Lauren Lowe won her first case, a disability case she handled as a student in Professor Alex Hurder’s Civil Practice Clinic.
But she looks back on the victory with mixed emotions. Her client, a man in his early 50s, told her at their first meeting that he was unable to work because of prolonged, seizure-like headaches. After spending more time with him, Lowe suspected he might also suffer from mental illness, and arranged for him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist confirmed her suspicion, concluding that her client had severe anxiety and depression as well as mild mental retardation.
“I presented this information at his hearing, and he won,” Lowe recalls. “But during the hearing, he looked ashamed, and I’m still haunted by the look on his face as he left the hearing that day. I had failed him in a key aspect of the attorney-client relationship: I did not fully engage him in the presentation of his story. I let my fear of an uncomfortable discussion about the possibility of mental illness prevent me from explaining the reasons for his psychiatric evaluation, and I failed to discuss the results with him candidly. So he wasn’t prepared when I portrayed him as a person debilitated by anxiety, depression and mild retardation.”
That experience informed Lowe’s proposal for a Skadden Fellowship with Equip for Equality (EFE), an agency in Chicago that provides legal assistance to persons with disabilities. Lowe interned at EFE after her first year of law school, and her work there sparked her interest in employment law and acquainted her with many barriers to independence that persons with mental illness face.
In early December, Lowe learned that she had won the prestigious two-year fellowship for her proposal to extend EFE’s enforcement of the ADA employment rights of individuals with mental illness. “Through EFE’s expertise and resources, I hope to show employers and courts that mental illness does not begin and end the story of a person’s abilities, and that these stories are about people, not just illnesses,” her proposal stated.
The Skadden Fellowship Foundation, described as "a legal Peace Corps" by the Los Angeles Times, was established in 1988 by Skadden Arps Meagher and Flom. Its aim is to give Fellows the freedom to pursue public interest work. Skadden Fellows create their own projects at a public interest organization with at least two lawyers on staff; the Foundation pays their salary, benefits and helps fund loan repayments if needed for two years.“Skadden Fellowships are very competitive,” Professor Terry Maroney, a former Skadden Fellow, explains. “The foundation receives hundreds of applications every year and ultimately awards about 30 Fellowships.”
Professor Maroney, who taught Lowe in Criminal Law and in two classes addressing juvenile justice, recommended her for the fellowship. “I’m thrilled for Lauren and for the staff at Equip for Equality,” she says. “Lauren has the combination of intellect and commitment to public service that makes her exactly the sort of person the Skadden Fellowship Program looks for.”
Lowe is clerking for the Honorable M. Blane Michael on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit during the 2009-10 term. She will join EFE’s staff as a Skadden Fellow in fall 2010.