Archive for Contibutions/Guest Articles

Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: Opening Doors for Students and Clients – Temple Law Students and Criminal Record Expungements in Philadelphia

2015-16 Merit Distinction Honoree, Emily Bock

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

This week, the 2015-16 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Merit Distinction honorees will be guest blogging about law student pro bono and their public interest commitments. (This year’s Pro Bono Publico Award recipient, Lark Mulligan, will be published the following week.) Today, we’re featuring Merit Distinction honoree and Temple University Beasley School of Law student Emily Bock, a multi-talented advocate dedicated to criminal record expungement.

Opening Doors for Students and Clients: Temple Law Students and Criminal Record Expungements in Philadelphia
Emily Bock, PSJD Pro Bono Publico Merit Distinction Honoree, 2015-2016 (Temple University Beasley School of Law)

In Pennsylvania, there are 11.1 African Americans and 6 Hispanics in federal or state prison for every White prisoner.[1] Nationally, there are more than twice as many people on probation or parole than there are incarcerated.[2] One in three United States adults will have been arrested by the age of 23.[3] The magnitude of the problem of criminal records is hard to comprehend, especially when we factor in people who are arrested, charged with crimes, and never convicted. In many cities, low-income communities of color are disproportionately policed as compared to higher-income, white communities.[4] This means that residents of low-income neighborhoods often have more criminal records,  adding more barriers to escaping poverty.[5] Around 87% of employers conduct criminal background checks during the hiring process, which makes any criminal record (conviction or otherwise) a potential barrier.[6] Philadelphia has the highest per capita incarceration rate of the 10 largest U.S. cities, with almost 7 out of every thousand citizens behind bars.[7] Additionally, Philadelphia is one of the poorest major cities in the United States, so when we consider the impact of criminal records on those who are most vulnerable, we must understand the extent of the devastation that our criminal legal system has wrought on poor people, especially poor people of color.[8]

Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has been a pioneer in the practice of representing people with criminal records. I was very fortunate to learn from them as a Haverford House Fellow and paralegal for their Employment Unit, where I worked almost exclusively on criminal record expungement and pardon cases. When I was a 1L at Temple Law, I was fortunate again to work with their Employment Unit as we developed a new project for taking criminal expungement clinics to neighborhoods with high numbers of arrests without convictions. Since September 2014, the Temple National Lawyers Guild Expungement Project has worked with Community Legal Services to hold 9 clinics in different parts of the city – in Center City, Germantown, West Philadelphia, Kensington, Spring Garden, and Olney. We have interviewed approximately 165 potential clients, accepted 111 clients for representation, and filed almost 400 expungement petitions. During this time, over 100 law student volunteers have been trained to interview clients at the clinics.

Many students are surprised when they learn that in Pennsylvania, arrests without conviction remain on a person’s criminal record until they file an expungement petition. Students are also shocked when they hear that old convictions, especially minor convictions, cannot be expunged. In Pennsylvania, many misdemeanors and all felony convictions are not eligible for expungement or sealing, which leaves those with old convictions only one option for trying to clear their criminal records – applying for a pardon.[9]  However, there has been some progress. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently signed a bill into law that would permit sealing of minor (misdemeanor) convictions under certain circumstances.[10] This new law is huge step in the right direction for a state like Pennsylvania where the law on criminal records is fairly conservative.

This year we were lucky to have two first-year law student representatives working with our committee. Here is what they had to say about their work in our expungement clinics:

“I remember sitting with my first client at an expungement clinic. It was early Saturday morning and we were in a part of Philadelphia I had never been to before, that people reference with a certain tone of voice. The client I met with had a low-level conviction when he was very young, then about 10 years later he was arrested and charged with something more serious that he didn’t do. Even though those charges were dropped, he struggled to find a job after that. He currently works full time, and makes the same amount of money I did when I waitressed part time in high school. He supports a family—he has children my age, and several grandchildren. This expungement will mean that he can get a higher-paying job so that his hard work will take him farther.

It has been important to me to put a face to the population that people talk about in class, sometimes in less than respectful ways. It helps me see what a different world I live in than people I inevitably pass on the street every day, and to wonder if people I went to high school with would have such prestigious jobs if we grew up in a different place. I actually keep this client’s initials at the top of my law school to do list to remind me why I’m here and to keep me motivated so I can do as much good as I can.” – Liz, 1L Representative

“I had a very meaningful experience during my first clinic at the church in Germantown. It was an older woman who came in with her daughter. She was incredibly sweet — it was hard to imagine her having ever been in trouble with the law. But one incident about 30 years ago left her record with one conviction and several non-conviction records. I forget whether she was seeking housing assistance or employment; either way, this decades-old conviction was a major roadblock in her life. We told her that she could get the non-convictions expunged. Further, because she was arrest-free for so long, we said that she probably could also get the conviction pardoned. She and her daughter were so happy. It was amazing to me that this woman had lived for so many years with this burden, and we were able to so quickly help her. It was also gratifying to, in one case, employ the several legal tools we have available — expungements and pardons — to help this woman clean up her decades-old record and move forward with her life.” – Aaron, 1L Representative

