ND Law names 2021 Shaffer Public Interest Fellows

Author: Denise Wager

2021 Shaffer Fellows

Nereida Lopez and Emily Mollinedo, members of Notre Dame Law School’s Class of 2021, have been awarded Thomas L. Shaffer Fellowships.

The fellowship, named in honor of professor emeritus and former dean, Thomas L. Shaffer, and funded by donor support, covers the salary and benefits for two Notre Dame Law graduates to work for two years at a nonprofit organization providing legal services to low-income or other underrepresented populations.  

Nereida Lopez, National Immigrant Justice Center

Lopez will do her fellowship at the National Immigrant Justice Center and will work with asylum seekers on alternatives to detention, specifically advocating for the removal of their ankle monitors. She will also lead workshops to reach more individuals who are applying for asylum in the United States to inform them of their rights, and to provide guidance on the immigration process. She also plans to gather data to help NIJC advocate against the policy of ankle monitoring — a practice that has raised privacy concerns and been found to subject some wearers to physical pain and social stigma.

“I hope that the impact I make is not only in individuals’ lives, but in the immigration system

itself. Specifically, I hope to contribute towards the change of such heinous policies,” she said.

The NIJC fellowship has personal meaning to Lopez as well.

Lopez was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico and came to the U.S. with her family when she was 8 years old. As a young child, she and her family went through deportation proceedings for seven years due to a mistake made with their paperwork. Throughout that time it was hard for her family to have representation and retain attorneys because of their finances.  

That personal experience and the challenges her family faced fueled her desire to serve immigrants. This past spring, Lopez, along with her father, was able to file her own citizenship paperwork.

“I came to Notre Dame Law School with the goal of representing immigrants like myself. I want others to have the representation that my family and I could not have,” she said. 

During law school, Lopez was vice president and communications director for the newly established First Generation Professionals Group. She co-chaired the Student Bar Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and was a member of the Hispanic Law Students Association. She competed in the Uvaldo Herrera National Moot Court Competition during her second and third years of law school as both a brief writer and oralist. She also participated in the Law School’s National Immigrant Justice Center Externship twice, winning an asylum case during her second year.

During her first-year summer, Lopez worked at Community Legal Aid SoCal, in Santa Ana, California, and she spent her second-year summer at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Goshen, Indiana. She earned her undergraduate degree from St. John’s University in Queens, New York.  

Emily Mollinedo, Illinois Prison Project

Mollinedo will work at the Illinois Prison Project representing incarcerated individuals in sentencing claims and petitions. She will help identify people in under-resourced and rural communities throughout Illinois who have been the most egregiously over-sentenced and aim to correct and undo those lengthy sentences. She also plans to help reverse policies that led to over-lengthy sentencing trends in the first place.  

“Since I was a young girl, I have dreamt of being a lawyer, because I always viewed the law as a profession of service. For me, this fellowship not only enables me to carry out my lifelong aspirations of becoming a lawyer and helping others, but it means that I can use my education to help reunite families long separated by harsh practices and policies,” said Mollinedo.

Before coming to law school, Mollinedo worked as a paralegal/trial assistant. That job exposed her to the significance of just sentencing in criminal defense cases, leading her to seek out experiences at Notre Dame. She participated in three of the Law School’s 11 externships: the Wrongful Conviction Externship, Expungements Externship, and Public Defender Externship. She also assisted with intake for the Law School’s new Exoneration Justice Clinic.

In addition, she was the editor-in-chief of the Law School’s Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, vice president of the Notre Dame Exoneration Project, and active in the Hispanic Law Students Association, also competing in the annual Uvaldo Herrera National Moot Court Competition during her second and third years of law school. 

During her first-year summer, Mollinedo worked at the Office of the State Appellate Defender in Springfield, Illinois, and was a research assistant for Associate Professor Marah Stith McLeod. She worked at the civil rights firm Loevy & Loevy in Chicago during her second-year summer. She earned her undergraduate degree from New York University.

Established in 2013, the Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Fellowship continues a long tradition of public interest at Notre Dame Law School. The fellowship honors Thomas L. Shaffer ’61 J.D., who was a longtime faculty member and former dean at Notre Dame Law School. During his tenure, he was a supervising attorney in the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic, now called the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center, where he taught clinical ethics and guided the legal practice of law students who serve underprivileged people in the South Bend area.