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.

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.