When I do any work related to the criminal legal system, whether it is working with people who are incarcerated, people with criminal records, or people charged with crimes, I always make sure to emphasize that they are people first. Many people who are charged with crimes are never convicted of the crime, but are left with an arrest record that can create the same challenges as a conviction. They deserve the presumption of innocence that our criminal legal system affords them. I firmly believe that all people deserve a fundamental level of dignity and respect, not conditioned upon whether they have been convicted of a crime or have gone to prison. As one of my heroes, Bryan Stevenson said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”[11]

I am grateful that Temple Law School can now offer many opportunities to its students to see these words in practice – whether through the Temple NLG Expungement Project, or through any of its other excellent clinical offerings.


[1] Christopher Harney and Linh Vuong Created Equal: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System (National Council on Crime and Delinquency, March 2009).

[2] U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Probation and Parole in the United States, 2008, NCJ 228230 (Dec. 2009), at 3.


[4] JPI Report:








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NALP Conference Sneak Peek: The Low Down on Low Bono

PSJD has pulled up stakes this week and decamped to NALP’s Annual Education Conference. At the moment, we’re preparing for the arrival of our conference participants on Wednesday. (We hope to see you there!) In particular, I’m excited for the large number of public-interest-oriented meetings taking place over the course of the conference. To kick your week off, here’s a piece from Niloufar Khonsari, the founder of Pangea Legal Services and a presenter at the conference. Enjoy, and remember–if you’re attending the conference you can follow-up about affordable fee work with her in person on Friday!

The Low Down on Low Bono:
Identifying a Need and Starting up a Nonprofit Organization

While the government funds many important pro bono programs in the United States, low-income communities are still underserved in many legal service areas: housing, family, criminal justice, public benefits, immigration and more.  This article focuses on the gap in immigration and removal defense services in Northern California and how nonprofit organizations can sustain themselves while filling some of that gap.

More than 29,000 immigrants currently find themselves in court proceedings at the San Francisco Immigration Court.[1]  Nationally, there are over 431,000 immigrants in court proceedings. With increased deportations nationwide, there is a clear need for court and immigration defense services. Immigrants in removal proceedings need a lawyer because of the complexity of immigration law and the negative consequences of deportation. Also, many immigrants in the court process are eligible for relief or protection under existing laws, and they may have a pathway to citizenship.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of immigrants have immediate access to legal counsel.  Private immigration attorneys can be prohibitively expensive. And most nonprofits, even in San Francisco, do not represent clients in complex removal proceedings. The key to this gap is providing access to counsel.

Pangea Legal Services (Pangea) is one example of an organization that was created to help bridge the access gap. While it hasn’t come without its challenges, Pangea created a low-fee, sliding-scale model that grew to five full-time employees between January 2013 and December 2014.  Low bono, or affordable fee models similar to Pangea are growing around the country in various areas of law, creating a financially viable avenue to fill the justice gap.[2]

Be Entrepreneurial and Find the Gaps.  You don’t need decades of experience to start an organization. As Steve Jobs said, “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.  And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”  The entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley tend to have three things in common: 1) identifying a solution to a problem, 2) pursuing that solution proactively, and 3) committing to creating social value.  Pangea was able to identify that within the area of immigration, deportation defense was significantly underserviced by the nonprofit community. This discovery was made by volunteering in the immigration nonprofit community, participating in policy advocacy work around immigration issues, and surveying senior advocates in the field about the needs within immigration legal services.  Identifying this gap and focusing on creating a solution for it was central to Pangea’s startup.

Get a Mentor, Ask for Advice.  Founder of ZenPayroll, Joshua Reeves, said that not having industry experience can be a real asset, as long as you recognize what you don’t know.[3]  Identifying what you don’t know then can be addressed by seeking guidance and mentorship in that field. The legal field is vast and complex and so is the world of human resources, employment law, finance, and nonprofit governance. There are many online resources and listservs, but personal relationships with experts in the field are the most helpful.  Many practitioners and experts are open to meeting with and advising nonprofits; connecting can be as easy as making a phone call or sending an email.  For its governance structure and compliance efforts, Pangea is currently in the process of building a team of advisors with expertise in areas such as finance and employment law.  For its legal services, Pangea has a network of at least a dozen senior attorneys from whom attorneys seek mentorship regularly. The organization has a weekly one-hour mentorship session with rotating senior immigration attorneys to consult on legal strategy, procedural questions, and complicated immigration cases.  The key to successful mentorship and seeking advisors is identifying your needs and organizational gaps.

Create Partnerships, Learn from Other Nonprofits.  Nonprofit organizations often collaborate with other nonprofit organizations on advocacy efforts, direct actions, clinics, and other projects.  Join their circles and learn from them!  This can be viewed as an extension of your organizational efforts to seek mentorship and formal advisors. Networks and partnerships with other organizations are essential to strong advocacy and quality legal representation, as they offer many tools, lessons, and resources for your organization.  Your local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) could be a great starting point.  Pangea staff began participating in advocacy coalitions and learning from other nonprofits through the local NLG-Bay Area immigration committee and the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee (SFIRDC).  Many of Pangea’s cases would not be successful, but for the strong partnerships, friendships, guidance and support from partner groups.

