Skadden Fellow, Georgia Legal Services
Veronica Allen is in her first year of a two-year Skadden Foundation Fellowship. At Duke Law, she was active in public interest programs, and spent her summers working at the Mississippi Center for Justice and New York Lawyers in the Public Interest.
My legal work primarily involves representing students who are facing suspension or expulsion in school discipline hearings and helping parents obtain adequate special education services for their children. By doing so, I hope to identify youth who are experiencing behavior problems in school that affect their ability to learn and connect them with additional academic and behavioral supports to prevent their disruptive behaviors from recurring. So far, I have done three school discipline evidentiary hearings, one State Board of Education hearing, and several IEP (individualized education plan) meetings, which are meetings to discuss a student’s special education services. I also attend community events to inform others of my work and to learn of other individuals and groups who are engaged in similar work.
How did your experiences at Duke Law prepare you for this work?
I had the opportunity to take several substantive classes that have had direct bearing on my work, such as Education Law, Family Law, Advanced Issues in Children’s Law, Poverty Law, and Administrative Law. My semesters in the Children’s Law Clinic and working for Advocates for Children at Legal Aid of North Carolina gave me the opportunity to actually do the same work that I am doing now under the guidance of professors such as Professors Jane Wettach and Brenda Berlin. Those opportunities were priceless. Everyone expects a lot out of Duke grads, so I am teaching myself to expect the same of myself — or perhaps even more.
What is the most rewarding or challenging aspect of your work?
The most rewarding aspect of my work is getting to know my clients and providing them with quality legal service. Most of my clients have encountered system after system and they typically don’t receive quality service, so I try to ensure that they have a positive experience when they reach me. The most challenging aspect of my work has been remaining encouraged and continuing to fight even when the odds are stacked against me. It breaks my heart to see so many children suspended or expelled from school. I work hard to prepare for each hearing, but it is difficult to win cases when the school climate is so heavy with “zero tolerance.” My clients are removed from school for the most trivial of infractions, and it is going to take more than me representing clients in hearings to reduce the number of kids suspended or expelled.
What do you hope to do next?
I would love to either start a youth center or join forces with an already existing one to open up a legal clinic for youth. It would be nice to set up shop where youth are constantly present so that I can be readily available to them and their parents. There’s so much work to be done with regard to fighting zero-tolerance school policies — I expect that I may be doing this work for a while.