Fellowship makes passion projects possible

Kyle Ridgeway
Kyle Ridgeway

Kyle Ridgeway, 2L, spent his summer as a Kozyak Minority Mentoring Foundation Fellow, a distinction that enabled him to work in an unpaid position as a law clerk for the Southern Legal Counsel.

“As a law clerk for the Southern Legal Counsel I conducted research and legal coding for ongoing litigation,” Ridgeway said. “The SLC is a public interest non-profit law firm that is focused on ending homelessness, protecting civil rights, and promoting LGBTQ equality. All of the projects I worked on were related to these goals.” 

The Kozyak Minority Mentoring Foundation was created by Miami attorney John W. Kozyak and his law partner, Detra Shaw-Wilder, to use mentoring as a platform to increase diversity in the legal profession. Kozyak had spent years as an active mentor and launched a program to match minority law students with experienced lawyers and judges in the legal community. The foundation became a way to amplify those efforts.

Each year since 2016, KMMF has awarded summer fellowships to law students who are academically and professionally driven. The fellowships are funded through the support of law firm sponsors, including Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Hunton Andrews & Kurth and Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton.

“The Kozyak Fellowship is a great opportunity to work for a non-profit or public service organization in an unpaid role and still earn some money during the summer,” Ridgeway explained. “Too often students are forced to decide between work that is interesting to them and work that pays. This fellowship is a wonderful chance for students to pursue the areas of the law that are interesting to them and give back to their communities, without the burden of that work being unfunded.”

Impactful work

Ridgeway began his tenure with SLC during a fall 2020 clerkship. At that time, he was part of a team of law students from around the country who analyzed over 16,000 cases involving driver’s license suspensions, affecting nearly 10,000 individuals who had their driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay fines/fees related to municipal ordinance violations. The students looked up each case, gathering data such as the underlying municipal ordinance and the amount of fines/fees assessed, explained Samantha Howell, the pro bono director of SLC.

With the information gathered by the students, SLC successfully advocated with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to change their policy so that individuals with municipal ordinance violations would no longer lose their licenses if they failed to pay related court fines/fees. The DHSMV sent notices to 30 Clerks of Court in Florida, resulting in 23 counties reinstating the licenses in question. Altogether, 13,508 driver’s license suspensions were lifted, affecting more than 7500 people statewide, Howell said.  

SLC continues to work to change the practice in the seven counties that did not reinstate licenses, and six additional counties that have continued to issue driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay fines/fees related to municipal ordinance violations.

Thanks to the Kozyak Fellowship, Ridgeway was able to return to SLC for another clerkship in summer 2021. He helped investigate the availability of behavioral and mental health care services throughout Florida and monitored city commission meetings for references to a variety of issues affecting homeless individuals.

Kozyak Fellowships are open to 1Ls and 2Ls who are either enrolled in a Florida law school or are verified Florida residents attending an out-of-state law school. Applications for the Summer 2022 fellowships will open early next year.