Student Posts

The Inevitable Question of Public Defense

Why public defense is a question that I have heard many times during law school, from various sources. It is the first question in every PD interview, and the most difficult one to answer. It is asked to measure commitment and maturity; my answer has always been difficult to form because it derives from an innate need to do battle with an outrageous criminal justice system, which I find easier to express in action than in words. Family members have asked me the question, usually with frowns as they advise me that I am throwing away everything I have worked hard to earn. College friends counter my answer with wonderment that I could stand next to dangerous criminals.  Fellow law students will sometimes ask how I can represent guilty people, suggest prosecution as an alternative way to make change, or praise me for my goodness.

The truth is that there is no one simple way to answer the question. Yes, there’s an injustice going on in our law system and I cannot just stand by and watch. No, it is not my goodness but my selfish, desperate desire to find meaning in my work. And finding meaning in one’s work varies from person to person. There’s also the timeless challenge of the underdog, of throwing everything that I can muster of my mind and body at a seemingly faceless and massive government bearing down on an individual. It’s thrilling and daunting, and addicting. But, the most important reason of all is the people who I will be representing.

The people I will one day represent will be stripped of their humanity in some way. Classmates have argued that these defendants should not have committed the crime in the first place. But there’s a range of crimes, from the most harmless to the most profane, and yet numbers are still assigned to files, people still hounded by police detectives, jumpsuits made ready for those too poor to make bail. But my clients will be human beings, and that is precisely why there are constitutional protections in the criminal justice system. My clients will all be different from each other, with motivations for making certain decisions.

I had a client last summer who stole the same computer from the same place multiple times. He received prison time. A different client was a young man who attempted to rob a place where he once worked. Everyone said he had a lot of promise, so the judge set aside the jury sentence and imposed probation. I celebrated this decision. The man who stole the computer was the same age, but had clearly shown that he had no promise to change. He was, in fact, mentally disabled, and had taken the computer each time to watch Youtube videos, his way of communicating with the world. I cried when he was sentenced to prison. Both of these men were deserving of mercy, and I want to make sure that next time, both will receive it.


 

Hepler photoTeresa Hepler is a 2L from Gaithersburg, MD.  She studied Classics at University of Maryland and at the University of Chicago.  When she’s not agonizing over criminal injustices, she’s usually indulging in her guilty pleasures of fantasy novels and period dramas, or walking her dog, Frigg (named for a Norse goddess).

Faculty Posts

Service is Living

In addition to my responsibilities as a professor here at UVA, I am co-director of the Law & Public Service Program. It is a position that has given me tremendous satisfaction over the years, principally because it has brought me into contact with an amazing group of inspired and inspiring law students, determined to use their law degrees to promote the common good.

In recent weeks, I’ve grown a bit philosophical about the program, its mission, and why I am drawn to it. And I wanted to take this opportunity to explain my reasons for reflection.

In sixth grade, a teacher gave us a stock assignment—write about the person you most admire. Classmates chose everyone from Gandhi to Joe Montana. My choice was easy. I chose my uncle, Larry Schreiber, a small-town family doctor in Taos, New Mexico. He was a former hippie, who had joined the movement for its values. And he would continue to live by those values long after many of his generation had traded VW vans for BMWs.   He was not just a committed local physician willing to provide medical care for firewood; he traveled the world with the Red Cross, providing treatment to refugees and other victims of humanitarian crises. And, ultimately, it was not enough for him merely to reach out to others; he felt compelled to draw them in, so he adopted ten children, several of whom had special needs.   In total, he would come to father fourteen children. And, if that were not enough, he co-founded Child-Rite, a nonprofit committed to helping other families adopt special-needs children.

Larry Schreiber died last month, following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease and a short time after suffering a stroke. His hometown remembered him with a standing-room-only memorial and a touching front-page obituary in the Taos News.

