Open Call for Public Interest Fellowship Applicants to Work with The Defender Assocation

The Defender Association’s Racial Disparity Project (RDP) is seeking to sponsor public interest legal fellowship applicants. The opportunity is for recent grads who wish to begin working in Fall 2013.

The RDP invites people who are passionate about policy and legal issues that are affecting low-income individuals, communities of color, and people involved in the criminal justice system. It is looking for innovative individuals who can work independently and passionately to effect change on a systemic level.

Fellows are essential to the RDP’s work. Because the RDP is a leanly staffed grant-funded project, fellows take on significant projects that move the RDP’s mission forward in leaps and bounds. This is an exciting opportunity for recent law school graduates to work in a progressive-minded environment.

Examples of appropriate public interest law fellowship applications include, but are not limited to:

Some law schools also offer school-specific public interest law fellowships, which would be appropriate for RDP sponsorship as well. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list.

Before beginning a fellowship application, please contact Isabel Bussarakum (information below) to ensure that your proposal advances the RDP’s mission and to confirm that the RDP will sponsor your application. Fellows are welcomed to work on the LEAD pilot program (described below), to provide legal services to the participants of the LEAD pilot program, or to develop independent projects that would benefit communities of color affected by the criminal justice system. The RDP is also more than happy to develop your fellowship proposal with you.

About the Racial Disparity Project (RDP)

The Defender Association is a non-profit corporation that provides public defense to indigent clients in King County, Washington. The RDP is a grant-funded project that has existed within The Defender Association since 1999.

The RDP’s mission is:

(1) To reduce racial disparity in the criminal justice system through community organizing, policy advocacy, individual representation, public education, research and, when appropriate, litigation;

(2) To reduce the harm caused by national and local drug policies to communities of color and individuals within those communities; and

(3) To provide technical assistance to community partners working to achieve those goals.Since 2001, the RDP has focused on addressing racial disparity in drug law enforcement in Seattle.

Between 2001 and 2008, the RDP litigated a long-running selective enforcement motion to dismiss drug delivery charges against black defendants, ultimately securing dismissal or reduced charges for all defendants. Since 2008, the RDP’s strategy has moved away from litigation; instead, it has worked to develop an alternative, community-based intervention for drug-involved individuals.

Those efforts have culminated in the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot program—an innovative, pre-booking diversion program that launched in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle in October 1, 2011. LEAD has made it possible for individuals who are arrested for low-level drug or prostitution offenses to be diverted directly to a community-based services program, instead of being booked into jail and referred for prosecution.

Visit here for more information about the RDP, and here for more information about LEAD.

Applicant Qualifications

Before beginning work, the applicant should have graduated law school and sat for the Washington state bar exam. Fellows should also have a demonstrated commitment to public interest work.

Commitment to Diversity

The RDP’s work is strengthened by the diversity of our employees. We actively seek and welcome applications from people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, persons with disabilities, and individuals of all backgrounds, faiths, and national origins.

Infrastructure and Support

While the fellow will be funded by his or her fellowship, the RDP is committed to providing infrastructure and support that will integrate the fellow into the office and enable the fellow to thrive. To that end, the RDP will provide:

  • Supervision and training
  • Bar dues
  • Westlaw
  • Office space, computer, phone, office assistance, paralegal support
  • Investigation
  • Social Work
  • Connection to community organizations working on equal justice
  • Strong relationships with local policymakers and media

If the fellow passes the Washington state bar, the RDP will also provide malpractice insurance. Additionally, depending on the terms and conditions of the fellowship, the RDP may be able to provide health insurance and additional benefits.


Isabel Bussarakum Athur Liman
Public Interest Law Fellow
The Defender Association/Racial Disparity Project810 Third Ave., Ste. 800 Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: (206) 447.3900 x530
Fax: (206) 447.2349