Frequently Asked Questions: Law Fellowships
FAQs from Prospective Fellows
What is the Independence Foundation? The Independence Foundation, established in 1963, is a private, not-for-profit philanthropic organization located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, serving Philadelphia and its surrounding Pennsylvania counties. The foundation supports organizations in the Philadelphia area that provide services to people who do not ordinarily have access to them, including public interest law firms that provide free civil legal services to lower income residents.
What is the Independence Public Interest Legal Fellowship and why was it created? The Independence Foundation created the Public Interest Legal Fellowship 27 years ago in 1996 to support those within five years of graduation from a law school who want to work for a public interest law firm funded by the Foundation. Including the new Fellows who will join us this year, 100 Fellowships have been awarded, with many past Fellows now in leadership positions in the Philadelphia Public Interest community.
Do you need to be a United States Citizen to apply? No, but if not a US citizen, you must be able to demonstrate your ability to legally work in the US and be eligible to take a bar exam in the United States and once admitted be eligible to practice law in Pennsylvania.
Is there a Grade Point Average (GPA) requirement? No, applicants will be considered based on their entire application, including commitment to public interest law, leadership abilities, educational attainment, letters of recommendation, the worthiness of the proposed project’s goals and ability to address the complex legal needs of their clients. We understand that circumstances such as family issues, need to work full time to be able to attend law school and other issues can impact law school grades.
What is the length of the Fellowship? The duration of a Fellowship is one year. Fellowships may be renewed for one additional year if requested by the Fellow and approved by the Foundation Board of Directors and the sponsoring organization.
Who employs the Fellow? The Fellow is employed by the sponsoring public interest law project. The Independence Foundation makes advanced quarterly payments to the sponsoring organization for salary and benefits.
What are the salary and benefits associated with the Fellowship? First year Fellows receive a salary of $60,000 as compensation for full-time employment. Second year Fellows receive a salary of $63,000. In addition, the Foundation reimburses the sponsoring organization for the cost of health care benefits, disability insurance and the employer’s withholding taxes. The Fellowship does not include payment for pension, travel, attorney registration fees, continuing education costs or dependent health benefits.
Is there help with student loan repayment during the Fellowship? Each Fellowship will provide for those Fellows who owe student loans an amount equal to the amount due and payable on such loans during the term of the Fellowship up to a maximum amount of $10,000 in each Fellowship year.
How do I apply for an Independence Public Interest Law Fellowship? Applications are due in the Fall of each year as indicated on the Foundation website. See: Public Interest Law Fellowships. The application must be submitted online and can be found at: Public Interest Law Fellowship Application
In addition to filling out the application, what documents will I need to include with my application? You will need to upload the following documents with your application:
- Resume, detailing your work, volunteer and employment history
- Official Law School Transcript
- Letter of Recommendation from a Law School Faculty Member (Clinical or Academic)
- Letter of Recommendation from a Former Public Interest Employer
- Commitment Letter from the Sponsoring Organization
- Benefits Worksheet from the Sponsoring Organization
What key information is important to include in the essays in the application? It is important to convey in the essay, your commitment to working in public interest law and what drew you to want to do so. In addition, the essay describing the proposed project should demonstrate knowledge about the clients that would be served by the project, the goals of the project and their importance to clients, and activities that need to be undertaken to meet those goals, including what supervision will be provided by the sponsoring organization to realize success.
How do I develop a proposed project for the Fellowship? You must identify a sponsoring organization that will agree to be your sponsoring organization and together develop the project consist with the mission of that organization.
What are the requirements for a proposed project? A Fellowship applicant must propose a public interest law project that he or she will implement if granted a Fellowship. A public interest law project typically consists of developing a new substantive area of legal practice or type of legal service which is consistent with the sponsoring organization’s overall mission but in which the organization has generally not previously engaged. However, in rare instances Fellowships are granted to support public interest law projects that do not involve developing a new area of practice, but rather consist of the development of a new approach that more effectively, innovatively and comprehensively delivers a type of legal service the organization has previously attempted to provide. An example of the first and more common type of project is found in the project that an Independence Foundation Fellow pursued at the Legal Clinic for the Disabled where the Fellow provided focused legal services to disabled men and women who were victims of caregiver, domestic or other abuse. An example of the second and less common type of project is found in the work that was done by an Independence Foundation Fellow at SeniorLAW Center where the Fellow expanded and improved on the organization’s ability to serve financially and physically abused senior citizens by delivering legal services to these clients in their own homes and by engaging in extensive community education to help these seniors avoid abusive situations. If you have questions or concerns about your proposed project, contact Ann Torregrossa at email@example.com early in the development process to discuss it.
What organizations are eligible to sponsor a Fellow? The potential sponsoring organization must be a civil legal services organization serving the disadvantaged whose work has been funded previously by Independence Foundation. It must have its principal office in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, or Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each organization may sponsor only one applicant for a Fellowship in any year. However, an organization that currently employs an Independence Foundation Fellow may sponsor an applicant for a new Fellowship. No current employee of an organization may apply for a Fellowship at that organization.
Are there proposed projects that would not qualify for consideration? Fellowships will not be granted to fund either the prosecution or defense of criminal defendants. Moreover, although a Fellow may engage in some policy- based activities, a major component of a Fellow’s anticipated work must consist of direct legal representation of disadvantaged clients. Direct representation may include representation in litigation before either judicial or administrative forums, or representation of clients in transactional matters.