Even more fitting to my uncle’s DIY nature, handmade signs appeared all over town, honoring him as a local hero.

bowers postAt his memorial, cards were distributed, inscribed with his favorite quotation, by Marian Wright Edelman: “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.” It is a beautiful and true sentiment, and I can’t help but tear up when reading it. But I think it’s not quite complete. What I learned from my uncle is not only that service is a debt we owe to ourselves and to each other for living, but also that service is living—perhaps in its highest form.

I’ll use a tangent to explain what I mean (which my students can attest is my unfortunate pedagogical propensity). Ironically, my uncle and I bonded in recent years not over a shared commitment to public service but over a shared passion for hiking, snowshoeing, skiing—over a mutual love for mountains and daring adventures among them. My wife’s favorite memory of my uncle is from a short hike we took two summers ago. It was an area my uncle knew well, right near his home. We started out with a storm brewing and night approaching. After twenty minutes—with lightning striking nearby—my uncle announced, merrily, that we were utterly lost. We waded through thorns and brambles as the thunder claps grew frighteningly loud (in tandem with my wife’s rising panic). All the while, my uncle kept smiling and cheerfully chatting away.

In retrospect, I honestly believe my uncle wanted to get lost. He wanted something different. He wanted to get off the beaten path. He wanted to take a risk. And he wanted the rest of us to take a risk. Upon reflection, I have come to find a harmony in two seemingly distinct aspects of the man’s personality. There was the humanitarian, and there was the adventurer. There was the doctor and father who served, and there was the free spirit who abandoned New York City for the wilds of rural New Mexico, who hiked across the Himalayas and to the top of Kilimanjaro (even after Parkinson’s had taken a toll).   My uncle intuited that genuine service and genuine living are both risks. You cannot serve without risk, and you cannot live without risk. Service is risk, and risk is living. And so, in its own way, service is living.

Any law student can attest that there is a well-trod and relatively smooth path to private law and a windier and rougher path to a public-interest job. I’ve come to believe that the purpose of the Law & Public Service Program is to help students find and navigate the rougher path. Very few of us have my uncle’s innate fortitude—the ability and passion to throw ourselves headlong into the brambles. He recognized this, and so he formed Child-Rite to develop a community to help others adopt special-needs children. In the same vein, we have formed the Law & Public Service Program to develop a community to help each other prepare for public-interest legal careers.

Still, the need remains sometimes to take the big risk. And so I hope the program will also prepare our students—if and when the time comes—to head off alone into uncharted territory. To travel up to the point of the hike where there’s no path left—and then push on.


_f3b6464_bowers_select_originalJosh Bowers, in addition to being a F. Palmer Weber Professor of Law, is one of the co-directors for the Law and Public Service Program.  His teaching and research interests focus on criminal law, criminal procedure, criminal justice theory, and constitutional law. Professor Bowers attended New York University School of Law and then went on to clerk for Judge Dennis Jacobs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  He practiced law as an associate for Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason & Silberberg P.C., a boutique white-collar criminal defense firm, and also as a staff attorney for the Bronx Defenders, a community-based public defender organization.  Before joining the faculty at UVA Law, he was a Bigelow Fellow at the University of Chicago School of Law.

 

 

 

 

 

Student Posts

Justice Scalia and Public Service

A year ago, I attended a lunch where Justice Antonin Scalia gave the keynote address to celebrate the Legal Services Corporation’s 50th anniversary. His thoughts that day echoed a theme that I’ve heard throughout my time in the Law and Public Service Program:

The American ideal is not for some justice. It is, as the pledge of allegiance says, “Liberty and justice for all”; or as the Supreme Court pediment has it, “equal justice.” I’ve always thought that’s somewhat redundant. Can there be justice if it is not equal? Can there be a just society when some do not have justice? Equality – equal treatment – is perhaps the most fundamental element of justice.

