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Posted Feb. 17, 2010

Leading Child Advocate Andrew Block to Join Law School Faculty

Andy Block

Andrew Block, a leading advocate for children’s rights in Virginia and a lecturer at the Law School, will join the faculty full-time in August.

“I’ve seen firsthand the amazing work that UVA law students and young lawyers can do, and the opportunity to work more closely with these students — to create more chances for them to learn and acquire new skills — is a hard one to pass up,” said Block, who has supervised many law students as an instructor in the Child Advocacy Clinic over the years. “My own clinical experience as a law student continues to play a critical role in the work I do today. Coming to the Law School full-time is a way to pay that forward.”

Block, currently director of the JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) in Charlottesville, will expand his current role in the Child Advocacy Clinic to teaching the seminar component and supervising eight students. He said he also is excited to be a part of the school’s new Program in Law and Public Service, where he will teach a course in public interest advocacy skills.

“The class will expose students to the kinds of skills and tools they need to be effective in their careers,” he said. “To help students pursue their passion in public interest law is something that I’ve long been interested in. I am looking forward to the opportunity to do this on a full-time basis.”

Professor Jim Ryan, director of the Program in Law and Public Service, said Block would be a valuable addition to the Law School and to the program.

“Andy is enormously talented, has a wealth of experience and a sterling reputation, and has unparalleled energy and passion for his work,” Ryan said. “I am especially pleased that Andy will be working with the students in the law and public service program and that, because of Andy, we will be able to add to that program a course in public interest advocacy skills."

Block, a Northwestern Law School graduate, received a Soros Justice Fellowship to start a child advocacy project at LAJC in 1998. Since then, the JustChildren Program has expanded to include 10 staff in Charlottesville, Richmond and Petersburg, in addition to numerous law student volunteers over the years.

 “Working at LAJC has been amazing and a real eye-opener in terms of all the needs that all kinds of young people have, but also all the different ways that lawyers can provide assistance to vulnerable children,” Block said.

In addition to representing low-income children, helping them access education, mental health, health care and other social services, Block has worked at LAJC to advance children’s rights through the Virginia legislature and litigation. Under Block’s leadership, JustChildren’s policy advocacy accomplishments, often with the help of UVA law students, include helping to ban the use of out-of-school suspensions for truancy, increasing state funding for preschool, and the passage of legislation protecting the educational opportunities for children in foster care.

“During my years at Legal Aid and at JustChildren, the scope of my interest expanded beyond the needs of young people involved in the delinquency system to looking also at what lawyers can do to create protective opportunities for children, such as access to preschool, that will help them stay on the right track and have greater chances for success,” he said.

Block has received numerous awards for his work at LAJC, include the Virginia Bar Association’s Robert E. Shepherd Award for Excellence in Child Advocacy  in 2009, the Virginia State Bar Association’s Virginia Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year in 2007, and the American Bar Association Young Lawyer’s Division Child Advocacy Award in 2005.

Block’s interest in child advocacy began after graduating from Yale University, when he taught for a year in a remote rural village in Kenya. Following that experience, he led wilderness trips for kids in New Mexico’s state correctional system and state mental health system.

“One of the things that all that work led me to believe is that young people need second chances. They need opportunities to learn from their mistakes and not be written off because of a single bad decision,” he said. “Some kids have the opportunities to make mistakes, some kids have lots of support, but for other kids, one bad decision and the bottom falls out.”

He decided to go to law school. “I thought that going to law school to create more protections and second chances for at-risk children seemed both compelling and something I ought to do.”

In his own clinic experience at Northwestern, he represented kids in special education and youth at risk of getting transferred to the adult prison system. Between law school and joining LAJC, Block worked as a Seattle-King County Public Defender, where he focused most of his time on representing juvenile offenders.   

Block said he hopes he can help students understand the many ways they can contribute in public service jobs.

“Everyone comes to law school with different skill sets, but the beauty of the law is that it rewards excellence in lots of different areas,” he said. “Part of what I hope both the new class and the clinic will accomplish is to help students match up their talents and interests with a career path that makes sense.”

Block said he is leaving his position at LAJC in good hands; Law School graduate Angela Ciolfi ’03, who joined the Legal Aid Justice Center in 2004 as a Law School Powell Fellow, will take over as director of the program.

“I am thrilled that she is going to be taking over. She is incredibly smart and hardworking and passionate about our work and our clients, and JustChildren will be in very good hands under her leadership,” Block said.

“One of the great things about this position is that while it’s really sad to be leaving LAJC and a place that has obviously meant a lot to me, being director of the Child Advocacy Clinic will still provide many opportunities to stay connected.”