At Greater Boston Legal Services, Sarah Perlman L’22 worked to ensure older adults retained access to financial resources and legal services supporting their economic independence.
Over the past year, I worked with the Consumer Rights Unit (CRU) at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). My work served older adults living below the poverty threshold in Boston and addressed civil legal issues at the intersection of consumer law and elder justice. The goal was to ensure clients were not unjustly separated from the financial resources and legal services necessary for economic independence.
My project focused on providing direct services and community education, including developing a consumer debt workshop for older adults. I also represented adults in civil and small claims courts, helped clients with property tax exemption applications, and assisted victims of financial abuse.
Committed to a Career in Civil Legal Aid
To my good fortune, the CRU at GBLS has been my professional home since the start of my legal career. As a University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School student, I spent both of my summer internships with the CRU and provided over 160 hours of pro bono service for the unit. Advocating for clients struggling to navigate the often-neglected consumer debt corner of the civil justice system cemented my commitment to a career in civil legal aid.
Working at the intersection of consumer law and elder justice is also more than just a project for me—it’s personal. I saw firsthand how devastating property tax delinquencies can be, for example, when my maternal grandmother was forced to move into a nursing home because she could no longer afford to stay in her Boston-area home of nearly half a century.
I was too young to intervene but old enough to understand that what happened to her was unfair, unjust, and—unfortunately—not uncommon. What I didn’t understand was why and what could I do about it? My desire to answer these questions put me on the path to public interest law and continues to motivate me today.
Legal Design & Community Education
I am especially energized by the community education component of my fellowship, which has allowed me to apply my background in accessible communication to my legal career. Before law school, I worked in didactic content creation, developing online courses to help individuals and teams manage stress and build resilience. I sharpened these skills at Penn Carey Law and highly recommend taking “Legal Communication Workshop: Information Design” with Sean Kiley, Lecturer in Law.
At GBLS, I advocate for plain language and readability as a member of the Disability Access Group. I am also proud to have designed numerous accessible, client-facing fact sheets on a variety of topics for the organization during my fellowship. GBLS now uses one of these fact sheets as a template for all plain language documents across the organization. Creating resources for clients and community partners has helped me channel my skills into a passion for plain language writing, visual literacy, and legal design.
I have also leveraged my legal design training to build relationships with a variety of partner organizations and client communities. I initiated a relationship with the state’s Office of Economic Empowerment, for example, and developed a first-of-its-kind workshop on debt collection for older adults. Nearly 200 people, including advocates from 37 elder service organizations all across the state, signed up to learn what options are available for the millions of older Americans with a debt in collection each year. I now have a love for legal design and community engagement that I am confident will remain present throughout my career.
In addition to my design and project-related work, I participate in—and regularly serve as lead attorney for—GBLS’s Small Claims Lawyer-for-the-Day clinic while managing a full consumer caseload that includes unfair collection practices, utility disputes, credit reporting issues, and debt settlement violations. These experiences have all deepened my dedication to public interest lawyering, consumer protection, and civil legal aid. I am grateful for the support of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review and honored to continue this work alongside my colleagues at GBLS.
Pathways to the Profession highlights Penn Carey Law students and post-graduate fellows as they launch impactful legal careers. From summer internships in the private sector to public interest post-graduate fellowships and externships, these firsthand accounts of substantive legal work demonstrate the myriad opportunities available to Penn Carey Law students and graduates.
Project-based Fellowships enable students and recent alumni to partner with a nonprofit organization and design a one-year project to address a particular client need.
With support from the Massachusetts Civil Legal Aid to Victims of Crime (CLAVC) Initiative Sarah Perlman L’22, 2022-2023 University of Pennsylvania Law Review Public Interest Fellow and Consumer Rights Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, advocates for members of her community victimized by fraud and financial abuse.