After her first year at New York University School of Law, Lauren Burke (’09) interned at The Door, a Manhattan children’s advocacy organization, where she worked primarily on behalf of unaccompanied immigrant youth.
While assisting on a matter in immigration court that summer, Lauren encountered a Chinese teenager named Victory, who spoke no English. Lauren, who is fluent in Mandarin, quickly learned the girl’s story. Victory had been trafficked by her parents to work in a restaurant, and she now owed tens of thousands of dollars to her traffickers. She faced not only indentured servitude and possible deportation, but also an immigration hearing without representation or even a translator. Lauren took on the case — helping Victory to resolve her immigration issues and acquire a green card — and in the process discovered the glaring need for Mandarin-speaking legal advocates for trafficked youth.
When her internship at The Door neared its end, Lauren approached her supervisor, former Skadden Fellow Jason Cade (’06), for advice on continuing her work on behalf of trafficked children. That’s when Lauren first learned about the Skadden Foundation.
“If you want to do public interest law,” Jason told Lauren, “you need to apply for a Fellowship.”
Lauren followed Jason’s advice, and she was named a Skadden Fellow in 2009.
For her Fellowship, Lauren set out to provide legal services in Mandarin and establish a peer mentorship program that enables Chinese youth who have overcome obstacles to mentor others.
“When I first started, we had five Chinese clients,” Lauren says. “By the end of the Fellowship in 2011, I had 95 clients, about 75 percent of whom were Chinese.”
The Skadden Fellowship Foundation’s director, Susan Butler Plum, says that Lauren’s energy and intellect facilitate her many other strengths as an attorney and advocate.
“When she discusses her clients, her entire face lights up,” Susan says. “She beams confidence in their ability to become productive citizens.”
The Fellowship’s salary and benefits constituted only a portion of the Foundation’s support, according to Lauren.
“I was a 25-year-old lawyer, appearing alongside much more seasoned attorneys. The Fellowship earned me instant credibility with them and the courts.”
The Fellowship also offered Lauren access to the tightly knit community of Fellows across the country, some of whom became her mentors.
“All of my mentors are former Skadden Fellows,” Lauren says. “When I’ve had problems or questions, I’ve picked up the phone and called them. The Fellowship has served as a vital connection to the legal community — so many people working in the public interest are Fellows, and you know they are all passionate about these issues and ready to help.”
Upon completing her Fellowship, Lauren was appointed the first-ever attorney at the New York Asian Women’s Center, where she handles immigration matters and provides “know your rights” training to survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. She recently was named the manager of the center’s legal department and hired a second attorney, whom she supervises.
Lauren received a Flom Memorial Incubator Grant in February, which is helping to fund Atlas: DIY, a comprehensive legal clinic and community center for immigrant youth.
Her work was honored in July by the New York University Alumni Association, which awarded her its Distinguished Young Alumna Award. She was appointed to teach a clinic at Brooklyn Law School in September.
Lauren says that her ever-increasing workload reflects the insatiable demand for legal services for immigrant youth.
“As long as there are young people,” Lauren says, “I’ll be busy.”