Almstead Receives State Bar Pro Bono Award

February 23, 2006
Tracy Lovelady
Third-year law student Ryan Almstead earned the Virginia State Bar's Oliver W. Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award.

Third-year law student Ryan Almstead, who has worked extensively in the community on behalf of low-income residents on housing, consumer, and disability issues, has been named the 2006 recipient of the Virginia State Bar's Oliver W. Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award.

The award, named for a Richmond lawyer who was instrumental in the cases that desegregated public schools, will be presented during the 16th Annual VSB Pro Bono Conference on April 26 at U.Va.'s Miller Center for Public Affairs.

"It's really quite flattering," Almstead said, noting that recent recipients include Angela Ciolfi, a 2003 Virginia graduate who also received a Powell Fellowship, and a University of Richmond student who worked to fight discrimination against Sikhs after 9/11. "Just considering you'd be in the same line as those people is pretty remarkable." Almstead is the second Virginia student to receive the award since it was established in 2002.

During his second year of law school Almstead served as co-chair of the Conference on Public Service & the Law, an annual Law School conference that brings participants from across the country to speak about public-interest issues. He has also participated in the Migrant Farmworker Project and the Human Rights Program, served as president of the student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and was a board member of the Public Interest Law Association, an organization that raises funds for student summer fellowships. He has been honored with the Law School's Mortimer M. Caplin Public Service Fellowship and the Claire Corcoran Award for Public Service.

"One of the things that spurred me on to do pro bono work in the Charlottesville area is just the idea that we should take part in our community and help out our neighbors and be involved in the things that are happening around us," Almstead said.

"Ryan has made an extraordinary commitment to pro bono and public service, even before he came to law school," said Kimberly Emery, Assistant Dean for Pro Bono and Public Interest. "He came to law school with the explicit goal of helping low-income clients in need of legal assistance, and has logged more than 550 hours of public service, not including his summer internships in legal aid."

During his first summer he worked for the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville and spent his second summer working in the Housing Unit of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, where he advised housing projects on compliance with federal laws.

This year Almstead's pro bono efforts included volunteering with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., working on a digest of fair housing law cases designed to provide technical assistance to advocacy groups. The cases include "everything from putting in ramps to how eviction rules apply if a tenant has a mental illness."

Prior to law school, Almstead worked at a public policy research center at the Kennedy School of Government; taught middle-school English literature; preserved Native American archaeological sites in upstate New York; and volunteered at a nursing home in Costa Rica that provided free services for former agricultural workers.

After the school year ends Almstead will work at the Legal Aid Society of Northeast New York in Saratoga Springs. "It should be a good mix of housing, consumer, trusts and estates, and public benefits law," he said. "I feel really lucky-that's where I grew up. I'm really fortunate to have found a job [in public service] and be hired right out of law school."

The region, home to the famous Saratoga horse race, faces housing concerns due to its status as a hot vacation spot for the wealthy. "Because you have all these people coming to Saratoga for July and August, most of the leases for residents only run from September to June, which puts low-income people in a difficult spot. They really have no recourse for those other two months of the year," he said.

Almstead's community involvement may also extend to local politics one day.

"Too often we don't see the connection between what is going on and participation in local government," he said. "We have a tendency to read the New York Times and think those are the big important things, but in reality there's a lot of important stuff that needs to be done around us."

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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