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Meet Matthew Barnes: 2013 UC Law Graduate and Equal Justice Works Fellow


What are your plans for the summer? A family vacation at camp or the beach? Relaxing at home? For Matthew Barnes, a recent UC law graduate, summer will bring an opportunity to get a jumpstart on his legal career. Barnes is a recipient of the prestigious Equal Justice Works Fellowship. Learn more about Matt, his experiences, and why the Fellowship is so important to him. 

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Kansas City and have moved around a bit, but I mostly grew up in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I went to undergraduate school at Miami University (Ohio); I was a political science major (with an economics minor). One interesting fact about me—that many people don’t know—is that I’ve been an extra in several Skyline Chili commercials. It’s a source of both pride…and shame!

Why did you choose UC for law school?

I was living in Cincinnati at the time, having just completed a year in AmeriCorps, when I decided I wanted to go to law school.  I had been living in Ohio for about five years through my undergraduate years at Miami University and decided I wanted to stay in the area.  UC's law school was not only close, but it was a well-respected nationally ranked school that would be more affordable as an in-state resident.  I also liked that the school was relatively small and urban-based, and would allow for more of a community feel and give me more time with professors.

What activities were you involved with at UC Law?

I'm a judge in Student Court, which has been a really fun experience.  I'm also a Book Review Editor on the Immigration and Nationality Law Review.  I participated in the Tenant Information Project my first year as well, and recommend it to anyone looking for some service hours.

What type of law do you want to practice and why?

I’m attracted to the public interest field generally, administrative law, tax law, property, wills and estate planning.

I'm interested in politics, especially policy. I have always wanted to help others, especially those who are underserved in society, through making better policy or implementing policy in a better, more effective manner. I believe that governmental policies and regulations have the most potential to help others, but sometimes can cause a lot of harm if not done right.  I think it's a very important and relevant way to try to improve the world around me, by understanding or even being involved in policy making or policy implementation.

Why did you apply to be an Equal Justice Works Fellow?

The Fellowship fit with what I wanted to do and what I had been doing.  My experience in AmeriCorps and two summer internships while I was at law school, including Housing Opportunities Made Equal and Pro Seniors, were wonderful and confirmed that public interest law was an area with a lot of need. It is something I wanted to do.  The Fellowship gives me the opportunity to make a difference in my own community, since I will be staying here in Cincinnati, and also to gain valuable experience as a legal professional.

Tell us about your EJW Fellowship project.

I am sponsored by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, an organization that focuses on ensuring that resources, programs and services exist statewide to serve the unmet civil legal needs of Ohio's low-income population.

I will be working at Pro Seniors, which I interned at last summer.  Pro Seniors is a non-profit organization that assists seniors with a variety of legal issues. Many of them are part of the underserved community, some due to their income (or lack of). I will be working specifically on developing a program that will help Pro Seniors’ thousands of clients find out what benefits they qualify for and how to obtain them.

Many seniors who are living paycheck to paycheck qualify for benefits they do not know about or do not have the confidence or expertise to obtain.  I will also be working with other senior care providers in the area, such as nursing homes or Meals on Wheels, giving presentations and providing information to the staff as well as the seniors themselves on how to access the benefits they qualify for.  At Pro Seniors, I will be working with other staff attorneys on specific cases where a client may be having difficulty with a government agency in obtaining benefits, or is having their benefits reduced or taken away in an unfair manner, and would help with litigation on their behalf.

What does this opportunity mean to you?

It means being given the chance to give back to my community in a meaningful, effective way.  I was lucky enough to be born into a world where I had a lot of opportunities and advantages given to me by my parents, my community, and by society in general that others never get.  This Fellowship allows me to fulfill what I feel is my duty to try to help others have the same opportunities and benefits I received.

What are your plans post fellowships?

I have been told that the vast majority of fellows stay in public interest afterwards, and that is my plan, though I'm not sure on the specifics.  I would want to stay in either a non-profit environment or move on to a governmental agency dealing with an underserved population. 

About the Equal Justice Works Program

The Equal Justice Works Fellowship program is the largest postgraduate legal fellowship program in the nation, with nearly 100 Fellows working across the country each year to provide legal assistance to those who could not otherwise afford it. Equal Justice Works Fellows design their fellowship projects with nonprofit organizations, targeting the most crucial needs of the communities they serve.  Funding for Equal Justice Works Fellowships is provided by donations from law firms, corporations and foundations from around the country.

*Barnes is a 2013 Equal Justice Works fellow, sponsored by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.