Student Commentary

National Lawyers Guild | Student Organization Voices Series

Your Name: Celia Givens
Graduation Year: May 2021
Name of Organization: National Lawyer’s Guild (NLG)
Position in Organization: Co-President

TLS: When did you join this organization?

CG: I signed up for NLG at the student organizations fair at the beginning of 1L fall. Later during the fall semester, I applied and was selected to become a 1L rep for NLG’s Criminal Justice Committee (along with the other current Co-President of NLG, Sarah Kim).

TLS: Why did you decide to join this group?

CG: Before I came to law school, I worked for four years at the Legal Aid Society in New York City as a paralegal in their Criminal Defense Practice. It was somewhat of a culture shock going back to school after taking time off to work and I missed being able to work with clients on issues directly impacting their communities. I was interested in joining NLG because they focused on the areas of law that I am most passionate about, including client-centered defense, criminal justice reform and direct-client services.

TLS: What is your organization’s mission?

CG: NLG is the nation’s oldest and largest progressive bar association that was the first to be racially integrated in the United States. The overall mission of the National Lawyer’s Guild is “Law for the People”: uniting lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people by valuing human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests. At Temple Law, NLG has five different committees (Criminal Justice, Immigration & Human Rights, Gender Justice, Workers Rights and the Student Week Against Mass Incarceration), and it also houses Temple Law’s Expungement Project and Pardons Clinic.

TLS: Can you tell us about a recent or annual event that your organization hosted?

CG: On October 2, Temple Law NLG hosted an “Introduction to Mass Incarceration” panel featuring Latonya Myers, a community organizer at the Philadelphia Defender Association who was formerly incarcerated, Ghani Songster, a former juvenile lifer who currently works as a community activist at the Amistad Law Project, and Professor Shanda Sibley, who heads the Systemic Justice Clinic at Temple Law and whose scholarship focuses on criminal law and procedure, as informed by critical legal and critical race theory. The panel was moderated by Criminal Justice Committee Co-Chairs Amando Dominick LAW ’21 and Danielle Phillips LAW ’21, who both have significant personal experience with the criminal justice system, having lost friends and family to long-term incarceration.

TLS: What do you gain as a law student from your involvement in this organization?

CG: This year, NLG is focused on bridging the gap between academics and practical skills involved in public interest lawyering.  We’ve brought in a wide range of speakers that normally don’t speak to law students, including wrongfully convicted exonerees, former juvenile lifers, and community activists from groups like Black Lives Matter and the Philadelphia Bail Fund. We believe that students who want to become lawyers advocating for Philadelphians should learn about the communities they’re going to be working with, so we’ve focused on becoming more involved in community organizations and local policy initiatives. In November, NLG members at Temple Law worked to help pass the Tenants’ Right to Counsel Bill by circulating an open letter, drafting testimony and showing up to the city counsel hearing to support the bill. NLG members also attended a rally in Harrisburg in October to support the passage of a bill that would drastically limit life without parole sentencing in Pennsylvania.

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