Obtaining 501(c)(3) status is not hard.  Registering a 501(c)(3) is logistically easier than you think.  You will need a Board of Directors, Articles of Incorporation, and Bylaws.  The instructions laid out in Form 1023 specify that you should set aside approximately ten hours to prepare and assemble your IRS filing.  While you can do it yourself, there are many pro bono attorneys at law firms, nonprofit organizations such as The Foundation Center, or low fee attorneys that can help you prepare your 1023.  Pangea received guidance from individuals who previously registered organizations, and we prepared our own forms without formal legal assistance.  This IRS process is more straightforward than one might believe; the key is to just do it.

Go Low Bono.  Low bono is an alternative to the corporate method of hourly billing at market rates.  Low bono could mean offering your legal services at below-market rates and allowing clients to pay through a low fee payment plan. The IRS has no cap on fees for services or products for nonprofit organizations, so the only restriction is the ability to pay of the community you seek to serve. There are very indigent clients who cannot pay any fee and require pro bono services.  However, there are also many hard-working low-income and moderate-income individuals who are more than willing to pay relatively small fees in increments (a few hundred dollars a month).  Many clients actually prefer to pay a small fee and invest into their case.  Pangea’s current low bono model is one that has a set fee for service, with a sliding scale monthly installment plan. Organizationally, finding the right balance between being sustainable and accessible can be challenging, and it is a continual trial and error process. While there are ongoing fee adjustments and necessary revenue diversification efforts in place at Pangea, the sliding scale low bono structure has created a starting point to create greater access to counsel for low-income immigrants.

Financial Assistance for Student Debt.  If you are going to hire lawyers straight out of law school and retain them, or, if you are in debt yourself, going low bono in a private practice will likely not pay your student loans. Fortunately, federal loan payment and forgiveness programs exist, and many law schools provide loan repayment assistance to attorneys working in nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Thus, incorporating as a nonprofit organization can provide critical financial assistance to your likely indebted staff.[4]

Scale-up with foundation support and grants.  Foundation and other grant funding is important to help you build capacity, scale up efforts, diversify the revenue pool, and increase pro bono services.  It can also support your engagement in non-revenue producing work such as legal empowerment, education efforts, and policy advocacy work. Starting with a sliding-scale fee structure can make your organization sustainable while leveraging foundation support for expansion efforts. There is a worry that this may reduce the funding pool for already existing free legal service providers; however it is possible that low bono structures will attract a new set of funders that previously did not exist, thus increasing the funding pool for all.  Funders prefer organizations that have diverse sources of revenue and are not solely reliant on one funding stream.  A low bono model allows you to create a consistent revenue stream of funds enabling you to do your work as you build on your organizational mission and vision; it creates a viable platform for funders to see your potential as a partner. For Pangea, the revenue brought in through low fees has leveraged additional resources (from the San Francisco and Silicon Valley Community Foundations) to go further than a new organization could if it were seeking funding from point zero.

Be Excellent.  This means working hard, focusing on thoroughness, addressing all issues and questions head-on, not leaving any pages unturned, and submitting timely products. It also means reacting to developments quickly, going the extra mile, and delivering for the community. Recognition of quality work happens quickly in the nonprofit community and building credibility is vital to a strong foundation. In the long term, the combination of dedication to excellent services and accessibility through low fees is a guaranteed recipe for success.

The nonprofit low bono model is an important capacity builder in developing access to legal services.  It is efficient, sustainable, and scalable. By creating organizations based on the low bono model, the legal needs of our low- and moderate-income communities can be increasingly met to create greater pathways to relief and safety.


Niloufar Khonsari is an immigration attorney and the founder of nonprofit organization, Pangea Legal Services, available at nilou [at]

[2] See, e.g. Open Legal Services,

[3] Joshua Reeves, “A Marathon, Not a Sprint,” Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Podcast, Feb. 25, 2015.

[4] It should be noted that many low bono private practice attorneys can use “Pay as you Earn” to pay back their student loans, which caps their payments based on their income and provides loan forgiveness after 20 years.



Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: Restorative Justice at Strawberry Mansion High

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

Today, Christina is in Philadelphia presenting the Pro Bono Publico award to our 2014-15 recipient, Alex Dutton.  Alex, a student at Temple University Beasley School of Law, receives this year’s award for his work supporting Youth Court programs throughout the city of Philadelphia, beginning with his involvement at Strawberry Mansion High School. 