As law students, we enjoy the benefits of those who fought for equal justice. Historical figures like Charles Hamilton Houston, who engineered the strategy to desegregate law schools as the first stone in the road to Brown v. Board, or Belva Lockwood who lobbied Congress to pass an anti-discrimination law to allow women to practice in federal courts. They opened the door, giving us access to the most important tools for navigating society and protecting our rights.

That legacy comes with a responsibility. As soon-to-be lawyers, we will have a capacity to be useful for so many who need our services. Not that the LPS community needs me to say this – I am humbled everyday by my colleagues who do so much for so many even as they balance all the rigors of law school. I only say this because I think about it constantly, especially as I plan to head off into the world of big law. I’ve viewed my time in the LPS program as more than just finding a community of like-minded students, but as making a promise to try to do what I can to ensure equal access and equal justice for others wherever I am in my legal career.

Justice Scalia will be known for more than just his blistering wit and fiery dissents. He dedicated his life to public service, and to bringing a coherence to the law that he saw as vital to the preservation of our constitutional democracy. Although he often disagreed with many civil rights lawyers who brought their cases to the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia was a model public servant. I aspire to have even a modicum of his energy and passion over my career, and will always think the world is better off for having had him in it.


 

haymond_headshot  copyMonica Haymond is a third-year law student from Pasadena, California. After graduating in 2010 from the University of California in Davis, she spent three years doing everything from computer programming to retail to pension law. Next year she’ll be working for Gibson Dunn in Washington, D.C.

Student Posts

Keeping an Open Mind

I’ve always been impressed and a bit jealous of people who know exactly what they want to do. A quick glance through the posts on this blog offers clear examples of this – law students who know that they want to be a prosecutor, a public defender, a member of the JAG corps, and so on and so forth. Such conviction and purpose is inspiring. Yet if my past is any indication, I probably won’t figure out what I want to be doing until I find myself doing and enjoying it.

Similar to many of the students who have already posted here, much of my work experience in the law has been with the Legal Aid Justice Center. I genuinely enjoy this work, as it has allowed me to provide a service to clients in need while allowing me opportunity after opportunity to develop my own skills, yet I had no idea prior to law school that this is something I would like.

The majority of my work at LAJC has been in the area of consumer law. If you had asked 0L Ryan whether he was interested in consumer law, his response would likely have been “What is that?” Once you explained it to him, his answer likely would have been a resolute, “No.” If you ask the current 2L Ryan whether he’s interested in consumer law, he’ll give an enthusiastic yes and then probably try and debate you about the FDCPA’s (Fair Debt Collections Practices Act) definition of “debt collector.” 2L Ryan is super fun at parties.

I came to law school to study national security law, yet my current path is leading me in a radically different direction. Plans change, and there’s power in being okay with that change. I didn’t plan on working in consumer law, but now I’m incredibly thankful that I applied for the internship that exposed me to that area of law and for the clinic work that allows me to continue serving clients. I also didn’t plan on interning at a big law firm, but that’s where I’m headed this summer. While service-minded folk debate the merits of spending time in big law, it’s a decision that ultimately you have to make for yourself.

The point here isn’t to convince you to study consumer law (but you should – it’s super cool) or to weigh in on the big law discussions. The point is to advocate for keeping an open mind. Have the conversations about alternate career paths, alternate courses, and alternative locations. Maybe you come out of the conversations with the same convictions you had going into them. Or maybe, if you’re anything like me, you’ll see merit in careers/courses/locations that you hadn’t previously considered. It all starts with a commitment to keeping an open mind, even if you feel like you’re surrounded by people who seem to have it all figured out.


Headshot

Ryan Pavel is a 2L and is originally from a Chicago suburb. Ryan served in the Marine Corps and taught high school in Detroit prior to law school. These days, you can likely find Ryan wailin’ on bass as part of the law school cover band, Jefferson Clerkship.

Student Posts

Inspired by Pro Bono at a Big Firm

This past summer, I worked at a large law firm that does corporate transactional work. While I did devote some of my time during the summer to working on corporate or finance matters, at the end of the summer I realized that the majority of my time had actually been spent on pro bono matters. In particular, I spent a lot of my time last summer working on two immigration cases: one Asylum case and one Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) case.

