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PROFILE: UC Law Student Preps To Help Community

The UC College of Law's 172nd annual Hooding Ceremony takes place May 21, marking the finish line for Sean Arthurs and about 125 other third-year law students. Arthurs will then prepare to help the burgeoning Latino community in Greater Cincinnati with their legal needs, after he was awarded one of the nation's most prestigous law fellowships on the basis of his proposals to serve that community.

Date: 5/16/2005 8:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
A significant first for the University of Cincinnati College of Law also holds great promise for improving the quality of life for Greater Cincinnatiís rapidly growing Latino community.

Sean Arthurs, a third-year UC law student, has been awarded a 2005 Skadden Fellowship, making him UCís first student to earn one of the nationís most prestigious and competitive fellowship competitions.

Sean Arthurs
Sean Arthurs

Arthursí winning proposal focuses on responding to the needs of the Latino population in Butler and Hamilton Counties, where there is a significant disparity between legal resources available and the need for those resources.

With a resident Latino population that has grown to an estimated 40,000-70,000 in Greater Cincinnati, legal expertise is one of the many basic needs for which demand is certain to grow. "In light of the unprecedented wave of recent immigration from Latin American countries to the Cincinnati region, the next few years will be critical in determining whether Cincinnati can successfully integrate the Latino population into the areaís legal and social service networks," says Arthurs.

Arthurs hopes to develop a program of outreach and education within the Latino community to identify priority legal needs and increase the communityís awareness of the services available through Legal Aid. Through a dual strategy of advocacy and direct representation, Arthurs will work to prevent student expulsions, enforce legal protections for students with disabilities, and help battered immigrant women escape abuse through protective orders and other legal remedies.

Arthurs developed his project in conjunction with Elaine Fink and Kelly Malone of the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, an organization with a national reputation for credible, responsive, and innovative advocacy on behalf of the poor. He also cites the exceptional faculty support available to students at the UC College of Law as a key to earning his fellowship.

The Skadden Fellowship Foundation, described as "a legal Peace Corps" by the Los Angeles Times, was established in 1988 by the New York-based law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Each year, the firm awards 25 fellowships to graduating law students and outgoing judicial clerks who seek to work full-time with public interest organizations.

Fellowships are awarded for one year, with the expectation of renewal for a second year. Skadden provides each fellow with a salary (for the class of 2004, the salary is $37,500) and pays all fringe benefits to which an employee of the sponsoring organization would be entitled.

"I have enthusiasm, I am proficient in Spanish and I really believe our legal system should be more open to everyone. Those are really the three most significant contributions I bring to this project," says Arthurs.

This next step in his career will continue a remarkable journey that was shaped by his own experiences as a youth.

Although you would never guess it to hear him speak, Arthurs himself is an immigrant. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during that cityís troubled times in the 1970s. When he was eight, his family emigrated to the United States and settled on Long Island.

Arthurs recalls how difficult it was for the first year, as he spoke with an accent and struggled to assimilate into American culture. "I remember my parents on the plane ride over warning us that we wouldnít really know what it was like until we got here, but at least we spoke English," he says.

Many immigrants, including Latinos, donít even have that going for them.

"I am committed to the belief that our justice system should serve as a vehicle to promote inclusion, equal opportunity, and non-discrimination. Unfortunately, too often, our justice system works in precisely the opposite manner -- especially for minorities and immigrants whose first language is not English. With the excellent training and supervision available through Legal Aid, I am optimistic that we will be able to work with local social service agencies to make a tangible difference in the interactions between the Latino community and the legal system."

Arthurs earned his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and then a Master's in teaching from the University of Portland before spending seven years teaching in Louisiana, Maryland, and England. He spent the year before law school working as a human rights volunteer in Bogota, Colombia, where he first developed the seeds for his project.

"I left teaching in order to become a more effective advocate for people whose voices are rarely heard, and my experiences working in a country with no rule of law prompted me to reflect more closely on the parallels within our own country," he says.

He looked at a number of law schools with top programs in human rights law, and was initially surprised to see UCís Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights near the top of the list.

"Coming to UC made great sense. Not only was it a top program, but my wife Michele was raised in Cincinnati. (She is currently in medical school at Wright State University). Iíve really enjoyed going to law school here. One of the biggest advantages of UC is you really can go anywhere from here," Arthurs says.

Sean Arthurs in Africa
As part of his work in Sierra Leone, Arthurs posed at the southernmost tip of Africa.

Almost as if to prove it, his summertime experiences have included working for the U.N. Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone and at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway, Ireland, as well as an internship last summer with one of the worldís top litigation firms in New York.

At the College of Law, Arthurs has become an Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights Fellow and the managing editor of the University of Cincinnati Law Review.

"Law school becomes about what you can do in law school, and the personal contact with teachers at UC can benefit you so much more than just going to some huge school where youíre a number in the system," Arthurs believes.

For instance, he cites what he considers the extraordinary support he received from faculty, staff and friends of the college in making his Skadden application.

"From the projectís initial stages through to the mock interviews, the law school community was unswerving in its support and encouragement."

All of it adds up to a chance to help a community in need beginning next September after he takes the Ohio Bar exam.

"It was the UC community and Legal Aid that made this happen. I felt like the law school really helped me get there. I am doing exactly what I dreamed of going into law school to do. How many people get to do that?"