Amid Uncertainty, Students Volunteer for Spring Break
Before a growing health crisis changed University of Virginia operations, UVA Law School students participated in the 11th annual Alternative Spring Break, logging over 2,050 hours of pro bono legal work.
The service was coordinated by the student-led Public Interest Law Association and took place March 9-13. When students began their service during their break, classes had not been canceled yet.
“I was so proud to serve these students and facilitate what I hope were meaningful experiences, even in this unusual and scary time,” said Miranda Russell ’20, the Alternative Spring Break director and a PILA board member. “Our host organizations were fantastic and very understanding about the need for flexibility.”
Caroline Elvig ’22 was one of the 60 UVA Law students who volunteered at 20 locations across the country. She worked with Arevik Sargsyan ’22 at the ACLU Capital Punishment Project in Durham, North Carolina, and said the organization was very accommodating when the University told students on March 18 to not return to Grounds, advising them to return home instead.
“My project was able to be finished remotely so I communicated with the attorney via email and finished my research project after returning home,” she said.
Tom Langstaff ’22 spent the week at Ascend Justice in Chicago. The organization, led by Executive Director Margaret Duval ’00, helps individuals and families impacted by gender-based violence or the child welfare system through legal advocacy and reform.
“It was invigorating to see the law affecting real people’s lives,” Langstaff said. “No case book can convey the experience of drafting an affidavit that a judge will read or accompanying a client to court who is in fear for their own safety.”
Other locations where students provided service included the Fairfax County Public Defender Office, Catholic Charities of New York, Orleans Public Defenders Office in New Orleans, the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Culpeper County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, the Richmond Public Defender Office, the Albemarle County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Charlottesville Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
While the Pro Bono Program has not changed its overall requirements related to the Pro Bono Challenge, which asks for 75 hours of service, pro bono projects can be completed remotely to earn the credit.
Participation in the Law School’s student-run Alternative Spring Break efforts have multiplied since they began in 2009, when 17 students participated.
Russell, who participated in the Alternative Spring Break as a 1L and 2L, noted that both the program’s total number of pro bono hours and participating organizations have risen steadily in recent years.
“Even despite our unique circumstances, I am glad that our numbers reflect that growth in interest and commitment to the Alternative Spring Break program and pro bono service generally,” she said.
PILA’s mission is to promote and support public interest law among UVA students. In addition to coordinating the spring break activities, PILA, in partnership with the Law School’s Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center, provides fellowships to students who work in public service summer internships.
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.