Notre Dame Law School's three 2024 Bank of America Foundation Fellows to address a wide range of social issues

Author: Sarah Doerr

2024 Bank of America Fellows Allison Morcus, Sebastian Ramirez, and Maura Burke
2024 Bank of America Fellows Allison Morcus, Sebastian Ramirez, and Maura Burke

Notre Dame Law School third-year students — Maura Burke, Allison Morcus, and Sebastian Ramirez — have been selected as Bank of America Foundation Fellows for 2024. Through their fellowships, they will cover a wide range of social issues, including social barriers faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community, youth and family holistic services, and immigrant services.

The Bank of America public interest fellowship covers salary and benefits for Notre Dame Law School graduates to work for two years at a city agency or nonprofit organization of their choice. The fellows’ work must advance community sustainability and provide legal services to low-income or other underrepresented populations, thereby impacting a broader community beyond the individual clients served through the fellowship. The fellows select the organizations where they want to work and design the projects they will complete.

Maura Burke
Maura Burke

Maura Burke

James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy

Burke, a Park Ridge, Illinois, native, will complete her fellowship at the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, where she will provide direct services to children and their families in Evanston and Skokie, Illinois.

The Moran Center provides legal, mental health, and advocacy services to low-income residents of Evanston Township, Illinois, who find themselves in need of assistance. Burke, whose fellowship project focuses on offering wraparound school-based services to families facing unstable home environments due to domestic violence, child custody and guardianship issues, or a lack of child support, found that the Moran Center turns away more than 30 family law cases each year due to limited resources.

In the face of an evident lack of resources to support families in the aftermath of a domestic crisis, Burke hopes her fellowship project will have a lasting impact in the Evanston community by providing direct support to local children and families through the creation of safer homes, healthier relationships, and more spaces where children can thrive as they grow.

“I came to law school to do public interest law. I wanted to learn how to use my degree to advocate for others and walk with people through the legal system,” said Burke. “I aspire to model my legal practices on the ideas of solidarity and accompany my clients and those I serve through the justice system as co-conspirators. I want my clients to understand their rights and their power within the system.”

Burke has been very involved in the Notre Dame Law School community, including acting as the inaugural co-chair of the Public Interest Leadership Council, the president of the Public Interest Law Forum and National Lawyers Guild, and service chair for the Women’s Legal Forum. Outside the classroom, Burke has worked as a law clerk at the Illinois Prison Project in Chicago, and was a Public Interest Law Initiative Intern at Ascend Justice, a Chicago-based advocacy center that provides legal services to families impacted by domestic violence.

Before coming to Notre Dame, Burke attended Boston College and served as a volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Francisco at the Eviction Defense Collaborative as a paralegal in the Tenant’s Right to Counsel Program.

“I see this fellowship as the jumping off point for my career as a public interest attorney,” said Burke. “This funding and this opportunity have afforded me the opportunity to learn from amazing advocates in my dream job – I am extraordinarily thankful and blessed.”

Allison Morcus
Allison Morcus

Allison Morcus

National Immigrant Justice Center

Morcus, through her fellowship with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, will be working with youth in Chicago schools to help them secure immigration benefits such as asylum and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Morcus and the NIJC aim to provide full case representation to students in immigration proceedings, as well as work with schools to address students’ other social, physical, and emotional needs. The project is meant to increase academic success for students by relieving some of the burden of immigration proceedings and uncertainty stemming from their immigration status.

“I came to law school with the intent of pursuing public interest, and immigration law specifically. During my 2L spring semester, I enrolled in the ND Law externship course with NIJC. Through this course, my partner and I were able to work on almost every step of an asylum case, and I was fortunate enough to attend my client’s merits hearing at the Chicago Immigration Court,” said Morcus. “One of the most impactful moments of my life was when the judge granted asylum. I could barely hold back my tears as the judge announced, ‘Congratulations, you now have legal status in the United States.’ In that moment, I felt certain that this is the kind of work I want to do for the rest of my career.”

Morcus hopes her fellowship project will set an important precedent for making legal services more accessible to marginalized members of society, especially in a city like Chicago, which is experiencing an influx of immigrants and asylum seekers. Her goal is to see her project replicated across the city, and in other similar urban settings, to positively impact immigrant communities by creating a more accessible and supportive legal environment.

At the Law School, Morcus has been involved in a number of public interest organizations, including serving as president of the ACLU-ND chapter and as a board member on the Public Interest Leadership Council. She also participated in the Moot Court Board as vice president, and on the Showcase Team as an oralist, one of her favorite law school experiences. Over summer breaks, Morcus interned with the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund and Legal Aid Chicago’s Immigration & Workers’ Rights practice group.

Morcus, who is from Louisville, Kentucky, received her undergraduate degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Notre Dame.

“NIJC is one of the preeminent organizations in the field of immigration and human rights, and I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to launch my career at such an incredible place,” Morcus said. “I am so excited to spend the next two years working on a project that I am passionate about.”

Sebastian Ramirez
Sebastian Ramirez

Sebastian Ramirez

Legal Services of Miami

Ramirez, who completed his undergraduate degree at American University and is a south Florida native, will be working to serve the LGBTQ+ community in Miami through his fellowship with Legal Services of Miami, a nonprofit that provides legal services to low income Miamians. His work will focus on addressing employment discrimination, name change issues, and barriers to healthcare and other social benefits faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in the area. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Ramirez says it is a privilege to leverage his legal education to uplift and support others.

“My education and experience at Notre Dame have been incredible and inspiring. I can think of no better way to use my education than by advocating and representing my community,” said Ramirez. “To me, a different kind of lawyer tackles difficult issues head-on, especially with the most vulnerable communities. Right now, the LGBTQ+ community is under fire across the country. The lessons I've learned here compel me to advocate for my community.”

During his time at Notre Dame Law School, Ramirez has served as president of the LGBT Law Forum and as academic chair for the Hispanic Law Students Association. During his law school summers he worked at Chicago House, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides legal services to the city’s LGBTQ+ community, and at the City Attorney’s Office in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Ramirez, who acted as a union organizer for a period of time, hopes that his work through his fellowship will create a larger impact across the LGBTQ+ community by helping individuals to better understand the legal system and how it can be leveraged to protect and further their rights.

“My fellowship matters to me because I will be directly working with people from my community. I’ve been blessed and privileged to be where I am currently at, and it’s important for me to use my law degree to help support those in the LGBTQ+ community that are not often uplifted, especially transgender individuals,” Ramirez said. “My community is worth fighting for.”

About the Bank of America Foundation Fellowship Program

Since the program’s inception in 2015, and through the generous and ongoing support from the Bank of America Foundation, the Bank of America Foundation Fellowship program has offered nearly 20 Notre Dame Law School graduates two-year fellowship opportunities across the country in various areas of public interest law, including low-income housing, immigration, disability rights, criminal defense, and racial justice.

Learn about the Class of 2022’s Bank of America Foundation Fellows here.