Success Stories

Saima Akhtar

  1. What does your organization do?
    • Empire Justice Center is a statewide legal services organization with offices in Albany, Rochester, Westchester and Central Islip (Long Island). Empire Justice provides support and training to legal services and other community based organizations, undertakes policy research and analysis, and engages in legislative and administrative advocacy. We also represent low income individuals, as well as classes of New Yorkers in a wide range of poverty law areas including health, public assistance, domestic violence and SSI/SSD benefits.

  2. Who are the people your organization serves?
    • Low income individuals with different types of civil legal needs related to matters like benefits, immigration, disability, employment, or domestic violence.

  3. What is your job at your organization? How long have you been in this position? Can you give a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?
    • I am a Senior Staff Attorney and have been for about three and a half years. Before that, I was a Staff Attorney for about six years. My work at Empire Justice generally involves practicing the law, advocating for changes to the law, and training about the law. Specifically, I focus on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP f/k/a food stamps) and cash public assistance. I litigate matters related to SNAP and cash public assistance in both state and federal courts. I work with the public policy team at Empire Justice to improve and change the laws in ways that will make the cash assistance programs and SNAP better for applicants and recipients. I also provide training about these benefits to other attorneys and advocates.

  4. Can you tell me about someone who or something that has influenced your decision to do the work you do?
    • Kim Wright. She is now the Executive Director of Midwest Environmental Advocates in Madison, Wisconsin. Before I went to law school, I worked at a non-profit agency doing domestic violence work in Wisconsin. Kim was my Executive Director at the domestic violence agency then, and she is an attorney. She encouraged me to go to law school in order to build my advocacy skills, and really look around at the breadth of non-profit advocacy work available to me with legal training.

  5. How did you first got involved in/with your organization or in/with this field?
    • I began interning at Empire Justice Center the summer after my first year of law school and stayed on because there were so many opportunities to learn, try new things and do good work.

  6. What has surprised you most about working there? What has surprised you most about the work you do?
    • That there is always more to learn and a more complicated scenario to consider because poor people often live under very, very complicated sets of conflicting rules resulting from assistance programs that have distinct and incongruous requirements.

  7. What do you find most challenging about your work?
    • Balancing different cases and the competing interests between cases, legislative advocacy efforts, coalition work, and other commitments.

  8. What do you find most rewarding about your work?
    • Getting to work on technically complex issues that I find interesting and challenging and knowing these issues will have a real and meaningful outcomes for so many people.

  9. What do you wish other people knew about your organization?
    • There are many different ways to do advocacy work, and we take different approaches to solving problems for our clients. Different attorneys and staff members have distinct skills and areas of concentration in our work.

  10. What do you do when you aren't working?
    • I have a son in first grade who wants to play Pokemon at every opportunity, and I really like to cook.

  11. If you were pursuing an education while working at a nonprofit organization, would you recommend the same to others?
    • Absolutely. I worked in non-profits while I did my undergraduate work as well as my masters and law degrees.

  12. If you were pursuing an education while working at a nonprofit organization, did you find it to be beneficial to you? If so, in what ways?
    • There were times when the course work appeared to be removed from practical concerns, and working in a non-profit allowed me to look at the real impact of some concepts we talked about in school.

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