Law and Public Service Program Welcomes First Class of 25
First-year law student Kate Reynolds picked up more than fluency in Russian and Kazakh when she volunteered for the Peace Corps before law school. Though she’d never led her own classroom before, teaching English to Kazakh students and teachers set her on a path to realize her passion for education law.
“When I came home, I began substitute teaching in the school corporation I was educated in, and that’s when my focus shifted from doing international human rights to education law, so now I’m trying to combine both of them.”
Reynolds is one of 25 law students who make up the first class to enter the Law School’s new Program in Law and Public Service, which offers students faculty mentors, guaranteed funding for summer public service jobs and access to seminars relating to public service law.
Led by Professor Jim Ryan, the program is open to 20 first-year and five second-year law students selected each year through an application process. Ryan and Professors Jon Cannon, Rich Balnave and Risa Goluboff served on this year’s selection committee.
“We were blown away by the strength and quality of the applications,” Ryan said. “To say that it was a competitive process is an understatement. It was difficult to make selections, but it was also inspiring to read about the experiences, commitment and passion of the students.”
The program’s first participants have served in the Peace Corps, the FBI and AmeriCorps. They’ve worked at home and abroad on five continents, are fluent in numerous foreign languages, and have long resumes in volunteer and paid public service positions, including many related to law. The students also draw on a variety of personal experiences that led them to want to help others, from witnessing famine to working with crime victims.
Reynolds, who turned down a Peace Corps assignment in Latin America in favor of working in Kazakhstan because she already spoke Spanish and wanted to learn another language, has been a long-term volunteer in a variety of programs, from Habitat for Humanity to AmeriCorps to the 4-H Club. While working in Kazakhstan she witnessed human rights abuses when she met women who had been bride-napped, combated pessimism about starting a youth summer camp and enjoyed teaching her host family’s children the meaning behind American pop music lyrics.
Reynolds applied to law school while still abroad, and at Virginia has already become steady volunteer for a local child advocacy group. She said she was excited to join the Law and Public Service Program.
“I felt like it was serendipitous that I came to UVA right at this time,” she said. “Everyone in the program is just outstanding — I can’t believe what kind of company I’m in. I feel like we’re going to take over the world and make it better.”
First-year law student and program participant Manu Balachandran got his first taste of working for the public good while in college at the University of North Carolina.
State lawmakers had suggested that a new law to disclose one-time gifts to congressmen only account for gifts worth more than $1,000 and had resisted calls to disclose smaller amounts. Balachandran, then an intern for the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying Reform, researched standards in other states and found the average disclosure law was much lower — about $90 for Southeastern states. The coalition presented the research to lawmakers the evening he finished his report.
“Immediately they capitulated because they realized how ridiculous they were being,” he said. “It’s the fastest I’ve ever seen government work.”
Balachandran, who launched his legal career in public service over winter break working for the public defender for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said he thinks the program will be helpful for those, like him, who don’t have lawyers already in the family.
“The thing that really impressed me about the program was the system of mentors and alumni they set you up in contact with,” he said. “Having information and a support system like that is really helpful for someone like me.”
Princeton graduate Vivian Kim, a first-year law student, said she welcomed the idea of joining a community of like-minded students. Kim said she always wanted to go into public service, but became interested in law while interning for the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit in Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office.
“Law is a concrete, practical way to go about serving victims of crimes and people who can’t represent themselves,” Kim said.
After college Kim worked for the Sex Crimes Unit of the New York County District Attorney’s Office, where after a year she was promoted from trial preparation assistant to investigative analyst. She also served as a Sex Offender Registration Act coordinator.
“The people I worked with were so inspirational,” she said. “I came out of it really respecting the prosecutors in that office and aspiring to be an attorney like them one day.”
Students in the program aren’t solely focused on public service in the United States. Hernando Montoya, born in Bogota, Colombia, immigrated with his mother and two younger siblings to Miami when he was 9.
“I grew up in Colombia during a very unstable time and moved to Miami without knowing a single word of English, but I was able to overcome those obstacles and be where I am today,” said Montoya, who is fluent in Spanish and proficient in German and Portuguese. “I hope to use my law degree in ways that will help people who deserve it do the same.”
Since moving to Miami, he has traveled back to Colombia and spent a year abroad there while attending the University of Miami. He has worked with impoverished communities there and in Peru, and hopes that his law degree will allow him to not only help these groups abroad but underprivileged immigrants in the United States as well.
