Jordan Goldberg ’07, Stacey Sarver ‘03, Estelle Wagner ’15, and Jennifer White-Reid ’98 are all engaged in different types of legal and policy-related work, but one thing they have in common is that their efforts are all directed towards protecting and expanding the rights of women, here and abroad.
Jordan Goldberg ’07, Senior Policy Advisor, National Institute for Reproductive HealthI am the senior policy advisor at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and I have been with the organization for about three years. Prior to working at the National Institute, I spent five years at the Center for Reproductive Rights, most of that time running the state legislative program. In both of these roles, my job has been to understand and try to influence reproductive rights policymaking in the states, particularly focusing on abortion. At CRR, I worked with abortion providers and advocates across the country to try to prevent harmful restrictions on abortion from being enacted by conservative lawmakers. At the National Institute, I work with advocates across the country to try to promote proactive reproductive health policy.
I came to law school with a strong interest in pursuing a career in legislative advocacy, after several years of working on political campaigns and other political advocacy. I hoped to focus on reproductive healthcare and abortion in particular because I had always been interested in women’s rights work and, at its core, women’s equality has always seemed to me to hinge on the ability of women to control when and whether to have children. I was incredibly fortunate, after clerking for one year for Justice Albin on the New Jersey Supreme Court, to obtain a fellowship at the Center for Reproductive Rights, doing both litigation and legislative work. After a year, I moved into a position focused on legislative advocacy.
I have found advocacy work to be rewarding and engaging but also have found unexpected challenges. Unlike litigation, with a clear set of parties and relatively clear potential outcomes, legislative advocacy is dependent on a host of variables and can be influenced in myriad ways. This is both freeing and challenging; there are many different ways to try to address social problems, but any particular advocate or advocacy organization’s ability to force the change they seek is incredibly limited. Working as a legislative advocate quickly taught me that the most important asset an advocate has is her relationships with other advocates and with elected and other leaders. For the most part, successful policy change is partly luck, partly solid, well-supported policy ideas, and partly developing strong relationships with others who share your goals. But because relationships are so very integral to the process, that also means that cultivating and managing relationships is as critical a skillset as understanding how the laws in question work and which specific legislative changes would make the policy better. Law school may prepare you for the second, but it will not necessarily prepare you for the first unless you seek out opportunities like clinics and other places where collaboration with other soon-to-be attorneys and other types of professionals occurs.
My advice for law students considering a career in advocacy is to participate in any social change activities and opportunities that present themselves, especially things like the policy clinic at Fordham. I had a wonderful opportunity to be part of the then-Urban Policy Clinic and experienced coalition building, struggled with the competing interests and goals that make coalition work so challenging, and learned to balance different advocacy asks in that clinic, all of which have served me incredibly well in my work.
Stacey Sarver ’03, Legal Director, WomensLaw & Senior Attorney, National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV)I have been working at WomensLaw for eight years and enjoy my job more each day. I entered law school knowing that I wanted to represent low-income victims of domestic violence in family court, and I did many things in law school to help get me towards that goal. Once I got my dream job and began litigating in family court for low-income victims of abuse, I found the work to be extremely fulfilling and just what I imagined. I loved being the voice for my disempowered clients and helping to level the playing field for them against their often-powerful abusers. What I didn’t imagine, however, was the vicarious trauma that I experienced as I relived the horrible incidents of physical and sexual abuse of my clients. Once I got pregnant with my first child, I knew that it was time for a change. I was lucky enough to be able to find a job that let me stay in the domestic violence field but take more of a behind-the-scenes approach to helping victims of abuse through my work as the legal director of WomensLaw, a project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. My advice to any students who are thinking of pursuing public interest but worry about loans, cost of living, etc., is that those are valid concerns but they can be overcome and your lifestyle can be adjusted to pay off your loans while still making a powerful difference in others’ lives. If I can do it, you can too.
Estelle Wagner ’15, International Advocacy Coordinator at International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere RegionI have always been passionate about reproductive rights. When I was in high school, as a peer educator for Planned Parenthood, I was struck by how little information my peers had and how misinformed they were about critical aspects of their health and rights. Without the education they needed to make informed choices and access to the services they needed, my peers couldn’t protect their health and make the choices they felt were best for them. However, it wasn’t until I lived outside the United States for several years after college that I connected my passion for sexual and reproductive rights to international human rights law and feminism. From abroad, as I watched my country pass more and more restrictions on women’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, I became even more convinced of the need to ensure all people, but especially young people and women, had the right to access to comprehensive sexuality education and safe, nonjudgmental, affordable, quality sexual and reproductive health care.
Today, I make these connections every day in my work as the international advocacy coordinator at International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR) and the IPPF United Nations Liaison Office. My job has two aspects: advocating directly at the United Nations on issues of human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights to influence international negotiations on everything from sustainable development to HIV policy, and working with IPPF Member Associations in countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to ensure their governments implement the agreements they’ve made in New York at UN headquarters.
