Pro Bono, Student Posts

Winter Break Pro Bono

This post is less a “how to” and more a celebration of the incredible support that the public interest students receive from the faculty and staff from the Law School.

My home is in Los Angeles, California—and it was a universe away from the frenetic and cloistered world of first semester 1L. Knowing that I wanted to try out some pro bono work during the winter break, I had attempted contacting legal aid providers in the greater LA area with little success. Many places could not accommodate a volunteer for so short a time period. By the time I was trained, I would be heading back to Virginia. (A problem that the local law school students didn’t have.)

Either by pure happenstance or divine intervention, the Vice President of Public Counsel—the largest pro bono organization in America headquartered in Los Angeles—Paul Freese came to speak at UVA. Except, he came during a time period when I had class. After expressing my concern to Josh Bowers, one of the Directors of the Law and Public Service Program, he set up a coffee meeting between me and Mr. Freese during a time that worked with my schedule. Within two minutes of my meeting, I had a winter pro bono job! (I imagine if this opportunity wouldn’t have worked out, Professor Bowers would have made sure I found something.)

In January I worked on a research project regarding homeless veterans in Los Angeles County, which has the largest population of veterans in the entire United States. I spoke to legal aid providers across the city, asking them for anecdotal and empirical information regarding the legal needs of veterans in the area. I spoke to great legal aid providers, and through it, was able to network with people from all sorts of public interest jobs in LA. My final project was sent to Mayor Eric Garcetti and was used by the newly formed Mayor’s Office of Veteran Affairs.

My story is no aberration. The team behind winter break pro bono is extremely supportive. If you find a legal project (or organization) that interests you, it is very easy to get pro bono credit during winter break. You only need the project to be of a legal interest and have an attorney supervisor. Once you find the right place for you, simply have your supervisor fill out a simple form. You then log the hours that you work through UVA’s GoodWorks program. That’s it. If you have any questions or problems, anybody in the Public Service Program will be more than happy to help you.

Burk photoJosh Burk is a 3L from Los Angeles, California.  He spent his 1L summer working for the Office of the Attorney General of California in the Consumer Law Section where he worked on high-profile litigation cases against major financial institutions (and their bad acts).  Josh is a proud member of the Law and Public Service Program and is also a serious nerd.  He reads for class for fun.

Student Posts

The Path to JAG

Students pursuing a public-interest career often face many hurdles. Uncertainty is one of them: the process to find a public-interest job is generally more ill-defined than the well-worn path to law firm jobs.

Thankfully, there’s at least one public interest career that offers the chance to serve others with your law degree, but doesn’t leave you guessing on how to find a job. I’m talking about Judge Advocate positions with the U.S. military. While the application process and standards are rigorous, the path to a Judge Advocate General (JAG) career is well-defined, though it varies greatly from branch to branch.

While I had thought about military service before, I seriously became interested in military law after I came to UVA. UVA is right next to the U.S. Army’s JAG School, which not only trains military lawyers in the Army, but also offers programs for military lawyers from all the other branches, and from some other countries as well. As a UVA student, you can take classes in the JAG school. Students can also take advantage of longstanding partnerships between the JAG school and UVA Law’s moot court and trial advocacy teams.

The people I met at the JAG School greatly influenced my decision to join the Marine Corps. I learned about the different types of work that Judge Advocates focus on, including prosecution and defense work during court martials, operational law, and legal aid. Most judge advocates get immediate exposure to clients and the courtroom. I also learned about each branch’s unique culture. The Marine Corps, for example, emphasize being a Marine first and a lawyer second. That ethos appealed to me, and it’ll give me the opportunity to train alongside officers who will lead in all aspects of warfare.

Regardless of the branch, Judge Advocates have the privilege of serving those who serve our country. I can’t imagine a better opportunity than that.

AshwinAshwin Shandilya is a third-year law student, originally from New Market, MD. A second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve, he graduated in 2010 from the University of Pennsylvania.

Student Posts

Far from Bored

There is a popular phrase used to summarize law school: “The first year they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death.” On top of that, I have heard countless times about how law school does not prepare you for actual legal practice.

As I entered my third year of law school, I was determined to break out of this mold. I was not going to spend the final nine months of law school being “bored to death” wondering when I would learn the practical skills needed to be a lawyer. This conundrum seemed particularly acute because, unlike many of my peers, I will not be joining a law firm after graduation. Following my clerkship, I will be joining the United States Navy JAG Corps. I will not have time to write memos while I learn from law firm partners. As a JAG officer, I will be expected to practice law right away.

My first thought was to join a clinic. UVA has plenty of great clinics covering numerous practice areas, everything from consumer protection to Supreme Court litigation. Because JAGs spend a significant amount of their time handling criminal law matters, the prosecution or defense clinics seemed like natural choices. However, I was torn because Navy JAG officers are tasked with the unique job of being both prosecutors and defense attorneys within their first two years.

I did not want to choose between prosecution and defense, so I decided to do both.

By doing a pair of externships rather than a clinic, I am able to gain practical experience in both prosecution and defense. During the fall semester I am working for the Lynchburg Public Defender, and next semester I plan to work for a local prosecutor. Thanks to my Third Year Practice Certificate, I am able to get actual courtroom experience that will be invaluable as I begin my career as a Navy JAG officer—both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney. In just a few short weeks, I have handled bail hearings, negotiated plea agreements, and taken a few cases to trial. There is a steep learning curve, and the work can be hectic at times, but I am learning firsthand how to practice law while helping others in the process.

It is safe to say that my third year is not “boring me to death.”

Greg Rustico is a 3L originally from Middletown, New York. After graduating from Notre Dame in 2011, he spent two years teaching middle school Social Studies and Language Arts in Brownsville, Texas. Following his graduation, Greg will be clerking for the Honorable Judge Norman K. Moon on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

Student Posts

The Job Hunt Roller Coaster

No one really likes applying for jobs. You’re constantly sending little parts of yourself into the world via cover letters and resumes and hoping that a few organizations decide they like you enough to give you an interview. Then if you make it to the interview round, you stress about hiding your flaws for a day while convincing the organization that you’ve always wanted to work for them. While you’ll get offers from some, you’ll also be rejected by others. It’s a roller coaster of emotion – whether you apply in the private or public sector.

Then if you’re like me and made the choice to only work in the public sector, there’s the added stress and pressure. Your friends all have jobs by the time you’re getting interviews. The timeline isn’t as specific as the private sector. And then you’re constantly reminded that you’re going to be making no money – literally no money your 2L summer and then very little money at the beginning of your career. Cue the exhaustion.

So why do it? Why put myself through the extra stress?

I didn’t come to law school to be a lawyer. I came to law school because I want to change the world. Specifically, I want to be a civil rights and human rights prosecutor…and some other things. But the point is I came here with a very specific goal and to reach that goal I decided to not work in the private sector for the beginning of my career. I have a huge amount of respect for my friends and classmates who do take those jobs. Their skill sets and perspectives are invaluable. But for me, I don’t think that work will help me reach my goals faster. So I hold on a little tighter as I ride the job search roller coaster, and I remind myself of why I came here in the first place.

My apartment is filled with photos from around the world. The faces in the photos remind me that each person has a story and that each person has the right to live her story free from the oppression of others. I want to use the skills that I have to protect those rights. So I remember the stories, and then I send out more resumes.

StricklandAmber Strickland is a 2L from Centreville, Virginia. After spending four years experiencing small town America in the cornfields of Ohio for undergrad, she joined the fight to end bonded labor in India while interning with International Justice Mission. When not reading for class, Amber loves trying out new recipes and frequenting Charlottesville’s many local coffee shops.