The University of Virginia School of Law has selected third-year student Maya Iyyani as the 17th Powell Fellow in Legal Services, an honor that will help her represent indigent tenants with mental health challenges in California’s Bay Area.

The Powell Fellowship, named for Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., awards $45,000 and benefits to recipients who enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor under the sponsorship of a host public interest organization. The award is made for one year with the expectation that it will be renewed for a second year. Powell Fellows are also eligible for the school's Loan Forgiveness Program.

Through a fellowship project with Bay Area Legal Aid, centered in Contra Costa County, California, and where she did a full-time externship this past fall, Iyyani will represent people with mental health disabilities and collaborate with health care providers to help her clients avoid homelessness.

Iyyani, a native of Pembroke Pines, Florida, said she was drawn to law school because, as the daughter of immigrants, she wanted to see more people of color, like herself, represented in the legal community.

“My anger towards the law’s mistreatment and exclusion of minorities inspired in me a desire to use my skills, my time and my voice to change the status quo as a lawyer and uplift minorities,” she said.

At UVA Law, Iyyani has served as co-founding president of the South Asian Law Student Association, co-founder of the Minority Rights Coalition at North Grounds, and co-president of the student board of the Program in Law and Public Service. She is also a recipient of the Virginia Law Dean’s Scholarship, Class of 1982 Scholarship and Claire M. Corcoran Award, as well as a Raven Society member.

During law school, Iyyani interned with legal aid groups in California and Florida, and took the Litigation and Housing Law Clinic under supervision from the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center. She has volunteered for the Virginia Innocence Project Pro Bono Clinic and the Migrant Farmworker Project.

She holds a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Florida, where she served as assistant director of the Gatorship Leadership and Diversity Program.

Amanda Yale, director of public service at UVA Law, called Iyyani “the real deal” and one of the most gifted public service students she has worked with.

“She has a natural ability to put people at ease with her warmth and kindness, and exudes a maturity that far surpasses her age,” Yale said. “This, combined with her integrity, high intellect and compassion for people make her the perfect person to excel in this important work.”

Iyyani said that of all the skills she gained during her pro bono work and internships — conducting client intakes, research and oral advocacy — the most important to her is compassion.

“The moments that stuck with me during my internships and pro bono work were when I watched my supervisors take the extra time to connect with, listen to and affirm their clients,” she said. “The act of ensuring their clients felt heard is something I want to carry with me throughout my career.”

California’s Bay Area faces a serious housing crisis, Iyyani said, and barriers to stable housing such as poverty are exacerbated for residents with mental health concerns.

Her goal is to build upon the legal aid group’s current rapport with homeless programs and create a referral process for clients to address immediate crises as well as underlying behavioral and mental health concerns.

“I will work closely with providers so they have a full understanding of the legal process, the legal remedies available to tenants with disabilities and how to identify legal issues,” she wrote in her proposal.

Recent Powell Fellows

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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