Restorative Justice at Strawberry Mansion High
Alex Dutton, PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Recipient, 2014-2015
(Temple University Beasley School of Law)–

Strawberry Mansion High School, “Mansion” as it’s known in the community, is a behemoth of a building that consumes several city blocks at the corner of 31st Street and Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia.  Across the street are abandoned rowhomes, collapsing in upon themselves.  Students, dressed in collared shirts and khakis, scurry over jagged sidewalks under the shadows of the school’s immense façade.  Walking past the police car eternally parked on Ridge Avenue in front of the school, they file in through the front doors.  They wait to be screened by the metal detector.  Some of the students make it to the courtroom on the third floor on time, others straggle in late.  Always, the law students and attorneys are there, waiting, in this gem of a room (fitted with a jury box, witness stand, and bench) in the corner of a forgotten school in a forgotten neighborhood.  From the jury box, one can just barely make out the top of the William Penn statute that stands atop Philadelphia’s City Hall.  Eventually, a diminutive young lady, cloaked in a long black robe, adjourns the court.

No Right to Be Heard: Suspension Law and Due Process

Pennsylvania law provides effectively zero process for students suspended for three days or less.  In contrast, state law, pursuant to the Federal Constitution, requires school districts to provide formal process to students at risk of expulsion. 22 Pa. Code § 12.8(b).  In Philadelphia, a consent decree compels the School District of Philadelphia (“the District”) to provide similar procedural rights to students at risk of transfer to a disciplinary school. Dunmore v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, No. 72-43 (E.D. Pa, Feb. 14, 1973).  That same consent decree requires the District to hold a conference with students suspended on a short-term basis.  This conference is meant to provide staff, by speaking with the student, an opportunity to identify the student’s problematic behaviors and implement corrective techniques.  (Recall: this is still more than most students get in Pennsylvania, because of Dunmore.)

There are nearly 200,000 students in Philadelphia.  Cuts at the state level critically reduced funding for educational support staff, including guidance counselors and conflict resolution specialists.  As a result, these student conferences are perfunctory, if they are happening at all.  (I’m careful not to place blame with the District here; the District has done—and continues to do—a tremendous job reforming the process it provides students who are at risk of disciplinary transfer.)  Most students are just sent home with suspension paperwork and told to come back in a day or two.  In addition, many students are constantly funneled through in-school suspension—as damaging as a traditional exclusion—without any meaningful process or opportunity to be heard.

While this gap in due process may seem insignificant, it means schools suspend significantly more students than they might if each case were more carefully considered.  Research has long demonstrated that students who are suspended fare much worse than their peers.  Short-term suspensions are the entry point to the school-to-prison pipeline.  Suspensions lead to more suspensions, which precipitate expulsions and dropout, eventually pushing students into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  What’s more, recent research posits that students who remain in the classroom when their peers are suspended are worse off, too.[1]  Youth courts purport to fill this gap in due process, staffed with the greatest resource in the District: students.

Youth Courts and Restorative Justice

There are various models for youth courts.  Some use a traditional adversarial approach, assigning students to the roles of prosecutor and defense counsel.  Others use restorative justice techniques.  Restorative justice de-emphasizes school exclusion and challenges students to think constructively about conflict resolution.  At Strawberry Mansion, we used a restorative model.

When we first introduced restorative justice principles, our students were lost.  During a “mock” hearing, the jury wanted to force their peer “respondent” to clean the bathroom with a toothbrush for talking back to a teacher.  This, coming from students whose families had been ripped apart by the criminal and family justice systems?  (Just weeks earlier a student told a federal prosecutor that “all prosecutors and judges should burn in hell!”)  I couldn’t believe it.  I took a step back and thought to myself: Alex, you’re so naïve.  How could you ever expect anyone to respond in any other way other than what they’ve been taught, what they’ve learned through experience?  Our students were raised on punitive discipline.  In school, they were suspended and expelled.  On the streets, they were arrested and sent away.  So when we elevated our students to figures of authority, they reflected these punitive inclinations.

It was up to us to help our students question their assumptions about justice and conflict resolution.  We pressed our students to think about the impact of rules and the policies behind them.  Specifically, we encouraged them to consider the purposes of punishment, with a sharp focus on rehabilitation and restoration.  Why is making a student clean the bathroom an appropriate punishment for acting out in class?  How does the punishment relate to the harm the student caused to his classmates?  They applied these concepts in the hearings.

Our far-reaching goal is that students will apply these principles to their daily lives, in school and in their communities.  In the meantime, the youth court provided an opportunity for student-respondents, previously silenced under more primitive discipline regimes, to be heard.  In addition to providing process, the youth court destabilized the school-to-prison pipeline at Mansion: if the respondent completed his restorative assignment, the offense would be wiped from his record.  More importantly, he stayed in school.  Rather than being alienated from his peers, he engaged with them.

A Day in the Life of the Strawberry Mansion Youth Court: Lawyering Skills Alive in the Classroom

Student-respondents who appear before their peers must admit responsibility for violating the school code.  (And, really, these are minor infractions: cell phone use, uniform violations, talking in class, walking the halls, refusing to do school work, arguing with another student, arriving late to class.)  Effectively, the youth court process is a dispositional hearing; peer questioning exposes facts relevant to determining an appropriate punishment—the restorative assignment.