Asylum cases are applications made to lawfully stay in the United States due to fear of persecution in the applicant’s home country based on factors such as the applicant’s race, religion, or political opinion. These cases involve showing that the applicant has been persecuted in the past and/or has credible fear of persecution in the future based on one of the protected grounds — essentially that the applicant will not be safe if forced to return to their home country due to, for example, political opinion, which could be something like opposing an authoritarian regime in the home country.

SIJS cases serve to reunite immigrant children with their family members in the United States. These are essentially a hybrid of a family law case and an immigration case. The family law component involves showing that the child has been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents or caretakers in their home country, followed by a showing that someone who is currently in the United States, such as a brother or sister, is willing to take on the responsibility of caring for the child. After the family law showing has been made, an immigration application can be filed for lawful status in the United States.

Working on these cases was deeply rewarding and provided the opportunity to really take ownership over a case. There is ample opportunity for client contact in immigration cases because multiple client interviews are necessary to get all of the information required to draft the legal memos and other documents that will be submitted with the application. In addition to interviewing clients, I drafted the documents that would actually be submitted with the applications. I found immigration to be interesting intellectually, but it was an especially rewarding practice because of its deeply personal nature. I was inspired to take an immigration law class this semester to learn more about this area of law.

I did not expect to find to a passion for a new field within public service during my summer at a big corporate law firm, but I am so glad that I did. Spending time on pro bono during the summer was not only interesting and rewarding, but also enhanced my experience at the firm in general. Through incorporating pro bono into my work, I developed relationships with more of the attorneys at the firm, particularly the pro bono coordinator from my office. Although I know that I will not be able to spend the majority of my time on pro bono once I start at the firm full-time, the connections I made and the experience I got on these two cases over the summer have prepared me to be able to incorporate immigration pro bono work into my practice right from the start of my career.


Michelle S

Michelle Synhorst is a 3L from Tucson, Arizona. She studied history at Rice University and will be returning to Houston to start at a law firm following graduation.

Pro Bono, Student Posts

Excitement and Joy from Winter Pro Bono

Using the majority of my winter break to engage in a pro bono project was a wonderful experience, and I certainly do not regret walking two blocks in the cold to the South Carolina House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.  This was the ultimate way to combine my interests in public policy, public service, and the law.  As a first-year law student who just finished his first semester, I was apprehensive and nervous to use my developing legal skills around seasoned attorneys.  However, these doubts quickly disappeared when I received my assignments, sought to produce quality work, and worked to represent UVA Law to my fullest potential.

In October, I started considering different winter pro bono projects.  Criminal defense?  Prosecution?  Legal aid?  The list goes on and on.  Fortunately, the realization of attorneys in the legislative context resonated with me one evening.  I quickly called my friend and mentor, Representative Walt McLeod, about working for the Judiciary Committee within the South Carolina House of Representatives.  He spoke with the Chief General Counsel to the Judiciary Committee on my behalf, and I then followed up accordingly.  My winter pro bono project was secured by mid-November.

At 8:40 a.m., Monday through Friday, I walked two blocks to the South Carolina State House.  I decided to treat this experience as a job for almost three weeks.  Upon my arrival, I was shocked at the sheer volume of work and the range of topics assigned to the Judiciary Committee.  It has exclusive authority over constitutional law, criminal law, election law, family law, and other impactful areas.  The Chief General Counsel was my direct supervisor, which enabled me to learn directly from an accomplished lawyer.

My assignments included three legal memorandums on the following topics:  laser pointers, drones or unmanned aircraft systems, and gerrymandering.  It was challenging to gather information on these topics because they are all relatively novel.  Be that as it may, these documents required me to explain and research administrative regulations, case law, federal statutes, and state statues.  In addition, each memorandum included recommendations for how the Judiciary Committee could address the issue in the future.  It was humbling to have a direct say in improving the laws of my state.  This experience provided with me insight into the creation of laws within the marketplace of ideas, and more importantly, nurtured my own quest for knowledge and understanding of public policy.

