Alumni Spotlight - Liz Justensen '06
This Touro Law Center grad, Liz Justesen ’06, is creating the conditions for success.
Liz Justesen isn’t sure how she gets it all done. “Sometimes, I’ll look back at my calendar and see how insane my month looked and think, “How did I do that?’”
Liz Justesen works on all aspects of a client's case with the aim of helping them get out of the system. A packed schedule is nothing new for Liz. While most grad students were pursuing one degree, Liz tackled two, graduating Magna Cum Laude from the dual degree program between Touro Law Center and Stony Brook School of Social Welfare in 2006. Thirteen years later, Liz is hard at work combining her two passions, law and social work. Currently, she serves as Community Outreach Director of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, an organization that represents indigent clients while they navigate the criminal and family courts. ln this role, Liz conducts education programs in the community targeting drop-in, recovery, substance abuse treatment centers and public libraries to raise the awareness of both the potential hazards for and rights of those who are at high risk for criminal court involvement or those who have been previously involved in the criminal court system.
Having worked for years in family court representing children and their parents and then criminal court for people alleged to have committed crimes, Liz sees an ongoing need for "holistic lawyering," a practice that focuses on both a client's immediate legal challenges and also broader non-legal ones such as housing, safety, mental and physical health issues, employment, education and licensing barriers. Liz, who often describes herself as "a social worker in a suit," explains the process. "We just don't look at a case, we assess mental and physical health, substance abuse issues, housing, domestic violence and work with social workers to problem-solve and ameliorate the various life and social obstacles that can cause clients to find themselves in and out of the system."
COLLABORATION: SOCIAL WORKERS AND LAWYERS
Five years ago, Liz began overseeing the Social Work Bureau within the Legal Aid Society. l n this role, she worked to improve the collaboration between lawyers and social workers. "As we moved toward both helping clients through legal difficulties and also developing a framework where success could happen in their lives, the number of social workers that we had on our staff rose from one to nine." Together with members of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County and other providers, Liz participates in Suffolk County's endeavor "Access to Justice"-a State pilot program which seeks to make access to court and legal information easier for Suffolk County residents, a model that will then be duplicated throughout the state.
BREAKING BARRIERS PROGRAM
Liz returned to Touro Law Center as the supervising attorney for Breaking Barriers, a Touro Law Center, pro-bono student-run program, based in the Public Advocacy Center. Breaking Barriers law students work with clients to remove obstacles to employment by helping them correct errors on their RAP (Record of Arrests and Prosecutions) sheets and obtain Certificates of Relief from Civil Disabilities and Certificates of Good Conduct. These court documents remove any automatic statutory disqualification from jobs or licenses brought on by a criminal conviction.
SOUGHT AFTER RESOURCE
Despite her packed schedule, Liz, who is also married and raising a son, finds the time to chair the Resources sub-committee for the Suffolk County Re-Entry Task Force, which works to improve the lives of parolees re-entering the community. In addition, her work on the Executive Board for the non-profit, New Hour, is making a difference for incarcerated women through the programming and support it provides to them while in custody and as they transition back into the community and reunite with their families. Explains Liz, "I have yet to meet a bad person. I meet people who make poor choices and are driven by life circumstances that bring them before the justice system."
**This article appeared in the Touro Graduate Studies Summer 2019 magazine, The Links. Click here to view an online version of the magazine.