Lachlan Athanasiou L’23 is a rising 2L originally from Albany, CA. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, was a high school teacher and football coach in Greenville, Mississippi before Law School, and is interested in civil rights and democracy law.
This summer I am interning at the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ), a public interest law firm based in Jackson, Mississippi that combines legal services with policy advocacy and community education to advance racial and economic justice throughout the state. My work here has been generously funded by a Penn Law Equal Justice Foundation grant.
I am splitting my summer between two different MCJ offices. For the first five weeks I am working from the Mississippi Delta office in Indianola, Mississippi, only 30 minutes away from where I was a high school teacher in Greenville before law school. In the second half of the summer I will transition to MCJ’s main office in Jackson, Mississippi.
In the Delta I have been observing civil and criminal cases in municipal court – called “justice” court – in which the judges are elected and not required to have law degrees, undergraduate degrees, or high school degrees – only GEDs. This work supports two projects: in one I collect data – race, gender, outcome, etc. – for a program that helps unrepresented litigants navigate justice court, and in the second I record judge compliance with laws governing bail and appointment of counsel.
I also have two roles supporting MCJ’s impact litigation team. First, I investigate allegations of discrimination. I talk with potential clients, gather documents, and synthesize my findings into memos for MCJ’s attorneys. This has been a sobering experience in which I encountered some of the same sorts of issues I saw my students face as a teacher, but this time from an entirely new angle – one in which, hopefully, I could help provide some remedy. For example, I knew many students attending Greenville High were at risk of losing their homes, but now I’m helping to investigate a federal housing loan subsidy that trapped borrowers in high interest rates and foreclosed on the homes of families it was ostensibly designed to help.
I’m also providing research and drafting support to the impact team as they challenge an unconstitutional parade ordinance that prevented a group of college students in a midsized Mississippi city from protesting police violence last summer. Here I have to thank my excellent Constitutional Law professor Mitchell Berman [Leon Meltzer Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy], whose explanation of the flexibility of the tiers of scrutiny has been seared into my mind by repeated referencing, and my Legal Practice Skills professor Solmaz Firoz [Visiting Senior Lecturer], who prepared me for much more than just research and writing. I had expected to be ready for the variety of writing assignments MCJ is throwing at me, and I have been, but I was surprised when even our practice redlining and negotiating contracts – which I frankly thought would be irrelevant to my career – immediately turned out to be an essential experience. I had hardly started my internship when I was told to redline the city’s parade ordinance, which MCJ believes is unconstitutional.
I’d also like to thank my great Torts professor Eric Feldman [Heimbold Chair in International Law, Professor of Law] for connecting me with MCJ and making this summer possible.