Dear Pro Bono and Public Interest Section Members,
2020 – What a year. This year has been everything – full of challenges and opportunities. It has brought home to many of us how important our work is to those in need. Our clients have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and its economic impact. Their problems have forced us to confront social and political injustices that communities of color and other disempowered communities have faced for years, decades, centuries. It has been hard. At the same time, the pandemic’s unavoidable realities have led many of us to redouble our commitment to meeting our clients’ needs. We must look forward to the new year with hope and optimism.
I want to encourage everyone to attend – virtually of course – the AALS annual meeting. You will need to register beforehand, but please note that many schools have paid a flat fee to allow members of their faculty to attend at no additional cost. The Pro Bono Section’s amazing program is scheduled for Wednesday, January 6, 2021, 11:00 – 12:15 PM EST (8:00 – 9:15 AM PST): Pro Bono & Public Service Opportunities, Co‐Sponsored by Clinical Legal Education, Leadership, and Poverty Law, Calling Out and Leaning In to Racial and Class Inequities in Experiential Learning Opportunities
Immediately following the substantive program, at 12:15 – 1:15 PM EST (9:15 – 10:15 AM PST), will be our Section’s Awards Program. This year, Dean William Hubbard will be giving the Father Drinan Award to Pam Robinson, and Professor Deborah Rhode will be giving the Deborah Rhode Award to Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. Both honorees have done so much to help our law schools expand their pro bono services and work towards a more just legal system.
Our work, of course, continues. I want to encourage everyone to get involved. The wonderful Sue Schechter will assume the Chair in 2021; I know she has great plans for the Section. I encourage everyone to join her to help make our Section more meaningful, diverse, and impactful for all of us. What we do has real consequences for real people.
I wish everyone the best possible end of 2020 and the most hopeful New Year. Take care of yourselves and your families, your nonhuman companions, and your communities. With gratitude for all you do,
Racial and Class Inequities in Experiential LearningOpportunities
As you build your AALS Annual Conferenceplans, make sure to add our section’s session to your agenda set for Wednesday, January 6th at 8AM Pacific, 11AM Central, 12PM Eastern. The session panelists will discuss who are we, why we do this work, what we bring to this work, and the need and importance of providing students with chances to consider the larger context within which pro bono, field placements, clinical, and public service work generally are done. This context includes the great need for free legal aid being due, in part, to laws and public policies that have been direct contributors to high levels of concentrated poverty, particularly among communities of color. Panelists will talk about how they are currently contextualizing this reality with students, what some of the hurdles are, and provide some resources and tools to support others taking on this critical work. As we move into 2021, our students and our institutions need and demand more facilitated conversations about racism and the realities of other inequities. While we acknowledge these important conversations need to take place, how can we move into them while acknowledging our fear and lack of expertise? How can we support each other to be brave and to learn while knowing we will make mistakes? How will we keep moving forward? Come learn from some ‘experts’ who are doing and trying things we can all learn from and take back to our own work. Join us.
Panelists are Alexi Freeman, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Director of Social Justice Initiatives; Amanda Rivas, Externship Director, St. Mary’s College of Law; and Michele Storms, Executive Director, ACLU of Washington. Moderated by Angela Schultz, Assistant Dean for Public Interest Law, Marquette University School of Law.
Each year, the AALS Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities recognizes two outstanding law school professionals who have dedicated themselves towards increasing access to justice through the law school environment and inspiring similar efforts from others. The Deborah L. Rhode Award is awarded to a full-time faculty member or Dean who has made an outstanding contribution to increasing pro bono and public service opportunities in law schools through scholarship, leadership, or service. The Father Robert Drinan Award is presented to a full-time faculty or staff member at a law school who has forwarded the ethic of pro bono service through personal service, program design, or management.
This year, the Section is thrilled to honor Dean Erwin Chemerinksy with the Rhode Award and Pamela DeFanti Robinson with the Drinan Award.
Erwin Chemerinsky is Dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. Prior to his position at Berkeley, Dean Chemerinsky taught at University of Southern California Gould School of Law and DePaul University College of Law, as well as served as a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law and Duke University School of Law, before becoming a tenured professor at Duke. In 2008, he was hired to start University of California, Irvine School of Law. Throughout the establishment and early years of running the law school, Dean Chemerinsky was instrumental in creating a culture of pro bono service. Thanks to Dean Chemerinsky, UCI Law now has one of the most robust pro bono programs in the country.
Dean Chemerinsky’s support of pro bono and public service in the law school setting is extraordinary. As Dean, he stresses the importance of pro bono and public service before students even arrive at Berkeley, telling them “if you are not interested in doing pro bono or public service work, do not come to this law school.” He expects every student to engage in pro bono every year. And he puts money where his mouth is by prioritizing the school’s pro bono and public interest programs. Upon arriving at Berkeley, he made the Pro Bono Program Director a full-time position. He has strengthened the school’s summer funding program and ensured that every 1L is awarded $5,000 for summer public interest work, and every 2L student who received a grant their first summer may receive $6,000 their second summer. He has also increased funding for post-grad public interest fellowships to $55,000 and created a travel fund for students to attend public interest career fairs and interviews—despite budget deficits in the wake of COVID-19.
