Namita Dwarakanath 2022 Marutani Fellowship Essay

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to work at Women’s Law Project with the generous support of the Judge William M. Marutani Fellowship. Women’s Law Project seeks to promote and protect women and LGBTQ+ rights through the power of the law. My time there was split between worker’s rights issues and reproductive rights issues. Though I initially began my summer as a Peggy Browning Fellow with a full focus on worker’s rights, it became clear that Women’s Law Project needed additional support in responding to the current discourse on reproductive rights access. The Peggy Browning Fund was generous enough to allow me to dedicate time to this work.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center made this a uniquely busy summer at Women’s Law Project. Though the challenge was substantial, I had the amazing privilege of seeing true experts engage in responsive lawyering. On the day of the Dobbs decision, the interns had all been assigned opinions to dissect and brief for attorneys who were in press conferences all day. We all felt a knot in the pit of our stomach when it emerged on SCOTUSblog, but it was strangely healing to be part of a team that was focused on responding to a Constitutional injustice. Within 90 minutes of the opinion’s release, my fellow interns and I had the full 200+ pages briefed. We watched as the attorneys around us tackled press conference after press conference, fielding questions and calls with care and concern. They knew their talking points and made sure to convey that people seeking reproductive care could still find access in Pennsylvania. It was one of the most emotionally draining days of my career, but it was also one of the most personally inspiring. I saw at that moment what lawyering could really do.

Watching WLP’s attorneys respond to Dobbs so tirelessly encouraged me to pursue new challenges. When Women’s Law Project was approached by a pro se client who needed a quick turnaround on a brief for a harassment case, I asked if I could take it on. I loved the experience of digging through the case law and hearing from the client. Drafting that brief on their behalf was the first moment I saw myself as a future lawyer. On the last day of my internship, I received an email I will treasure for the rest of my legal career – they had prevailed in their case.

I also had the opportunity to collaborate on an amicus brief for the Third Circuit this summer, focusing on First Amendment issues regarding buffer zones around clinics. Constitutional Law was by far my favorite course of 1L, and I valued the opportunity to engage with it on a federal level. I learned a tremendous amount through the experience of digging through case law, reading through the docket, and speaking with the attorneys representing the client. It was extraordinarily interesting to better understand how nonprofits can serve as powerful advocates and allies in cases and see how amicus briefs can be spaces for novel persuasive arguments. As someone who grew up enjoying creative writing, the amicus provided a wonderful melding of the legal topics I have grown to love and my early childhood interests.

On the worker’s rights side, I was fortunate to learn about pregnancy and lactation protections for workers through Women’s Law Project’s Legal Navigator Program. I received a strong training on the rights of pregnant and lactating workers on city, state, and federal levels, and I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar to help train individuals on those protections. It was incredible to see how the scenarios and hypotheticals resonated with what people had seen in their own workplaces. It became quickly evident to me that this work is deeply needed – people cannot be asked to fight for rights they do not know they have. Additionally, toward the end of my internship, we received word that an ongoing pregnancy discrimination case had been given a “for cause” finding by the EEOC. That particular case had been pushed through the system for years. Though the EEOC’s finding was celebratory, I was also humbled by the depth of bureaucracy that workers experiencing discrimination must confront.

Through my involvement in worker’s rights issues, I was also able to work on issues of sexual harassment and wage discrimination. I listened to the frustrations of workers as they sought to find accessible remedies while balancing their financial and personal interests. It quickly became evident that organizations like the Women’s Law Project were the only avenue available for many of these workers.

I am exceptionally grateful to the Women’s Law Project, the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, and APABA-PA for allowing me the opportunity to engage in such a transformative summer. I would not have been able to do this work without the financial and personal support of the Marutani Fellowship and the mentorship provided. My experiences this summer highlighted the value of including diverse perspectives in public interest work to ensure that all voices are in the room. The Marutani Fellowship is a crucial piece of achieving a more diverse, more equitable future of lawyering.