What is the role of the sponsoring organization? The sponsoring organization must prepare a Commitment Letter for submission to the Foundation with the Application. The Commitment Letter must contain a brief description of the organization, including its structure, history and public interest goals and activities; a representation that the organization is a qualified 501 (c)(3) organization; a description of the public interest law project to which the applicant will be assigned if a Fellowship is granted; the supervision that will be provided, including the names and experience level of those providing it and, a commitment to employ the applicant in that position on a full-time basis, under the terms and conditions applicable to all similarly situated employees of the organization (except compensation), for a period of one year, subject to renewal for a further year upon the approval of both the Foundation and the sponsoring organization. The sponsoring organization must also complete the attached Benefits Worksheet, on which the organization must provide the requested information concerning the projected cost of benefits for the potential fellow, and provide a 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status Qualifying Letter.
Who will review the applications and make the decisions? A special Advisory Committee to the Foundation Board of Directors, consisting of both Foundation Board members, members of the judiciary and representatives of the legal community, will review all applications and make recommendations to the Foundation Board. The Board will make the final award of the Fellowships.
What are the dates for review, interviews and decisions? Applications are due as indicated on the Independence Foundation Web Site. Applications will be reviewed and applicants informed if they will go forward for an interview or not by early November. Interviews will occur the Monday after Thanksgiving. Fellowships will be announced in early December.
What reporting to the Foundation is required of the Fellowship? Fellows report quarterly on that quarter’s activities, which must be signed by the sponsoring organizations’ Director. These reports are shared with the Independence Board and the other current Independence Fellows.
What opportunities are there available to meet the other Independence Foundation Public Interest Law Fellows? The Foundation hosts a reception the evening of the first Monday in October to introduce the new Fellows to the public interest legal community. The reception is often attended by former Fellowship recipients and sponsoring organizations. Additionally, the Foundation holds periodic luncheons for the current Fellows to network with each other and share experiences.
FAQs from Sponsoring Organizations
Who is eligible to be a sponsoring organization for an Independence Public Interest Law Fellowship? The potential sponsoring organization must be a civil legal services organization serving the disadvantaged whose work has been funded previously by Independence Foundation.
Currently, the Foundation funds the following public interest law programs.
It must have its principal office in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, or Chester County, Pennsylvania. It cannot be a project or clinic within a law school of be a health care provider employing attorneys. The organization must attorney staff with sufficient experience to adequately supervise and mentor the Fellow.
May a sponsoring organization sponsor more than one Fellow at a time? Each organization may sponsor only one applicant for a Fellowship in any year. However, an organization that currently employs an Independence Foundation Fellow may sponsor an applicant for a new Fellowship. No current employee of an organization may apply for a Fellowship at that organization.
What is the role of the sponsoring organization? The sponsoring organization employees the Fellow during the term of the Fellowship, including administering payment of salary and loan repayment funds, if applicable. The Fellow is to receive the same benefits (excluding pension, dependent benefits, travel costs and attorney registration and Continuing Legal Education costs) and paid leave as the organization’s employees. The sponsoring organization supervises and mentors, the Fellow, assisting the Fellow with the development and implementation of the Fellowship Project. The Executive Director reviews and signs the quarterly Fellowship reports due to the Foundation. As the first year of the Fellowship is concluding, the Executive Director should submit a confidential evaluation of the Fellow’s work during the first year to the Foundation, and host a meeting of staff and Board members of the Foundation with the Fellow and supervising attorneys, to discuss the Fellow’s application for a second year renewal of the Fellowship.
What should be contained in the sponsoring organization’s commitment letter? The sponsoring organization must prepare a Commitment Letter for submission to the Foundation with the Application, containing:
- a brief description of the organization, including its structure, history, clients and public interest goals and activities;
- a representation that the organization is a qualified 501 (c)(3) organization;
- a description of the public interest law project to which the applicant will be assigned if a Fellowship is granted, its significance to the clients served by the project and how it fits in to the organization’s mission and work;
- the supervision that will be provided the Fellow, including the names and experience level of those providing it and,
- a commitment to employ the applicant in that position on a full-time basis, providing adequate supervision and resource necessary for that work, under the terms and conditions applicable to all similarly situated employees of the organization (except compensation), for a period of one year, subject to renewal for a further year upon the approval of both the Foundation and the sponsoring organization.
What are the reporting requirements of the Sponsoring Organization?
- At time of application, the sponsoring organization must complete the Benefits Worksheet, on which the organization must provide the requested information concerning the projected cost of benefits for the potential fellow. and provide a 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status Qualifying Letter.
- The Executive Director signs the quarterly reports prepared by the Fellow for the Foundation.
- To apply for a second-year renewal of the Fellowship, the Sponsoring Organization submits to the Foundation a confidential evaluation of the first year work by the Fellow. And a Benefits Worksheet for the second year.
What are the vacation, sick leave, maternity/paternity, and leaves of absences during the Fellowship?
As an employee of the sponsoring organization, a Fellow will receive the same vacation and sick leave as other comparable employees of the organization, which will be paid for through the Fellowship payments to the sponsoring organization. Because the Fellowship funds full-time work on the proposed project, maternity/paternity leave and unpaid leaves of absence will not be paid for by Fellowship funds. For Fellows taking paid or unpaid maternity or paternity leave, the sponsoring organization may pay for this leave according to their personnel policies, and the Fellow and the sponsoring organization must commit to resuming the work on the Fellowship project upon return to work for the remaining duration of the Fellowship, less the leave time taken. Fellowship payments will resume after the Fellow returns to full time work after maternity leave or leave of absence.