For 1L Luna Garzón-Montano, public interest work is a natural inclination. “I feel like I have a sense of purpose when I do this kind of work,” she says.
Garzón-Montano, a native New Yorker and Vassar alumna, chose Fordham Law for its supportive network and emphasis on public service; she is a Stein Scholar in Public Interest Law and Ethics and a board member of the Fordham Law Defenders. This summer, she will spend ten weeks interning for the Southern Center for Human Rights as a recipient of the prestigious Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship for Social and Economic Justice.
As an undergrad at Vassar, Garzón-Montano had already been considering a legal career, but it wasn’t until her junior year, when she took a course taught in a correctional facility, that she discovered her passion for public criminal defense. Before entering Fordham Law in the fall of last year, she worked for the Federal Defenders of New York, where she provided legal and emotional support for prisoners on death row who were appealing their sentences and convictions. She felt drawn to the interpersonal nature of the work, and realized she had an innate ability to connect with clients, many of whom suffered incredibly under the dehumanizing conditions of their incarceration.
“There’s this focus on what someone has done and this desire to punish them—to do to them what they did to someone else—but it’s shining a spotlight on one particular area of their life,” she says. “There’s no consideration for their lives, which are often just as devastating as whatever they’ve done.”
She knew she wanted to delve further into capital work this summer and focused her energies on programs in southern states with the death penalty. She chose the Southern Center for Human Rights for the size of its intern program and its emphasis on hands-on work. Garzón-Montano is eager to broaden her understanding of what it means to support what she considers society’s most underserved group and to hone her legal abilities during the ten-week program. “I think that historically—and still today—the death penalty has been a tool of racial control.”
The National Lawyers Guild formed the Summer Projects Committee in 1973 to provide legal support to the vital progressive movements of the day and to give legal students a challenging and rewarding educational experience outside the confines of the classroom. The fellowship has expanded and gone on to place hundreds of law students with public interest and civil rights organizations providing legal aid to vulnerable groups. In 1996, the NLG changed the name of the Summer Projects program to honor the legacy of Haywood Burns, the civil rights lawyer, professor, and former NLG president.