“Hopefully my career will be one that will take me out of an office and into the lives of people, not only in Colombia, but in other countries as well,” he said.
First-year law student Emerald Greywoode was also born abroad, in Nigeria, but grew up in Florida and in Montgomery, Ala.
“I think serving the public goes hand in hand with the rule of law in making sure that society is the best that it can be for people who don’t have a voice,” she said. “Learning about the law and working in the public interest is something that I’m passionate about.”
Greywoode, who received her degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Alabama, was excited about the program’s instruction and guidance about attorneys practicing public interest law.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know how you can use the law for social change, for social movement, for the betterment of others,” she said.
She was also excited to work with her mentor, Professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin, who shares an interest in education policy. Students meet with mentors to discuss what classes to take, career options and paper topics for the program’s required independent study.
Greywoode, who has interned on Capitol Hill, served as an English-as-a-second-language conversation partner and volunteered at Kenyan orphanages, schools and churches, said she invests her time heavily in both her studies and in community service.
“It’s about giving back wherever you are,” she said.
Each year the program will accept up to five second-year law students, like Alexandra Morgan, who also has her hands full this year as co-chair of the Conference on Public Service and the Law and associate director of the Domestic Violence Project.
Morgan, who has volunteered with the Family Resource Clinic, the No-Fault Divorce Pro Bono Project and the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, said her commitment to public service began as a child growing up in a low-income area near San Antonio.
“I had people along the way who helped me overcome challenges and I knew that I wanted to give back and try to do that for others,” she said. After receiving degrees in crime, law and justice and political science from Pennsylvania State University, she began law school at Virginia with her mind set on public service.
Morgan also hopes to influence the program’s development.
“I wanted to be in on the ground floor and offer advice and make it better for 1Ls starting out in future years,” she said.
Morgan interned at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division last summer and will do so again this summer. Her mentor is Professor Rachel Harmon, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department.
“It's great to have the opportunity to establish a one-on-one relationship with someone who has been successful in the field I want to pursue,” Morgan said. “Her passion for her work at the Justice Department is what inspired me to consider the Civil Rights Division in the first place and I look forward to working with her on my independent study next year.”
Professor Anne Coughlin teaches the program’s required course in Law and Public Service.
“The courses at other law schools tend to focus on one slice of public service, but our aim is the whole pie, to study everything from the genealogy of public service to the emergence of impact litigation to poverty lawyering to juvenile justice to community organizing to government service and beyond,” Coughlin said. “This is a daunting task, especially the first time out. So I decided to enlist the students directly. As I told them during our first session, the success of this course and the program rested in part on their shoulders, as well as mine.”
Coughlin praised the students for being actively involved in the class, including sending materials to her that contribute to how it will be taught in the future.
“The students have been simply fantastic,” she said. “I enjoy all of the courses that I get to teach here, but this one is very special because I have the sense that the class is not mine, but ours. It belongs to this group of students. I hope that they feel the same way.”
Ryan said the school is already building the program past its current dimensions, with the hiring of experienced legal aid attorney Andy Block as a full-time faculty member.
“We intentionally started the program somewhat modestly, in terms of what is offered to and required of the students, with the plan that we would expand over time and in ways that made sense based on experience,” Ryan said. “I'm delighted that Andy Block is going to join the faculty, which will allow us to add another required course, in advocacy skills, for second years in the program. My hope is that ultimately this program will equip students with all of the tools, and all of the inspiration, they need to pursue a career in public service.”
Students in the program already have a long list of accomplishments and life experiences that led them to public service:
Before coming to law school, Clare Boronow worked for the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Indian Resources Section in the U.S. Department of Justice, where as a paralegal she gained experience in Indian law issues. A history major at Cornell University, Boronow hopes to work with Indian and indigenous peoples law.
Ashley Brown was named a New York City Urban Fellow soon after graduating from the University of Miami and worked at the Department of Homeless Services before coming to law school. She hopes to work for the federal government on human rights or civil rights issues.
Salima Christie Burke came to law school after a 20-year career in the nonprofit sector working in community education and intercultural exchange. Burke, who has an M.A. in liberal studies from Georgetown University and an A.B. in politics from Princeton University, is interested in how Islamic law affects human rights.
