Since 1988 more than 700 law students have received financial support from the Skadden Foundation as they continue public-interest law projects of their own design. Most awardees were from top ten schools according to U.S. News & World Report and other students were picked from schools that were in the top 100. Sometimes the Skadden Fellowship Foundation decides to pick someone from an un-ranked school. This year, the foundation has done so, selecting Sarah Hess, a student from John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Sarah is the first ever to win the fellowship at the school. The last time an un-ranked school made the cut was 2010.
Her December 6th announcement came as a surprise. “I thought about it all the time,” Hess said. “But I made a very conscious decision when I chose Marshall. I knew that was going to be a factor in my pursuit of a career, but John Marshall chose me. They offered me a full scholarship based on my application, which emphasized public interest.” She also liked its emphasis on diversity and opportunity. When Hess starts, she’ll be part of a medical-legal partnership through the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She will also be working with the Erie Family Health Center, a network of 13 health care sites that serve largely low-income clients.
“The idea is that families living below the poverty line generally have five unmet legal needs at any given time,” Hess said. “It’s basically a guarantee that any family living below the poverty line has at least one civil legal need.”
She will be offering pro bono advice on any non-criminal or immigration-related needs, housing, public benefits problems, domestic violence or access to medicaid.
“Put a child in the best classroom with the best teacher, but if they don’t know where they’re are going to sleep that night, they’re not going to learn effectively.”
Hess knows how difficult the work will be, but she’s no stranger to hard work. She was a professional ballet dancer and instructor for many years before starting law school. “If I chose to, I could have been discouraged,” she said.
“But what it did was made me really refine my project and made me go as far down every path of research I was pursuing. I used it as a motivator. I think the moral is a simple one: You should never let people tell you something is impossible. You should use the warning as motivation to do a better job.”
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