Students Work Pro Bono for Spring Break

56 Students Served 26 Organizations
Sabrina Mato and staffer

Sabrina Mato ’24, left, stands with Georgetown University Law Center student Lauren Hodges at Just Neighbors, a nonprofit that provides immigration legal services in the Washington, D.C., region. Courtesy photos

March 21, 2022

Students at the University of Virginia School of Law collectively volunteered 1,774 hours over spring break in pro bono projects across the country and online.

The student-led Public Interest Law Association, which each year organizes the Alternative Spring Break, recruited 56 students who worked with 26 organizations this month. Though last year’s program was fully virtual, 25 students had the opportunity to volunteer in person this year.

Students provided in-person service at organizations such as Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in New Orleans, the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Northern District of California in Oakland, Ascend Justice in Chicago, Catholic Migration Services in New York and the Disability Law Center in Richmond, Virginia.

Harrison Gordon
Harrison Gordon ’24 worked with the Lynchburg Public Defender’s Office.

Ariana Smith ’22, alternative break programming director, said steering the program during the COVID-19 pandemic added some complications because the situation has been evolving. But student volunteers and host organizations have been flexible and adaptable, she added, and PILA was able to arrange both in-person and remote options for volunteers.

Smith said she hopes Alternative Spring Break will serve as a valuable supplement to student volunteers’ formal legal education.

“Pro bono work is a powerful reminder that law school — and law generally — is so much more than case law and cold calls,” she said. “Behind the cases we read are real, live people who are confronting our legal system with a lot at stake, and when we do pro bono work, we truly engage with those people. I hope that for our student volunteers, this will be a fulfilling and meaningful experience that motivates them to leverage the law as a tool for positive social change.”

Participation in the Law School’s student-run Alternative Spring Break efforts have multiplied since they began in 2009, when 17 students participated.  

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.

UVA Law’s Pro Bono Program challenges students to volunteer at least 75 pro bono hours during law school. In 2020-21, 350 students logged 12,188 hours.

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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