Duvall Named Hunton & Williams Pro Bono Fellow
Third-year law student Kate Duvall’s commitment to public-interest law was cemented when she worked during her first-year summer for the U.S attorney’s office in Charlottesville. Defendants or their significant others frequently brought their children into the courtroom to watch proceedings, and she often saw the kids crying, not understanding why the judge was locking up their parent.
“Seeing those kids in that situation made me really want to work with children—and families in a broader sense—to show them the legal system wasn’t out to get them,” Duvall said. “A lot of these cases involve good people who just made mistakes.”
Duvall, who has already spent countless hours helping children and families with legal issues during her law school career, has been awarded the Hunton & Williams Pro Bono Fellowship, a two-year salaried position that will allow her to pursue the legal career she’s always wanted.
“I don’t know what shape I would have been in if I didn’t get the fellowship,” said Duvall. “It’s really the ideal job for me. It’s everything I’m interested in doing—it’s with family law, it’s in the courts.”
In her fellowship, Duvall will spend time working at the Central Virginia Legal Aid office and will help walk-in clients who can’t afford an attorney through the firm’s Richmond office in Church Hill, the city’s oldest and poorest neighborhood. Four of the six fellowships Hunton & Williams has offered since the program’s inception have been held by U.Va. law students, although students from multiple states apply for the honor each year. Duvall follows in the footsteps of Angela Caldwell ’04, who also held the Richmond fellowship. The firm offers a similar fellowship position in its Atlanta office.
“Kate’s record was outstanding, especially her volunteer efforts at Legal Aid in Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, and Richmond. When we talked to her we could tell she had the absolute passion to do exactly the kind of work our pro bono fellow does,” said Hunton & Williams pro bono partner George Hettrick, who also coordinates the firm’s pro bono partnership with the Law School. “We really are trying to encourage law students to pursue public interest law careers. There are not many job opportunities out there in this field.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree from U.Va. in 2001, Duvall worked as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., (ironically at Hunton & Williams) before deciding to apply to law school. Although she initially didn’t have specific plans for her life as an attorney, public service and pro bono work soon became one of her most engaging extracurricular activities at the Law School.
“I sort of dived headfirst into it and have not re-emerged,” Duvall said of her interest in public-interest work, serving in her first year as a volunteer for the Rape Crisis Advocacy Project (RCAP). She became RCAP’s community liaison the following year, at a time when U.Va.’s policies on sexual assault cases were under fire. “The University really considered RCAP’s recommendations and took them to heart,” said Duvall, who now serves as RCAP’s treasurer.
Last summer she worked in the Fredericksburg public defender’s office, where she spent much of her time defending juveniles in court with the help of a Third-Year Practice Certificate, which allows students in their final year of law school to represent clients in court with the supervision of a practicing attorney. In the last month of the summer she worked in Richmond with the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren program.
This year Duvall volunteered for the Hunton & Williams pro bono partnership with the Law School, working alongside several other students and attorneys on custody and divorce cases for victims of domestic violence. In its first year, the partnership represented clients in more than 30 domestic violence cases and five asylum cases, and volunteers have counseled countless more area residents.
“I really crave projects—I always have—public service projects where you can help people in person, rather than just donating money,” Duvall said. “The Hunton & Williams project has been a really unique opportunity to meet the people you’re representing and help them with their case.”
In the yearlong Child Advocacy Clinic, Duvall has been “working to ensure that children’s rights are being protected—that they’re getting recreation and the education they have a right to in juvenile correctional centers.” She and fellow students will also be representing teens in their upcoming commitment review hearings.
Duvall has also worked with other law students to start a new student organization that addresses an issue close to her heart. “We really want to focus on pro bono work and bringing attention to children’s legal issues,” she said. As part of the organization, she hopes to implement a program where teams of students would be on call to fulfill practicing attorneys’ research requests, as well as have student members conduct interviews in juvenile cases at the public defender’s office.
In addition to a salary, the fellowship offers $10,000 in loan forgiveness in each of the two years, and Duvall may also qualify for the Law School’s Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program, which pays loans for students in low-paying public service positions. “Loans are a significant deterrent to students seeking public service jobs,” she said. “Having that as a bonus to your salary is just awesome.”
Duvall’s new job will be a homecoming of sorts. She was born and raised in Richmond and now will work there, but still plans to live in Charlottesville because her husband is opening a restaurant, Eppie’s, on the Downtown Mall.
• Reported by M. Wood