This entry is by Jonathan Petts, COL ’02, LAW ’07

After graduating from Penn (‘02) and then Penn Law (‘07), I followed the traditional corporate law path, working for large firms in New York. That corporate life was interesting enough for a while. But I found my true passion in the pro bono bankruptcy cases I did helping low-income New Yorkers buried in debt. My first client was a woman from Crown Heights named Linda.  Linda was unemployed and had $40,000 in medical debt from a car accident. I helped Linda file for Chapter 7 and obtain a fresh start. She called me back a year later to share some great news. She had a job, her credit score was 100 points higher, and she was still debt free. She then told me something I’d never forget, “If I hadn’t found you, I’d still be trapped in debt because it costs $2,000 to hire a bankruptcy lawyer and if I had $2,000, I wouldn’t be filing for bankruptcy.” I realized that the people who need access to our bankruptcy courts the most in America are the least able to afford it.  

Jonathan Petts in acton

The bankruptcy process involves lots of data entry and document collection that are ripe for automation. So along with my cofounder Rohan Pavuluri, I founded a tech nonprofit called Upsolve which provides free Chapter 7 bankruptcy help to low-income Americans across the country. Last year, our website helped over 400 Americans get a fresh start, erasing over $16 million in debt from medical illness, job loss, and payday loans. We’ve been lucky to get grant funding for our work from the Robin Hood Foundation, Y Combinator, the Public Welfare Foundation, and other fantastic funders.

I see Upsolve as a small piece of a broader opportunity to democratize access to the law for low-income Americans. The internet has transformed the delivery of most professional services to consumers.  For little to no cost, consumers can use TurboTax to complete personal tax returns, use WebMD to diagnose their medical conditions, or use Khan Academy to learn a new subject. But the internet has brought very little disruption to the delivery of legal services. One lawyer researches, writes and litigates for a single client, who is charged by the hour. The result is 80% of low-income Americans with a legal problem cannot afford to hire lawyer.  In the years to come, I’m excited to see other tech solutions to help low-income Americans solve their legal problems on their own.

CS Radio – Episode 84: “Money Pool”

It may seem like a distant dream, but summer is just around the corner! Students may be facing difficult decisions about taking low-paid or unpaid internships and research opportunities, and while some deadlines have passed, there are still funding opportunities available across the university. Today, Mylene and Michael discuss where you can find them and how quickly you need to act on them. Also: How DID Scrooge McDuck swim through hard currency? Enjoy!

Penn’s Guatemala Health Initiative

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Zabryna Atkinson-Diaz, COL ’19

Signing yourself up for an internship in extremely rural southwestern Guatemala shouldn’t be something done on a whim but after interviewing for Penn’s Guatemala Health Initiative (GHI), that’s where I found myself. GHI is based in a more residential part of Guatemala on a beautiful lake called Lago Atitán, one of Guatemala’s tourist attractions, there students work with an established connection made between Penn and the Hospitalito of Santiago Atitlán to conduct qualitative research based on the issues and needs of the Hopsitalito. And so, after reading about this internship, I applied. In the group interview, they stated that there were not enough spots for everyone being interviewed to go, but that they also had another site that they wanted to start sending students to but had not yet done.

The way they sold the site was not convincing to say the least. They warned that if you went, you would be the only student from Penn, you would be stationed on a compound, with armed guards, barbed wired fences, wouldn’t be able to leave the compound unless you were going out with the nurses during the daytime, and that the weather would be extremely hot and humid. Somehow in my crazy brain that’s what convinced me to pack myself up and go venture to a clinic based on a banana finca (a banana plantation) for 10 weeks of my summer.

I wanted the opportunity to do public health research this summer, and after hearing that not all of us would be able to go to the original site, I volunteered to go to this rural site to gain the experience of conducting research in a global health setting. I was ready, eager, and willing to be the guinea pig for this new site. For me it didn’t matter where you were sending me, only that I could be useful to the community there. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to learn from them because if it’s anything that I’ve learned during my travels is that learning from others and their culture is the most informative and impactful way to learn.

So I packed my bags, flew into Guatemala city and made the 5-6 hour trek through the rocky, pothole filled roads to what would be my home for the next 10 weeks. Now, given what I had been told I had very limited expectations. I am happy to say that my coordinator, overexaggerated greatly and that I not only lived in rural Guatemala but became part of a community.

