UVA Law Students Work with Low-Income Clients in 11 U.S. Cities as Part of Alternative Spring Break
Nearly 50 UVA Law students spent their spring break working with low-income clients and public defenders in 11 cities across the country — from New Orleans to New York to Tucson, Ariz. — as part of the Public Interest Law Association's Alternative Spring Break program.
"Alternative Spring Break is an important supplement to the regular offerings of the Pro Bono Program, and gives interested students the chance for a more intensive, yet short-term volunteer experience," said Kimberly Emery, the Law School's assistant dean for pro bono. "This type of pro bono experience provides the opportunity to gain new skills, network, and possibly try out a potential career path."
In all, the students logged more than 1,500 pro bono hours during the weeklong break, which began March 10.
Third-year UVA Law student Julianne Jaquith, who acted as the project's coordinator and director, said she is "passionate" about providing students with opportunities to do pro bono work.
"Helping to connect people with opportunities to volunteer and to learn is exciting and meaningful, and helps to foster a stronger public interest community at the Law School," Jaquith said, noting that the spring break program is entirely student-funded.
Second-year law student Sejal Jhaveri traveled to New Orleans to work in the Orleans Public Defenders office.
"After taking Criminal Procedure and being in the Child Advocacy Clinic, I wanted to see what a public defender's office looked like," Jhaveri said, noting that she was well aware of the struggles New Orleans' criminal justice system has faced. "I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to learn, and hopefully to be helpful in an extremely overworked office."
During the week, Jhaveri had the opportunity to work on legal research and writing in support of an appeal on a motion to suppress.
"Working on the writ to review the criminal court's decision on the motion to suppress was both educational and meaningful," Jhaveri said. "It was educational because I was able to put my legal research and writing skills, as well as my knowledge of the Fourth Amendment, to use. It was meaningful because the suppression of evidence was key to preventing our client from going to jail."
Seeing her legal knowledge applied in a real-world situation offered Jhaveri a critical insight.
"It made me see how things I had considered technical, like the exclusionary rule, could have a huge impact on the liberty of a human being," she said.
First-year law student and trip captain Matt Carroll traveled to the South Bronx to work with the Bronx Defenders. In addition to creating a memo detailing various hearings that attorneys commonly encounter in the New York State criminal justice system, Carroll was also able to shadow an attorney for one day as she handled misdemeanor arraignments at the Bronx County Hall of Justice. The attorney was able to obtain dismissals and other favorable outcomes by carefully interviewing the clients and filing meticulous paperwork, he said.
"During that day, I learned the importance of being detail-oriented and persistent," Carroll said.
Carroll, who plans to work for the Bronx Defenders this summer, said his spring break experience reaffirmed his career goals.
"I came to law school with the intention of becoming a public defender," Carroll said. "My trip to the Bronx Defenders certainly serves as further affirmation that public defense is what I want to do with my life."
For first-year law student Ryan Lindsay, the volunteer work offered the opportunity to perform not only legal aid, but also humanitarian aid. Working with UVA Law classmates Josh Burk, Kate Perino and Michelle Synhorst, Lindsay traveled to Tucson, Ariz. to work with the aid group No More Deaths. The students spent four days and five nights in the Sonoran Desert, just a few miles north of the Mexican border.
"With the help and guidance of some long-term volunteers from the organization, we hiked trails frequently used by migrants in order to be a presence for anyone suffering from serious injury or dehydration," Lindsay said, noting that hundreds of people die each year along the Arizona border.
In addition, the group had the opportunity to attend federal court in Tucson to watch an "Operation Streamline" proceeding, a fast-paced prosecution and imprisonment program designed to deter illegal immigration. The students also helped document abuse and theft suffered by deportees.
"Overall, the experience was extremely powerful for the entire group," Lindsay said. "We were able to learn not only about the issues at the center of our nation's immigration policy, but also to have the unique opportunity to attach faces and names and personal stories to issues that were previously only news stories."
As a result of the experience, Lindsay said, "the group came to the realization that immigration policy is a human rights issue that affects the lives of millions of people every day, all over our world."
This year marks the sixth consecutive year in which UVA Law students have participated in Alternative Spring Break. Other organizations with which law students worked this year include Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services in Washington, D.C.; Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville; Mississippi Center for Justice in Biloxi, Miss.; Legal Aid of North Carolina, Advocates for Children's Services in Raleigh, N.C.; Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office in Charlottesville; Central Virginia Legal Aid Society in Richmond, Va.; New York Legal Aid Society in New York; and Office of the Attorney General of Virginia in Richmond, Va.
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.