Prior to the hearing, the respondent meets with his “youth advocate,” a high school student trained to defend him.  With the assistance of a law student, the youth advocate interviews her peer-client.  She listens to him.  She inquires as to his motivations and what he thinks the appropriate punishment should be.  She levels with him when he is unreasonable.  Then, she presents this information to the jury: an opening statement.  Through this process, students learn crucial listening skills and gain exposure to public speaking.

Next, the judge opens the floor for questions from the jury.  To facilitate greater class participation, the jurors ask their peer-respondent questions.  The jurors proceed, guided by the Mansion Court’s mantra: FACTS.  HARM.  FIX IT.  Through questioning, the jurors attempt to uncover the facts of the case, the harm caused to the community by their peer’s conduct, and possible constructive solutions.  By uncovering the facts of what happened, the students assessed his culpability.  By inquiring into harm, the jurors determined the segments of the community that were affected and ripe for restoration.  As they go, the students fill out charts labeled: FACTS.  HARM.  FIX IT.  Their questions forced their peer to critically examine the consequences of his actions and included the him in the restorative process: “now that you have identified the harm caused, if any, what can you do to repair that harm, to restore our school community?”

We provided the high school students with the skills they needed to conduct this process.  We trained them in questioning techniques: open-ended and closed-ended questions, funneling, etc.  We exposed them to principles of restorative justice.  And we trained them to be good listeners.  (These are all skills that are often overlooked in law school.)

Youth Court at Strawberry Mansion HighTogether, the students guide their peers through the restorative process, making objections and requesting sidebars–concepts the Youth Court program staff never taught.
(Photo courtesy of Alex Dutton)

Together, the students guide their peers through the restorative process.  Every now and then, the youth advocate stands up: “Your Honor, they keep asking my client the same questions; make them move on to a solution.”  An objection!  The foreman disagrees: “we are trying to get to the bottom of what happened.”  The judge is concerned: “can you two come over here to talk with me.”  A sidebar!  We never taught these concepts.  The students, empowered with the skills to resolve disputes, improvised.  Advocates called out unfairness; jurors objected because they were untangling important and difficult aspects of the case; judges adjusted to ensure civility and efficiency.  All of this to ensure that their peer received his day in their courtroom.

Eventually, the jury returns a verdict: a parent conference so that the school knows the student’s father plans to call the school in the morning to make sure his daughter arrived safely.  Why?  She had been stepping out of the classroom each morning to pick up her father’s call.

Final Remarks

Of course, youth courts are far from the only solution to the school pushout problem.  In my view, school districts should adopt a variety of interventions—some restorative, some not—that would collectively transform schools from punitive institutions to compassionate, empowering communities.  Our schools expend so much energy excluding students from school, just to kick the can down the road—to another school, or worse, to our public dependency systems, including prison.  Why not spend this energy empowering our students?

My charge to future law students and lawyers is this: be creative, be bold!  Youth courts provide a platform for young people to reform their schools; a legal education is your platform to improve your community.

[1] Brea L Perry & Edward W. Morris, Suspending Progress: Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools, 79 No. 7 American Sociological Review 1067 (December 2014).


Developing an Elder Law Project Proposal for the Borchard Foundation Fellowship

Adrienne Lyon Buenavista, 2013 Borchard Fellow; Staff Attorney, AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly

As the population of seniors in the United States continues to grow, there is an increasing need for lawyers to practice Elder Law—a field encompassing a wide array of practice areas, including Medicare/Medicaid planning, guardianship proceedings, elder abuse, and other issues affecting elderly individuals. Unfortunately, the most well-known fellowship programs (Equal Justice Works and Skadden) do not fund project proposals focused on Elder Law with the same frequency as project addressing other populations, despite an increasing number of law students pursing Elder Law careers.

Luckily, students interested in pursuing an Elder Law fellowship project can apply to a separate fellowship program specifically devoted to their interest: the Borchard Fellowship in Law and Aging. The Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging funds three fellows per year for a one-year fellowship term.

The Borchard Fellowship application is due on April 15, 2015.  When reviewing applications, the Borchard Foundation looks for three things—an innovative project aimed at assisting elders, a sponsoring organization that is engaged and eager to supervise the fellow, and an applicant with a deep interest in policy that affects the aging and a deep desire to advocate for their interests. 

Proposing an Innovative Project

Although it helps to begin early, there is no uniform process or timeline for developing a project proposal.  Applicants rarely conceive of their ideas in a linear fashion, first defining the legal problem (the “need”), then defining the tasks to address the problem, and finally describing the anticipated impacts of the tasks.  More typically, an applicant will have an idea of one aspect of the project proposal.  For example, one applicant might begin by envisioning what his or her dream job would be like, then define the tasks or activities he or she wants to pursue during the course of the fellowship, and finally backtrack to identify a genuine (and timely) problem he or she will address by performing these desired tasks. A second applicant might begin by brainstorming what legal issues need to be addressed—new legislation to be enforced, or an increase in certain case types (e.g., elder abuse). This second applicant can then work from these legal issues to define the problem his or her project might address, and consider what discrete tasks or actions will meaningfully (yet feasibly) address this problem.

