John C. Jeffries, Jr. ’73
This issue of UVA Lawyer highlights the Law School’s commitment to public service. To my mind that commitment has three aspects.
First, we encourage our students to engage in pro bono activities while they are here. Specifically, the Pro Bono Project, which operates out of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center, asks students to volunteer 25 hours each year to projects of their own choosing. The total number of hours volunteered annually is well north of 10,000. Projects range from civil rights to constitutional law to disability, environmental law, first amendment problems, and mental health.
An important addition to the pro bono opportunities of our students is the Law School’s partnership with Hunton & Williams. In that partnership, Hunton & Williams lawyers and student volunteers work together to provide free legal services to low-income Charlottesville residents with problems in the areas of immigration and domestic relations. Hunton & Williams paid to renovate office space for the project and employs a full-time lawyer to direct it. The Law School contributes the energies of its students and the time of Kimberly Emery, Assistant Dean for Pro Bono and Co-Director of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center. As a result of this partnership, Virginia students have the opportunity to engage in important public service under the guidance of knowledgeable and experienced lawyers. For them, it is both a giving and a learning experience.
Second, we have made major commitments to enabling our students to pursue public service careers after graduation. The key here is loan forgiveness. Students who graduate with large debts—as most of today’s students do—cannot take low-paying public service jobs unless they get help with their loans. We provide that help in the form of loan forgiveness for graduates engaged in full-time public service whose incomes do not allow them to meet current repayment obligations. This program is not cheap. This year alone, the Law School Foundation will provide over $400,000 to defray the loan repayment obligations of recent graduates engaged in public service. The expense is great, but loan forgiveness is absolutely necessary for our students who seek to enter public service employment.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we emphasize public service not merely as a full-time career choice that some students may make, but as a lifelong commitment for all Virginia graduates. One of the glories of the legal profession is the array of opportunities it provides for public service from the private sector. Lawyers are born leaders. They naturally become involved in all sorts of civic organizations, charitable activities, educational institutions, advisory boards, and commissions, as well as a variety of professional organizations. One of the messages we celebrate at Virginia is that a lawyer doesn’t have to be employed in the public sector to make a contribution to the public interest. On the contrary, we see public service as a commitment to which all Virginia graduates should aspire. Fortunately, our students have the example of our alumni to show the many ways this can be done. A few examples of the many Virginia graduates making outstanding contributions to public service are profiled in the pages that follow. We hope their stories will be of interest to you, as well as a source of inspiration for our students.