Karen J. Sarjeant '75: A Lifetime Committed to Equal Access
She possesses the bearing of a lawyer who has done good and done it exceedingly well. For more than 28 years, Karen Jones Sarjeant '75 has been an effective advocate for equal access to the law. Rising from a public service lawyer to program administrator responsible for the dissemination of approximately $283 million in federal funding to legal services providers nationwide, she has been guided by a single commitment – justice for underserved and disenfranchised people and communities.
Prophetically, Karen began her career in 1975 as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow. Regarded as the father of legal aid in America, Smith's lifelong commitment to pro bono and community service activities led the National Legal Aid and Defender Association to create the highly-competitive fellowship program in his honor. Karen's "Reggie" led her to Rochester, New York where she represented low-income clients dealing with family law, housing, consumer, and public benefits issues.
Her next move was to the National Senior Citizens Law Center in Los Angeles. In addition to research and litigation, Karen worked tirelessly with legislators on elder law issues, including the development of funding of legal services programs for the elderly. Her responsibilities grew to include providing technical assistance to community action agencies in five regional sites.
In 1981 Karen joined the Seattle Regional Office of the Legal Services Corporation where she implemented training programs designed to enhance the delivery of legal services to low-income individuals in the Pacific Northwest states. Again, she took on more responsibility and ultimately evaluated the delivery of legal services in the region based on the requirements of the LSC Act and other governing provisions.
Relocating to the east coast, Karen worked briefly in contract compliance with a national service organization before joining the Legal Aid Bureau of Silver Spring, Maryland as a managing attorney and ultimately, as chief attorney. Karen supervised the delivery of legal services to senior citizens under Title III of the Older Americans Act and other eligible clients in the priority areas of family law, housing, public benefits, and health law. Maryland Legal Services Corporation awarded Karen its Distinguished Service Award for legal services advocacy.
In 1995, Karen rejoined the Legal Services Corporation rising to Vice President of Programs. Consistent with the organization's goal of ensuring equal access to justice for all low-income persons, Karen directed a national grants process for dissemination of approximately $283 million annually to service providers nationwide. In addition, she was responsible for program performance, information technology, and compliance and enforcement. David Stern, CEO of Equal Justice Works (formerly the National Association for Public Interest Law says, "Not only was Karen politically sensitive to the legal services programs competing for funds, but extremely principled in making sure that the funds were distributed fairly."
So impressed with Karen was Stern, he eventually recruited her to serve as deputy director for the National Association for Public Interest Law, a coalition of 157 law student organizations dedicated to promoting public interest law and the creation of public interest law employment opportunities. She administered the NAPIL Equal Justice Fellowship Program, the largest postgraduate legal fellowship program in the nation, and oversaw an AmeriCorps grant from the Corporation for National Service. The AmeriCorps program places teams of attorneys and other advocates into legal services programs throughout the nation to work specifically in the areas of domestic violence and housing/homelessness.
Karen has shared her expertise with the Moritz College of Law. She has returned to campus frequently to speak on pro bono, public interest, and legal services topics. She has worked with Moritz students interested in pursuing postgraduate legal fellowships. Karen serves on the College's National Alumni Council, a group of 75 alumni who return to campus biannually to provide advice and counsel to the Dean. In 2000, she received the College's Public Service Award for commitment to promote and provide access to the legal system.
Today, Karen Sarjeant is a private consultant based in Washington, DC. She works with a variety of non-profit organizations in the areas of supervision and management consulting, coalition development, and organization planning and capacity development. Now as always, she exemplifies the highest ideals of service measuring her success by her ability to empower others.