Unlike Capitol Hill, there are not majority or minority staff attorneys in the South Carolina Legislature.  The lawyers on the House Judiciary Committee assist all of the state lawmakers, regardless of party.  This makes them the ultimate public servants because they serve members without reference to ideology, political party, or viewpoint.  They simply serve people.  Yes, it was cool to meet numerous state legislators.  Yes, it was exciting to sit directly on the floor of the South Carolina House of Representatives.  I, however, found much more joy in knowing that my winter pro bono project may possibly improve the lives of South Carolinians.

Winter pro bono gives you the chance to gain vital experience, but to also make a difference.  Do it, you won’t regret it.


 

@JonFlemingPhotographyJosh Myers is a first-year law student from Little Mountain, South Carolina.  He graduated in 2015 from James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA) with a B.M. in Cello Performance and B.A. in Political Science.  During his undergraduate career, he worked as an admissions counselor, congressional intern, and non-profit assistant.  Josh hopes to pursue a law career within a federal agency or as a prosecutor.  When not hitting the law school books, he enjoys cooking, embracing his southern roots, and running.

Student Posts

Pros and Cons of Split Summers

Last summer (my 1L summer) I split my time between two different sections at the Department of Justice.  For the first half of the summer, I worked in the Federal Programs Branch defending various executive and agency programs (like State Department regulations related to 3D printing of weapons).  In the second half, I moved over to the Antitrust Division where I investigated anticompetitive conduct by various airlines and corporate farmers.  There were both pros and cons in splitting my summer; I hope these observations help if you are considering splitting your summer.

First, splitting my summer allowed me to see two different types of public service and two different sets of offices.  Going into the summer I was equally excited about both offices, but I didn’t know anything about the differences in culture in each office.  For example, “Fed Programs” had many attorneys who had bounced back and forth between public service and private practice.  These attorneys had developed generalized civil litigation skills that were widely applicable across contexts.  Alternatively, at Antitrust I worked with many more people who had spent their whole career in the Division and had developed very specialized areas of expertise (for example, competition in the airline industry).  Splitting my summer allowed me to pick up on these differences, and many other nuances that I couldn’t learn in any other way.

Second, by splitting I met more mentors than I would have been able to otherwise.  Each division had a separate intern program, where I was assigned a mentor and had the opportunity to meet attorneys at all levels of the division.  This has already been immensely helpful – as I’ve talked with many of these attorneys as I have applied for 2L summer jobs and clerkships.  These experienced attorneys have given me invaluable advice and will continue to be great mentors as I begin my legal career.

However, there are important downsides to splitting a summer.  The first, and most important, is that it isn’t possible to go as deep into your work as you would be able to if you spent the whole summer at one place.  After getting to my second half, I realized people who had been there longer already were way ahead of me in their institutional knowledge and trust of the attorneys.  Of course, you can partially overcome this by working hard and proactively getting to know the other attorneys.  Going into the summer I didn’t have a preference for one office over the other, and so I was more than happy to make this trade, but if there is one office that you know you want to end up in I would recommend spending the whole summer there.

Another potential problem with splitting summers is that it can make a hectic time even busier.  During this past summer I was applying for clerkships and going through the OGI process, and splitting my summer meant that I worked from the Monday after finals to the Friday before OGI.  It certainly would have been nice to have more time to work on applications, but on the whole I was willing to work harder in the short term in order to be exposed to two wonderful public service offices.

 


WadeJoshua Wade is a 2L hailing from the bustling metropolis of Winchester, VA. Josh also attended UVA for undergrad and is trying to figure out how to live in Charlottesville his whole life. Josh is currently spending his non-law school brain power thinking about the beauty of small communities and how they function in both urban and rural environments.