Posted May 21, 2009

Law grads win public interest fellowships

Two graduating students at Temple's Beasley School of Law — Benjamin Beck-Coon and Jennifer Russell — have won prestigious Public Interest Law Fellowships from Philadelphia's Independence Foundation. The only regionally focused program of its kind, Independence Fellowships were created to support free legal services for poor and disadvantaged residents of the Philadelphia region. This marks the 10th consecutive year that a Temple Law student or alumnus has earned a fellowship from the Independence Foundation.

Benjamin's home town: Indianapolis, Ind.

Jennifer's home town: Langhorne, Pa.

Benjamin's academic CV: B.A. and M.S.W., Loyola University Chicago

Jennifer's academic CV: B.A., University of Massachusetts Amherst

Benjamin's fellowship project: Building medical-legal partnerships between his host organization, the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, and free nurse-managed health centers to serve the legal needs of underinsured and uninsured Philadelphians, focusing on the mentally and physically disabled.

Courtesy Benjamin Beck-Coon

Jennifer's fellowship project: Working with Philadelphia's SeniorLAW Center to offer legal counsel to grandparents, great grandparents and senior relatives who are (or could be) caring for abused or neglected children. This underserved population is often unaware of their legal rights and intimidated by the foster care and dependency court systems.

What they share, other than fellowships: Both participated in alternative spring break service trips to New Orleans to help displaced flood victims after Hurricane Katrina, and they both met their significant others at Temple Law.

Photo courtesy Jennifer Russell

Benjamin's public interest law lightbulb moment: "While I was doing social work, I worked with victims of domestic violence at a Chicago high school. After listening to our presentations, the students challenged us to say what practical tools we were giving them to improve their lives. I didn't have an answer. That's when I realized that law was going to be the next step."

Jennifer's senior advocacy lightbulb moment: "A few years after I graduated from college, I moved back to Philadelphia, where I worked and volunteered for Aid For Friends, a non profit for homebound seniors. When I saw the conditions of their home situations and listened to their stories, I realized that I wanted to help them in some way."

Why it will be hard to miss Benjamin at commencement: He's 6 feet 9 inches tall, which helps explain his time on Navy's varsity basketball team during a brief stint as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.


Jennifer's non-academic passion: travel. In the last four years, she has travelled to Kenya to work on HIV/AIDS awareness and to Ecuador to visit her sister. Her post-graduation plan: backpacking in Europe.

Benjamin's goal: "I want to expand the medical-legal partnership model in Philadelphia. I think that bringing lawyers and doctors together and leveraging the skills and power of both professions has amazing potential to help communities."

Jennifer's goal: "I want to help the elderly and seniors. It's a group that's neglected. That's a sad statement on our society. I want to keep working with this population, at least for the next five years. I'm not exaggerating — this is my dream job."