My experience there taught me not only how to conduct qualitative research in a rural setting, but solidified an entirely new career path that I was unsure of before. Going into the summer I was still unsure of whether I wanted to fully pursue Public Health Research as a career or continue on the pre-med track to becoming a medical doctor. For over 10 years I was certain that becoming a doctor was what I wanted to do with my life, but after being exposed to public health in my academics and another abroad experience, I began to question whether there were other ways to look at health in a more holistic sense that I was far more passionate about. This summer I got to conduct 47 interviews on mental health, the use of alcohol, and alcoholism and came to the realization that this truly is how I want to be involved with health in my career, conducting research in a community setting. If it was not for the Career Services funding I would have never been able to have this opportunity and been more certain in my decision to change my career path. I fell in love with the research that I was doing, the community that I lived in, and the possibility that in some way my work would be able to support their clinic. Far too many people enter foreign countries with a God complex, the idea that they can come in and fix all problems. I hope that my work this summer, and truly believe that it was shaped in a way that I did not come in to fix, but to learn. And the research that I conducted is a product that the clinic itself can use to make their own change as they see fit. I entered this experience expecting to learn, learn skills, learn about culture, a community, but I didn’t realize until it was over just how much I learned about myself.

The LSAT Enters the Digital Age

Mia Carpiniello, Associate Director

After 71 years, LSAT-takers will put down their #2 pencils for good. Starting this summer, the Law School Admission Test will transition from a paper-and-pencil test to a digital exam administered on the Microsoft Surface Go tablet. To familiarize applicants with the digital format, the Law School Admission Council has created a Digital LSAT Tutorial. In addition, there is an extensive list of FAQs about the digital LSAT on LSAC’s website.

When is this High-Tech Change Happening?

The first digital exam will be administered at the July 2019 test when approximately half of test-takers will be assigned the tablet test and half will be assigned the traditional pencil-and-paper test. After July, all exams will be digital.

To accommodate this transition with the July 2019 LSAT, those who take the July test will be given the opportunity to cancel the test after viewing their score. (Normally, you can only cancel a test before receiving a score.) If a July test-taker decides to cancel their score, they may take one additional LSAT through April 2020. Note that as with all cancellations, a July 2019 cancelled score will be reported to the law schools as a cancelled test.

Beginning in September 2019, all LSAT exams administered in North America will be digital.

What About the Writing Sample?

You might be wondering how the writing sample – the unscored, written section of the LSAT – will be affected by this transition to digital format. This section is changing in two ways starting with the June 3, 2019 test – so even before the digital LSAT is introduced. First, as you probably already guessed, the writing section will no longer be hand-written. Test-takers will now type their essays in a secure, online platform. Second, the writing sample will no longer be administered on test day. Instead, test-takers will complete the writing sample on a computer or laptop on their own, up to one year after their LSAT test date. For more information on the writing sample, check out these FAQs.

If you want advice about when to take the LSAT, we’re here to help! Schedule a pre-law advising appointment through Handshake or by calling our office at 215-898-1789.

Getting Up Close and Personal with Beijing

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Kimberly Batista, WH ’20

Kimberly Batista in Beijing

When I first arrived, it seemed neither I nor my coworkers really knew what to expect for this experience but we were aware it would be a learning period for all of us. Without knowing the language, they weren’t sure how much I could offer but I made efforts to showcase my willingness to learn and to contribute. It first started with small editing and proofreading assignments but as I learned more about what the company was involved with, I too asked to be more involved.

As a public relations company, Porter Novelli is involved with many aspects of their clients interactions with the media. One of my coworkers was working on planning an event for Western Digital and I helped brainstorm ideas and set up a detailed proposal. The other was involving a media crisis regarding an action by one international client that caused a negative reaction in the Chinese market so I helped monitor the response and draft a report. Another of my coworkers was in charge of helping to coordinate a conference and accommodate the US delegates that had been invited, amongst them was a former ambassador and the chief operating officer of an entertainment company. As I helped sort out the delegates flight information and created a briefing book for them to have information about the conference, I became interested and asked if I could attend and help make sure things run smoothly. The conference was about small and medium enterprises in China with the goal of growing globally and it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the Chinese business culture and different industries. As a global conference I also got to hear from delegates of other countries and learn more about China’s trade relations. The conference took place at the Beijing Yanqi Lake International Conference Resort and also gave me the opportunity to step outside the center of Beijing and see some of the countryside.

During this time, I also have gotten to grow closer with my coworkers. Although I am the only intern among more seasoned professionals, my coworkers have made efforts to ensure that I feel welcomed and included. I’ve developed mentorship relationships with them and have gotten to hear about their career paths and development, as they’ve offered me advice on discovering and showcasing my strengths and confidence. This has helped me not just in the workplace but also in taking steps to get more involved and adapting to the culture here, giving me the confidence to eat jellyfish, share my personal bubble with people in the packed subway, and hike up the Great Wall. Through all these explorations and new experiences, I can definitely say I’ve gotten up close and personal with Beijing and it has shown me new aspects of myself.