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Legal Aid of WV’s Archibald Diversity Fellowship

Written by Legal Aid WV

01/17/2023

Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV) is committed to diversity as a core value of recruiting and educating staff and providing services to West Virginians. As part of efforts to support diverse applicants and future attorneys, LAWV created its Archibald Diversity Fellowship, with the first fellow joining LAWV interns in summer 2020. BIPOC applicants are given preference during interviews for the fellowship, and the services provided are aimed at diverse and marginalized populations.

Services and Justice for ALL

The fellowship is a direct result of LAWV’s efforts for more diverse and inclusive practices that bring us closer to the promise of “justice for all.”

“We represent our clients to the best of our ability. However, when dealing with so many different groups and labels, it is important to understand that a client from a disenfranchised community must also feel safe, comfortable, and secure in seeking out Legal Aid of West Virginia,” says LAWV Diversity Task Force Leader James Clark, who has been part of the hiring committee for the fellowship. “To that end, Legal Aid has increased its efforts in not only assisting diverse clientele but in increasing the diversity of our workforce. Through the Archibald Diversity Fellowship, we are able to interview and hire applicants from a background in diversity that also have an interest in the work done here at Legal Aid. Our communities are made up of various groups of individuals, and it is imperative that these different groups are represented in our staff as well.”

Thus far, three diversity fellows have joined LAWV. Two fellows were mentored remotely during the COVID pandemic, and the first in-person fellow joined our Beckley office staff in 2022, where her work focused on improving and expanding services for LGBTQ+ clients.

As part of her largest project, she conducted and compiled the results of an in-person survey at Beckley Pride that received more than 100 responses. LAWV’s Beckley office has used the information to better serve the LGBTQ+ population in southern West Virginia.

A Difference-Making Donor

The fellowship’s creation was made possible by the generous donation of Ellen Archibald, whose gift has now funded three years of the fellowship. Ellen first came to West Virginia as a trust banker, then went to law school at West Virginia University College of Law and practiced law in Charleston for nearly 25 years before retiring to her hometown of Minneapolis, MN. After living in Charleston for 37 years, she is still focused on the community she came to know and love.

“Charleston was good to and for me,” says Ellen. “The people I know there are committed to making the world—and West Virginia—a better place. I believe in that. In Minneapolis, many people can say yes to donating, and there is a great sense of supporting charity, so while I give back to the community here, I recognize that West Virginia might benefit even more from my support.”

Ellen believes a diversity fellowship can address some of the most needed yet least available legal services.

 “I believe a diversity fellowship can help broaden access to legal solutions for everybody, both by providing more people—legal interns—who can give help and allowing more West Virginians to receive it.”

At LAWV, the COVID pandemic’s effects have left a wake of new and changing legal needs for low-income West Virginians. For example, LAWV has seen an uptick in landlord-tenant and housing issues, where neither party is guaranteed an attorney and often only landlords can afford to hire representation.

“Housing problems relate directly to this fellowship,” says Ellen. “From what I know, the people most affected by housing crises are those with the least access to housing and chances to earn a reasonable income. In our country, those problems are historically closely intertwined with race. I can imagine those needing services who come to LAWV and are served by someone of similar background may feel a kinship.”

Ellen notes that providing law students of all backgrounds with real-life legal experience helps the student, LAWV clients, and the legal field.

“If law students have a chance at internships or fellowships, they can find out if they’re headed in the right direction, through daily work and the chance to network with practicing lawyers. Even after law school, I had an incredible amount to learn, and almost any lawyer I’ve met would say the same.”

Ellen has also worked with the WVU College of Law to develop an internship program to help fund law students’ work with unpaid West Virginia internships with nonprofits or in public service. On donating financially and through volunteering, Ellen says it is simply paying it forward:

“At the end of the day, I’ve been fortunate. My parents gave me a good education and encouraged me to go to school. Growing up in Minneapolis, I learned that it’s good to give back to the community that benefited me. I stand on the shoulders of all the people who helped me. Not everyone has those experiences, so that’s all the more reason I want to find ways to help.”

For more, you can read Legal Aid of WV’s Diversity & Inclusion Statement here.

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