After graduating from the University of California, San Diego, Aditi Goel worked as an investigator for the Juvenile Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. With interests in public defense, education policy and juvenile justice, Goel is a volunteer for the Virginia Innocence Project Student Group and Child Advocacy Research and Education.
Colleen Depman worked in the FBI and for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee after graduating from Loyola College in Maryland. She hopes to use her legal education to investigate and prosecute national security cases in a just and effective manner.
Fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and Cindau, Kathryn Marie Fennig experienced famine in Mozambique when she was an infant and again when she worked there studying the native Bantu language after graduating from Miami University. She wants to use her law degree to be an advocate for the poor in Mozambique.
A graduate of Northwestern University with a communications degree and a political science minor, Daniel Foster is interested in protecting the environment. He has volunteered in political campaigns and for a nonprofit literacy organization.
Kathryn Guilfoyle worked at a coordinator of violence prevention and sexual health education at Northwestern University and as an organizer of the Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education before coming to law school. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Guilfoyle is dedicated to gender issues and the law.
Jeree Harris, a second-year law student and graduate of the College of William & Mary, has shown her commitment to child advocacy through working at the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren Program last summer, through interning at the Law Center for Children, Legal Services of Northern Virginia, and at the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
A graduate of the University of Virginia with degrees in history and economics, M. Blaire Hawkins wants to pursue a career in prosecution to ensure that law is conscientiously and equitably enforced. In law school, Hawkins has volunteered as an alternative spring break trip captain and with the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center Pro Bono Project, the Virginia Innocence Project Student Group and the Conference on Public Service and the Law.
Before law school, Sarah Dearing Johns taught English in France and then French and Latin in Charlottesville. A classics major at the University of Virginia, Johns earned her M.A. from New York University in Paris, where she studied the integration of immigrant children in French public schools. A winter break trip to Guatemala for a pro bono right-to-education project confirmed her interests in education, human rights and international law.
After serving in the Peace Corps working on HIV/AIDS health issues in Lesotho, Africa, Laura Jolley earned a master’s degree in public health at George Washington University. While an undergraduate at North Carolina State University, Jolley spent two summers working on health care issues in West Africa and hopes to work in health policy after law school.
With undergraduate and graduate degrees in marine affairs and policy from the University of Miami, Stacee Karras is devoted to protecting the world’s oceans. Before law school she completed a study on the socioeconomic impact of marine policies on fishers in St. Croix.
Emily Lechner interned at the George Washington University Immigration Law Clinic and served as a research assistant for the Yale Child Study Center before going to law school. At Virginia the Yale graduate has volunteered to work for the McGuireWoods Child Advocacy Pro Bono Project, the Migrant Farmworkers Project and the Conference on Public Service and the Law. She hopes to spend her career advocating for migrant farmworkers and other members of the Hispanic community.
A graduate of Tufts University, Diane Rish worked as an immigration paralegal and volunteered in Chile for a year as a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar before attending law school. Rish is dedicated to pursuing a career in the field of immigration law, an interest she developed in college while interning on the United States-Mexico border with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Mexican Consulate.
While studying political science at Gonzaga, second-year law student Melanie Smith devoted several hundred hours to causes ranging from women’s shelters to helping mentally handicapped adults. Last summer she worked for a county prosecutor in Olympia, Wash., and she hopes to be a district attorney or federal prosecutor.
John Stephens has worked on behalf of HIV/AIDS issues in Africa for many years, founding the chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign at his undergraduate school, the University of North Carolina at Asheville. In his first year of law school he received the Class of 1957 South Africa Human Rights Fellowship to intern at the AIDS Law Project in Johannesburg, South Africa, last summer and will work for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem this summer.
A graduate of Warren Wilson College, Kristin Weissinger has mentored or taught children since she was 12, and found it particularly rewarding to work with disadvantaged children. A second-year law student, Weissinger has taken the Family Resource Clinic, clerked for the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program and volunteered with the McGuireWoods Child Advocacy Pro Bono Project. She will work for Advocates for Children's Services in Durham, N.C., this summer.
A computer science graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Brian Yang applied to law school planning to become a patent attorney. However, while living and working in South Korea, he began to recognize the pervasive effects of the financial system on everything from newspapers to mom-and-pop shops. Yang wants to work to reform the U.S. financial regulatory system to ensure that the "Great Recession" of 2008 and 2009 doesn't happen again.