Dean Chemerinksy is not only a well-known legal scholar and advocate, he is also a treasured classroom teacher. He exposes students to public interest ideals and then provides experiential opportunities throughout law school for them to develop the tools to carry those ideals forward. He engages in significant pro bono work himself and includes students in these efforts. In the words of a former student, “I can think of no one who embodies Berkeley Law’s public service mission like Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.” Many others agree, reiterating “It is impossible to imagine a Dean being more supportive of pro bono.”
Last but not least, Dean Chemerinsky is a true ‘mensch’—humble, sincere, honorable, and kind.
Pamela Robinson has been the Director of the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program since she founded it thirty-one years ago as the nation’s first voluntary pro bono law school program. She is a visionary, a leader, and a counselor to countless students and peers. Her lifetime of achievement forwarding the ethic of pro bono service is unparalleled.
Throughout the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program’s history, Pam has established a number of pro bono projects that have provided significant hands-on experience for law students and greatly benefited the community. She nurtures projects over the years while also constantly embracing change, ensuring the Program remains relevant for students and the community. Her latest innovation is the Palmetto LEADER—aka a “justice bus.” A few years ago, Pam had the idea to create a bus that would provide much needed legal services to rural South Carolina communities. In particular, Pam wanted those communities to have access to pro bono assistance for creating simple wills. And once Pam has a plan, according to her students, “she is unstoppable.” She found funding, figured out everything else the bus would need, and now it is on its way to serving South Carolinians. (Editor’s note: see the article in this newsletter about Pam’s bus for more information and pictures!)
Pam is a role model for her law students and pro bono professionals nationwide. She participates in all the Pro Bono Program’s projects alongside her students and she also engages in public service outside of the Program. For example, she has been a Court Appointed Special Advocate since 1988, and she also arranged for the county to conduct guardian ad litem training at the law school, successfully training many law students. Over the last three-plus decades she has relentlessly worked to improve access to justice throughout South Carolina. As Betsy Goodale, Director of the South Carolina Bar’s Pro Bono Program, noted, she is “one of the most—if not the most—well-respected and well-informed pro bono advocates and practitioners in the State of South Carolina.” She is also a leader in countless associations and organizations, including the AALS.
Pam always makes time to help you, whether you are a client, student, or colleague. She consistently demonstrates compassion and empathy. Regardless of what career path they choose, “[i]t is a rare alumnus of the University of South Carolina School of Law’s Pro Bono Program who does not credit Pam with providing crucial guidance during law school and beyond,” said Goodale.
The Rhode and Drinan Awards will be presented virtually on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at 12:15 PM. Professor Deborah Rhode will be presenting the Rhode Award to Dean Chemerinsky. Pamela Robinson will receive the Drinan Award from William Hubbard, Dean of The University of South Carolina School of Law.
University of South Carolina School of Law’s fully operational mobile law office.
University of South Carolina Law School Dean Robert Wilcox had a big donation coming, so he asked for a big idea. The one he got is 43 feet long — and is on its way.
The big idea belonged to the school’s pro bono program director, Pamela Robinson: Why not have a bus that takes legal help out to the parts of the state where they have little or no resources.
So the USC School of Law will receive a fully outfitted bus designed as a mobile office.
Why? The Palmetto LEADER will provide legal advocacy and education resources to the rural, underserved populations in SC. This expands the ability of the law school to serve the state while increasing opportunities for law students to gain valuable hands-on experience and skills development.
Who? …will provide these services? The core service providers will be law students from our Pro Bono Program and Clinical Department working with attorneys from the SC Bar Pro Bono Program.
Where?… will the bus go? Our goal is to reach out to low-income rural communities with limited access to legal services. The Palmetto LEADER is fully equipped with wifi and internet access; increasing the availability of online resources.
How? The Palmetto LEADER has become a reality due to not only a generous donation but also the wisdom of that donor who sought a project that “provided further dimension and depth to the experiences” available to law students.
Asst. Dean Tom Shoenherr recently retired after 25 years at Fordham Law.
During his tenure at Fordham Law, he founded the Public Interest Resource Center and advised countless students about their pro bono careers and opportunities. But there is so much more to his story! Earlier this year in the summer, Stephen Rispoli and Jen Tschirch sat down (virtually) with Tom to discuss life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and pro bono service.
New York; London: The New Press, 2018. 304p. $17.43, paperback. Also available as e-book or e-audiobook. Find it at a local library through worldcat.org. If purchased through bookshop.org, sales support independent bookstores.
Monique W. Morris, co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, has written the first book for a general readership demonstrating how Black girls are wrongly perceived and unjustly treated by authority figures starting in school and ending in police, court, and detention systems.
Morris provides detailed insight into the lives and education environments of specific Black girls. The girls’ narratives are interwoven with statistics showing how often similar patterns are replicated across the US.
Morris recommends a multifaceted approach—more than changes of law and policy alone—to center the experience of Black girls, increase cultural competence and gender responsiveness, and make the education of Black girls the nurturing and uplifting experience that the adults in charge should provide.
Appendix A provides straightforward answers to questions that Black girls, their families, and their teachers are likely to have. Appendix B discusses alternatives to punishment, including positive behavioral intervention systems and restorative justice.
*Eve Ross, 2020. Reference Librarian, Law Library, University of South Carolina School of Law, Columbia, South Carolina.