Rao offers a novel approach to domestic violence issues, which she will implement with mentorship from Mithra Merryman, an adjunct professor at BC Law who is also a legal services attorney at GBLS, and supervision from senior attorneys in the Family Law Unit at GBLS.
“This is a completely new and critical form of survivor representation in Massachusetts,” explained Michelle Grossfield, public interest and pro bono program director of BC Law’s Career Services Office. “The harms of survivors not being represented by counsel are numerous and the stakes are incredibly high once clients become involved in the child welfare system: termination of parental rights. Alyssa is uniquely equipped, prepared, and capable of carrying out such a monumental project after graduation.”
Rao’s fellowship also encapsulates her long-term commitment to public service. “Alyssa has been a dedicated advocate for survivors of domestic violence before and during her law school career. Eager to get involved in our community on campus and beyond, Alyssa dove in head first to leadership roles and excelled in her academics,” Grossfield said, clicking off some of the BC Law student’s accomplishments.
Rao was executive senior editor of Boston College Law Review, a finalist in the Wendell F. Grimes Moot Court Competition, vice president of operations of the Law School’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), and co-chair of its newly created Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group.
She has also worked with BC Defenders, interned with the GBLS Family Law Unit for two summers, worked with Newton Wellesley Hospital’s Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Program, served as a research assistant for Professor Robert Bloom, and participated in a pro bono spring break trip with the Southern Poverty Law Center. Rao will graduate with her Juris Doctor and a Masters in Social Work from BC this May, having earlier received her undergraduate degree from the University.
Rao will begin her EJW fellowship this fall.