Regardless of how any applicant devises his or her project, a successful project proposal will identify a genuine legal problem, propose tasks to alleviate that problem, and describe anticipated impacts.  As applicants work from one area of their applications outwards to the others, they must continue to assess whether their defined problem, tasks, and impacts correspond.  For instance, if an applicant identifies an increase in senior homelessness as a problem, then his or her proposal’s tasks should include legal strategies for alleviating senior homelessness, and its expected impacts should describe how senior homelessness will be alleviated if these strategies work.  If a proposed project’s impacts are ill-defined or not clearly linked to its tasks, the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging (or any other funding organization) will be unlikely to support the plan, no matter how important the underlying need.

When an applicant is structuring his or her project, the following diagram may be useful (click to enlarge):

Developing a Fellowship Project

Choosing a Sponsor Organization:

While the applicant needs to think through his or her own interest areas, the process of coming up with a project idea is not done in a vacuum. Choosing a sponsor organization that has credibility and experience in Elder Law is critical—this organization should have practitioners in a position to identify the service gaps for their elderly clients.

Demonstrating a Deep Interest in Elder Law:

When applying for a Borchard Fellowship, it is important to demonstrate a sincere interest in Elder Law.  An applicant should ensure his or her resume, cover letter, and personal statement address all experiences providing evidence of this interest: family law and estate planning coursework, Elder Law clinic work, relevant pro bono work or internships, and relevant law review articles or other research.  Additionally, if an applicant has a compelling personal experience that explains why he or she is dedicated to Elder Law, this should be incorporated into the application as well. Stories about specific client experiences that left a particular impact on the applicant are also helpful.


 Landing a postgraduate fellowship, especially one in Elder Law, is a highly competitive process.  Applicants need to start early and take the time to cultivate a relationship with a sponsor organization and draft a compelling project proposal.  Applicants should also spend time assessing their resumes and cover letters to ensure their commitment to Elder Law reads through every sentence.

Finally, remember that the process of developing a fellowship proposal is useful even for unsuccessful applicants: Fellowships are an excellent opportunity for recent graduates to envision their dream jobs.  The process of developing a proposal, even if it does not result in funding, forces applicants to define their own goals and to build professional relationships which will prove useful when embarking on their Elder Law careers.   


Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: “Being Proximate— A Holistic Approach to Youth Advocacy

Shannon Johnson, BC Law '15Shannon Johnson, 2014-2015 Merit Distinction Honoree
(Photo courtesy of Boston College Law School)

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

This week, the 2014-15 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Merit Distinction honorees will be guest blogging about law student pro bono and their public interest commitments. (This year’s Pro Bono Publico Award recipient, Alex Dutton, will publish his blog next week when he receives his award.) Today, we’re featuring Merit Distinction honoree and Boston College Law School student Shannon Johnson, a multi-talented advocate single-mindedly dedicated to immigrant youth and the inaugural student in Boston College Law School’s hybrid immigration and juvenile clinic.

Being Proximate–A Holistic Approach to Youth Advoacy
Shannon Johnson, PSJD Pro Bono Publico Merit Distinction Honoree, 2014-2015 (Boston College Law School)–

I will never forget the night I heard Bryan Stevenson’s keynote address at the “Rebellious Lawyering” Conference for aspiring public interest attorneys. (As you may know, Bryan Stevenson does prolific civil rights work in the south.) I was in my first year of law school and already felt alienated from my public service goals.  I had pursued a legal education to work with immigrant youth and domestic violence survivors. I hoped to grow into a community lawyer, but actually lost my community connections while shuffling from torts class to legal research seminars. In my disconnected state, I was still able to latch onto something Bryan said during his talk. He urged us to seek to be proximate to the communities that we desired to serve.  In other words, true social justice advocates must leave our comfort zones to meet community needs. We had to challenge the confines of prestige found even in the public interest community (i.e. the pressure to accept prestigious fellowships in world-class cities).

I internalized Bryan’s words.  What did it mean to be proximate to a community when I was immersed in a world that felt so alienating? I struggled with this understanding, especially after living and working as a domestic violence advocate in East Los Angeles.  There, I had an understanding of the community that was much deeper than my connections to my new home in Boston.    For me, it meant seeking to understand the community in which you wanted to work and not just look to be understood. It meant building personal relationships and partnering with communities.  It meant applying humility to advocacy and listening to what a community asks of you (if anything) rather than speaking to what you think a community needs.

I had to challenge my faulty assumptions that ample advocacy opportunities existed in my New Boston home. After working in Los Angeles, I thought that I was working on the forefront of issues facing immigrant teens and undocumented people. After hearing Bryan speak, I knew I needed to listen a little more closely. I knew that my job was to seek understanding of my new greater community, rather than to expect it to first understand (and embrace) me. And as I scratched the surface, I found equivalent concerns and need in Boston as existed in Los Angeles, especially concerning immigrant juveniles.

