Joy Ziegeweid ’12 Awarded 2012 Skadden Public Interest Fellowship

Posted on December 22nd, 2011 by Vina Tran

Columbia Law School student Joy Ziegeweid ’12 has been awarded the prestigious Skadden Fellowship to further her public-service law careers.

Ziegeweid will use the fellowship to work at Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, where she will represent Russian immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence or sex trafficking. As part of her fellowship, Ziegeweid plans to advocate for her Russian-speaking clients in family court, and on immigration matters and referrals to providers of medical, psychiatric, and social services.

Ziegeweid, an undergraduate Russian major, spent several years working in Moscow between college and law school. During her years in Russia, she noticed many familiar social problems—domestic violence, exploitation of immigrant labor, and police brutality, to name a few. She was struck by the lack of legal recourse available to persons whose rights had been violated. Thus, when she decided to study law, it was with the express goal of becoming a public interest attorney in the United States, where the legal system, despite its many imperfections, can be used to defend existing rights and challenge the status quo, she said.

During her first year of law school, she participated in the Battered Immigrant Women’s Project, supervised by an attorney from Sanctuary for Families.  She found the combination of family law and immigration law fascinating so she continued on as an intern at Sanctuary and quickly realized the utility of her Russian language skills combined with her legal education.

Discussing her project, Ziegeweid explains that while the Russian-speaking communities of New York are large—Russian is the third-most commonly spoken foreign language in New York, and there are around 200,000 Russian-speaking households–there are no organizations aimed specifically at assisting Russian-speaking victims of domestic violence and related forms of gender-based violence, and there are very few attorneys who speak Russian and work with these clients. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Russian-speaking victims of domestic violence and trafficking are often isolated within New York’s Russian-speaking communities. Because of the particular history of police and judicial corruption in the countries of the former Soviet Union, Russian-speaking victims are extraordinarily reluctant to engage the law enforcement and legal systems. A lack of coordinated outreach to Russian-speaking communities further compounds the problem.

Her project will be located in Sanctuary for Families’ office in the Brooklyn Family Justice Center, where she will be able to collaborate with the Special Victims Division at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office and with other service providers in the Family Justice Center. “The primary goal of my project, of course, will be to provide culturally appropriate, holistic legal representation in immigration and family law matters. However, I will also develop coordinated outreach strategies with other service providers, connect clients to the necessary support services to escape violence, including medical, mental health, housing, and economic self-sufficiency services, and strengthen and build upon existing collaborations among community groups, faith-based organizations, and health-care providers,” said Ziegeweid.

The Skadden Fellowship enables students to use the education and opportunities that Columbia Law School gave them on behalf of people who otherwise would go unrepresented, said Ellen Chapnick, Dean for Social Justice Initiatives.

Ziegeweid and Kate Stinson, ’10 are among 28 graduating law students and judicial clerks awarded the highly sought-after two-year fellowships. The Skadden Fellowship provides recipients a salary and pays all fringe benefits to which an employee of the sponsoring organization would be entitled. In addition, Skadden Fellows also benefit from a supportive community of past recipients, a group that includes some of the most accomplished social justice lawyers in the country.

The Skadden Fellowship Foundation was established in 1988 by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, in honor of the law firm’s 40th anniversary. The fellowship program, described by The Los Angeles Times as “a legal Peace Corps,” supports recent law school graduates who wish to provide legal services to the poor (including the working poor), the elderly, the homeless, and the disabled, as well as those deprived of their civil or human rights.

Sanctuary is the largest provider in the U.S. of legal services exclusively for victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking. They offer comprehensive and culturally competent legal advice and representation in cases involving orders of protection, child custody/visitation, child and spousal support, divorce, immigration, asylum, and prosecution of batterers in criminal matters. For more information about their projects and initiatives, please visit their website.


  1. Congratulations to Joy Ziegeweid, Skadden fellow who will represent Russian immigrant DV/sex trafficking victims

  2. Congratulations to Joy Ziegeweid, Skadden fellow who will represent Russian immigrant DV/sex trafficking victims

  3. Congratulations to Joy Ziegeweid, Skadden fellow who will represent Russian immigrant DV/sex trafficking victims

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