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.
Josh 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.