January 30, 2014
Allison Elgart ’05 currently serves as the Legal Director of Equal Justice Society (EJS), a nonprofit focused on establishing more safeguards and legal protections against racial discrimination. Elgart’s work in impact litigation, education, and community organizing is central to achieving EJS’ mission. EJS works to challenge the Intent Standard, which requires that the complainant in discrimination cases prove that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff. Since EJS believes that bias is often unconscious, structural, and unintentional, they argue that plaintiffs should not have to prove intent.
While Elgart always knew she wanted to pursue public interest work, she found a passion for civil rights law at HLS. By her 3L year, Elgart was the Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review and a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. “My interests were broad, but I had a pretty good sense I wanted to pursue employment, housing, education, or immigrant rights law,” she says.
After a year-long judicial clerkship, Elgart began work as an Associate at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, a national plaintiff’s firm. There, she litigated class action employment discrimination and consumer protection cases on behalf of employees and consumers. Elgart highly recommends working at a private public interest firm to students interested in pursuing civil rights law. “The valuable litigation experience you earn will take you a long way,” she says.
After almost five years at Lieff Cabraser, Elgart was interested in finding a position where she could apply the litigation skills she learned at Lieff to a mission-driven nonprofit organization focused on issues of racial justice. She found a posting for a Supervising Attorney position at Equal Justice Society in OPIA’s weekly Alumni Jobs Digest e-mail. EJS seemed like a good fit; Elgart wanted to work in an organization that partnered with leading racial justice or civil rights groups and had a collaborative, dedicated staff. EJS is driven by a “mission to change constitutional law so that it better protects people of color.” Elgart started as a Supervising Staff Attorney and then became the Legal Director. Her day-to-day duties include meeting with allied civil rights organizations, performing legal research and writing or editing memos or briefs, and strategizing about legal theories to challenge the intent doctrine. As a supervisor, Elgart oversees young attorneys and law clerks. “Mentoring is one of the most rewarding parts of my job,” she says. “I enjoy helping attorneys who are deeply committed to civil rights move along on their career paths.”
Elgart’s advice for HLS students and alumni interested in civil rights is to demonstrate to potential employers that they are passionate about the field. “Do a one or two year fellowship at a nonprofit. Semester-long internships and clinics are also great. Even if you are already at a corporate firm, take on the pro bono cases available and volunteer in your free time,” she advises. Elgart also stresses the importance of networking and informational interviews. Talking to practicing civil rights attorneys and asking them about their experience will help you learn how to succeed in your job search, she says. Lastly, Elgart argues that making a good impression at a job interview is essential. “That’s how applicants stand out in my mind,” she says. “Let your enthusiasm, commitment, and passion for civil rights come across.”
Written by OPIA Summer Fellow Samantha Sokol