Since then, the stories I have encountered engaging in clinics and community work have since jolted me out of my first year slump:

A foster youth nearing 18 wants leave the confines of juvenile detention and enter a supportive home placement.  A teenager must decide whether to live with a guardian— a stranger to him—or reconcile with his abusive father in order to obtain a visa and subsequent green card. A young man flees his home country for the U.S., where he has no friends or family, in order to escape threats against his life.  An undocumented young woman survives rape in the U.S. and has the opportunity to obtain legal status and reunite with her family—but still needs to emotionally heal from her trauma in order to talk about her immigration case. An undocumented teen parent fights for more time with her son but fears entering family court because of her legal status.

As I engaged more with clinics and community work in Boston, scenarios like these made apparent to me the pressing need for holistic legal services to tackle the very adult concerns facing immigrant youth.  The youth I served must make very adult decisions while at a developmentally critical stage in life. Immigration concerns, such as being in removal proceedings, navigating life without legal status, or fearing the deportation of a loved one, only exacerbate their trauma.  Language barriers also prevent young people from accessing the help they need or effectively advocating for themselves. Many immigrant youth experience trauma from exposure to violence in the U.S. and their home countries or from unstable family situations or intimate partner relationships.  Youth also are vulnerable to sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

The challenges that many young people face—I quickly realized— required advocates willing to connect youth to supportive services, versed in immigration law, and informed about other civil legal systems.  Most importantly, systems-involved youth with immigration issues need advocates to foster a trusting relationship and provide client-centered services that educate and empower youth.

One of the ways that I was able to address young people’s need for holistic services was by  partnering  with Professor Mary Holper (Director of the Boston College Immigration Clinic) and Francine Sherman (Director of the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project) to develop an immigration and juvenile hybrid clinic.  The goal of this clinic, in part, was to provide holistic advocacy for systems-involved youth with immigration issues.

My goal for the clinic, developed with the mentorship of Professors Holper and Sherman, was to intensively work with young clients to 1) identify their ‘big picture’ goals; 2) counsel youth on their legal options and strategize with them the approach they wanted to take to solve their legal issues or achieve their goals; 3) empower youth by making them stakeholders invested in their case; 4) empower them through education on their legal options; and 5) connect youth with supportive services and collaborate with social workers as needed. Most frequently, the young person and I would navigate their immigration issues along with the family and juvenile court systems.  The hybrid clinic has continued this year, hosting two students representing young people in immigration and juvenile cases. My work in the clinic demonstrated the tremendous need for immigration reform, especially for young people. I also had the chance to engage in similar work during my summer internships and other volunteer work which confirmed this.

Taking a youth-centered and holistic approach to advocacy is also my way of growing proximate to the community.  It streamlines complicated processes, like family court, foster care, and delinquency proceedings, when one advocate understands the interplay between these systems. Moreover, working with service providers to ensure access to supportive resources stabilizes a young person’s life in order to successfully pursue legal forms of relief.

My experience has taught me the undeniable importance of legal status for systems-involved youth. Obtaining a work permit or Lawful Permanent Residency creates life-altering (and positive) changes in the life of a vulnerable young person.  Suddenly a young person can work and have access to income to support themselves of their families. A young person facing intimate partner violence might no longer fear calling the police during an incident of violence. College becomes a feasible goal because financial aid is available. A parenting teen can more confidently enter family court to request child custody or child support thereby creating a better life for the teen’s child. The options for youth to obtain legal status must continue to reach every young person.  Solving immigration needs, along with a holistic approach to youth advocacy, is one positive step in the direction of creating stable lives for systems involved youth navigating their complex lives.  It is being proximate to the realities facing this community.


Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: “A Few Steps to a Fulfilling Journey in Pro Bono Work”

Help WantedAlexander Gamez, 2014-2015 Merit Distinction Honoree
(Photo courtesy of Southwestern Law School)

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

This week, the 2014-15 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Merit Distinction honorees will be guest blogging about law student pro bono and their public interest commitments. (This year’s Pro Bono Publico Award recipient, Alex Dutton, will publish his blog next week when he receives his award.) Today, we’re featuring Merit Distinction honoree and Southwestern Law School student Alexander Gamez, an advocate for undocumented immigrant children who recruited an unprecedented number of students to volunteer for the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, and without whom Esperanza believes it “would not have been able to respond to the surge of demand for legal screenings for unaccompanied children.”

How a Few Steps Can Lead to a Fulfilling Journey in Pro Bono Work
Alexander Gamez, PSJD Pro Bono Publico Merit Distinction Honoree, 2014-2015 (Southwestern Law School)–

Attorneys and law students alike put in an obscene number of work hours week in-week out. The legal profession’s insatiable demand can make us frantic, cold, and exhausted, with little or no time for anything else once we are done with our work. With this in mind, many of us ask, how is it possible for me to get involved in pro bono work? Empathetic individuals who desire to do pro bono work may often find themselves conflicted when confronted with the task of striking a balance between their work and pro bono work. But have no fear! To ease this anxiety I propose the following six simple steps that have allowed me to find a healthy balance between my school/work obligations and pro bono opportunities.

