Michelle Mapp, a graduate from the Charleston School of Law class of 2021, was selected as one of 77 public interest lawyers from more than 466 applications to be a fellow with Equal Justice Works, a D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks to promote a lifelong commitment to public service and equal justice.
Each year, Equal Justice Works selects a class of public service leaders who have designed projects in partnership with legal services organizations to help build sustainable solutions in the communities they serve. These projects are funded by law firms, corporations, foundations, and individuals.
Michelle will be advocating for the passage of a Tenant Right to Counsel law in South Carolina to prevent eviction and displacement of low-income and African American households. The project will be hosted by the South Carolina ACLU and sponsored by Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird’s Racial Justice Fund.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and significantly worsened the housing crisis in this country,” says Kristen Uhler-McKeown, vice president of fellowships at Equal Justice Works. “We are honored to support Michelle’s crucial work supporting tenants at risk of eviction and advancing right to counsel legislation in South Carolina.”
For Michelle, who came to law school mid-career after serving as executive director of the S.C. Community Loan Fund, the fellowship has been a goal of hers from the start.
“Coming into law school, I knew about the Equal Justice Works because I knew Amy Armstrong who runs the S.C. Environmental Law Project, and she had done a fellowship and gotten her start that way,” says Michelle. “In my second year at law school, I did an internship with the S.C. ACLU, and it sparked my interest in right to counsel.”
Michelle was eager to create a project that could be hosted by the S.C. ACLU. The key was finding something the organization wasn’t already addressing. “Housing is not a focus of the South Carolina chapter,” says Michelle, “but other state ACLU organizations do a lot of housing work. In talking to ACLU legal director Susan Dunn and executive director Frank Knaack, we put our heads together and designed a project.”
From there, Michelle sought out an organization to sponsor her project, connecting with Alston & Bird in Atlanta. “I interviewed with eight of their associates over Zoom, and they peppered me with questions about my project and my long-term hopes and goals,” says Michelle, who chose to focus on housing because of the eviction crisis facing many people in the state of South Carolina.
In 2016, The Eviction Lab found that North Charleston had the worst eviction rates in the country, followed not far behind by Columbia. “The goal is to find a comprehensive solution to the eviction crisis,” says Michelle. “The pandemic has just highlighted the eviction issue in South Carolina, which was already a problem. We are thinking through long-term legal solutions and thinking about pieces that need to be put in place.”
One piece of the puzzle is replicating what has already been done in Richmond, Va., which ranked No. 2 in Eviction Lab’s 2016 list. “Equal Justice Works already has a housing justice program in Richmond, and part of my project is to replicate what they’ve been able to do with law students in Richmond around the
eviction issue,” says Michelle.
As a graduate of Charleston School of Law, Michelle exemplifies the motto of Charleston School of Law: pro bono populi, for the good of the people. Former Dean of the Law School Andy Abrams was a personal friend of Michelle’s and played an integral role in encouraging her to pursue her law degree.
“Michelle’s entire life, both personal and professional, has been dedicated to acting for the good of others,” says Abrams. “She is compassionate to those in need and passionate about ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. She is resilient, resourceful, and resolute. She is a woman of great integrity, of high character, and of action. And now with her legal training in hand, I have no doubt but that she will be an irrepressible agent for positive change in our community and in the lives of those she will serve.”
Michelle will begin her fellowship in Fall of 2021.