It’s these dual aspects of my job that help me avoid burning out in a realm in which it is easy to lose oneself. The UN is a world of big ideas and lofty goals, but it cannot be separated from its inescapable nature as a political animal. It’s equally easy to get lost in the comfortable idea that you are changing the world from a luxurious conference room in New York as it is to feel that nothing that happens in New York has any real impact on the people suffering on the ground. Fortunately, I work with dozens of inspiring advocates at our member associations (locally owned, autonomous organizations providing sexual and reproductive health services to marginalized populations) who work to hold their governments accountable for implementing international agreements in their countries, translating them from idealistic concepts in New York to real change. Their work keeps me grounded in the lives of real people suffering from draconian sexual and reproductive policies and yet optimistic about opportunities for real change on the ground as a result of our fight at the UN.
I have never once regretted opting out of OCI, big law, or a corporate firm in favor of a profession devoted to public service. It is still early in my career, but I have already learned without a doubt that no corporate salary could replace the inspiration and fulfillment I feel in my position at IPPF/WHR. It is a real privilege to go to work every day for an organization that not only espouses human rights values but also implements them, valuing its employees and prioritizing their well-being though work/life balance. It can be incredibly nerve-racking to buck the law-school trend and strike out toward public service without any assurances of success, but the rewards of doing so are incalculable.
Jennifer White-Reid ’98, Vice President, Domestic Violence Programs, Urban Resource InstituteGrowing up as a young African American in New York City, I witnessed firsthand how minority communities face unique challenges. I saw how people of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and plagued by cycles of poverty. I recognized early on that there is an urgent need for committed people of color to actively participate in our communities to help solve social justice problems. I have always been interested in working on issues that impact women and children, especially domestic violence. I chose to pursue a career in law, specifically public interest law, because it would allow me to have a greater role in shaping policies and practices, and would provide the skills to make significant changes in people’s lives.
I currently work as the vice president of domestic violence programs at Urban Resource Institute (URI), a 35-year-old nonprofit organization that provides services to victims of domestic violence, homeless families, and individuals with developmental disabilities. I am responsible for the oversight and growth of the agency’s domestic violence programming, including management of over 500 beds in six domestic violence shelters that serve 1,600 adults and children annually. In my role, I oversee the agency’s legal services program, workforce development services, and other comprehensive, social service programs designed to reduce barriers to safety, address trauma, and build self-esteem.
I have worked at URI for over 14 years and have held various positions within the organization. My current job is my dream job. I spend a lot of time focused on community awareness projects, program development, and ensuring that our services comply with best practices and relevant federal, state, and local regulations. I work closely with other domestic violence advocates on coalitions in NYC and across the state, and I develop and manage corporate, government, and community-based partnerships in order to strengthen and expand client services.
Prior to my current position, I managed URI’s legal services program. Recognizing how critical legal resources are to escaping an abusive relationship, I developed and launched the agency’s Legal Education and Advocacy Program in 2006. The program offers victims of abuse easier access to legal support and services because we provide assistance on-site at the shelters. The intersection of homelessness and domestic violence creates a variety of complex legal issues. I counseled clients on how to navigate the criminal justice system, how to defend against an abusive partner seeking custody or visitation, how to apply for child support, and how to repair credit. I also assisted clients in need of help with orders of protection, divorce, public benefits, housing court, tax problems, and immigration.
Before joining URI, I worked as a senior staff attorney at South Brooklyn Legal Services, where I represented victims of domestic violence in family law, matrimonial, and immigration cases. This was the perfect first job for me after graduating from law school. It provided a wonderful opportunity to develop trial advocacy, client engagement, and research and writing skills. I also had a longstanding relationship with the office. Prior to law school, I worked at South Brooklyn Legal Services as a paralegal, and always knew that I wanted to return to the office to practice law. While in law school, I maintained many of the relationships with the staff and even returned during the school year as a legal intern. The key to successful employment is to develop, maintain, and nurture your relationships with relevant members of the legal community.
My experiences working in the field of domestic violence have been enriching—both in terms of client direct services and the ability to raise awareness of domestic violence in the community. One of my proudest accomplishments has been the mentoring relationships developed with law students and college students who have interned with my organization. I feel that our work has had a significant impact on the students’ career paths, and I am hopeful that, as they advance in their professions, they will share their knowledge about domestic violence with their peers, families, and communities.
My transition from traditional lawyering to nonprofit management has been positive. Although I have days when I miss litigation, I am happy with my current responsibilities. I am particularly pleased that my law degree has allowed me to be flexible, take risks, and explore different career paths. At some point in your career, you may want to consider transitioning from a traditional lawyering job to nonprofit management. I found that the skills that lawyers possess are critical to the successful operation of nonprofit organizations.