Step 1. Realize & Prioritize. Pro bono work does not take up as much time as you would think. This of course varies with the sort of volunteer work you do, but in my experience volunteering may take one to three hours at a time. To put it in perspective, there are 168 hours in a week. Taking three hours out of a week once every few weeks or even once a month will not have much of an impact on your time. It will, however, have a tremendous impact on a client/applicant in need. Thus, I feel it is necessary to accept that volunteering does not have to be immensely time consuming and to make those occasional few hours of volunteering a priority. Are you extremely busy? I suggest being more productive during the times you set aside to do your work, i.e., stay away from social media. I also find it helpful to reward myself if I am able to accomplish the tasks I have set within a block of time, i.e., I get to watch a show on Netflix or have ice cream if I finish my work before 10:30.

Step 2. Volunteer with Friends. Probably the most difficult part of getting involved in pro bono work is actually signing up. In Los Angeles, there are plenty of nonprofits and a huge population of individuals that are in dire need of assistance so the issue isn’t really finding opportunities, it’s actually committing to them. It’s easy to say you’re going to sign up for a volunteer opportunity but once you take that bold step and confirm with an organization you’re going to volunteer, it’s almost as if there is no turning back because a no show may put your reputation in jeopardy.

When I began considering doing public interest work, this initial step was certainly the most difficult thing for me because of the angst I had relating to my other obligations with school. But, I found that by signing up with friends who have similar obligations, the volunteering process seemed effortless. Not only did we make a commitment to the organization, but we also made unspoken commitments to each other that we would not back out. If they could do it I could do it. By volunteering with friends you will reduce the anxiety of going into this alone and will also bring in more people to do pro bono work. Everybody wins!

Step 3. Lose the Ego. Okay, so I’m signed up, I have attended the training, and I am on my way to volunteer. Once this realization hits, anxiety pours over me. Doubts begin to surface: do I even have time to volunteer? Did I prepare enough beforehand? Should I look at the training material again? Is my Spanish up to par? Will I be able to help the client? Do I know where I’m going?

Although I have these thoughts because I want to ensure I do a good job for the applicant/client, I have come to find they are egoistic. Here I am on the verge of an anxiety attack but I never took a step back to think about the applicant/client’s concerns. In the context of interviewing unaccompanied minors facing the possibility of deportation, many of these individuals’ ages range from 6 to 18 years old. They’re children. Not only are they children but in most cases they’re thousands of miles away from their families, have been subjected to unimaginable circumstances such as sexual assault, trafficking, and near death experiences.

Like most other law students, I have lived a life of comfort compared to the person I am assisting.  When this realization hits, ego goes right out the window and I gain composure. In this context it is integral that volunteers convey strength and compassion to the youths. This will instill confidence and trust in the person you are assisting which will result in them providing you with the necessary information to obtain their legal relief.

Step 5. Reflect & Repeat. It is by taking part in pro bono work that one comes to appreciate humanity and becomes determined that more must be done to ensure that humanity persists. After I complete my pro bono assignments I am humbled, distressed, and yet gratified because, despite the troubles my pro bono clients/applicants have endured, troubles which I will never fully understand, they still have the courage to share their stories and share laughs and tears with complete strangers like myself in the hopes that I will help them find some sort of legal reprieve. I just imagine what the client would do had our services not been there. They would not stand a chance. Knowing that I was there to let them know that someone is willing to listen to their story, show them they are not insignificant, and that they are human beings brings me hope. This is what drives me to come back and volunteer again.

Step 6. Surround Yourself with a Support Group. The ability to participate in pro bono work becomes even more realistic if you’re surrounded by an amazing support group. I have been tremendously fortunate to have professors that have motivated, encouraged and found ways for me to get involved with pro bono work. Moreover, I have an amazing fiancée who also supports me every step of the way and has also done pro bono work alongside me and on her own. Lastly, I have friends inside and outside of law school who have been incredibly understanding when my law related activities have kept me away. This group’s support was and continues to be a vital force in my pro bono work.

By following these six steps my law school pro bono experience been tremendously satisfying. If you’ve ever had any qualms about finding a balance between school/work obligations and taking advantage of pro bono opportunities I hope these six steps will quash those concerns and lead you on a fulfilling journey in pro bono work.


Equal Justice Works’ Urgent Call: Help Preserve Public Service Loan Forgiveness

When it comes to student debt problems, Equal Justice Works helps us all a lot. They’ve got their student debt blog on the Huffington Post, their free student debt ebook, and their monthly free webinar series JDs in Debt: What Law Students & Lawyers Need to Know about Managing Student Loans & Earning Public Service Loan Forgiveness. (The next webinar is Thursday, January 22, from 3pm – 4pm EST, by the way.) Now, EJW needs your help. I’ll let them explain for themselves:

Help Preserve Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) allows borrowers to earn forgiveness of federal student loans after making 10 years of on-time monthly payments while working full-time in a public service position. While we hear from countless borrowers about how critical PSLF is to making a public interest career possible, currently, there is little hard data on who is relying on the program and its impact. You can help by filling out this very quick survey to show the impact the ability to earn forgiveness through PSLF has on your career plans.

This data will be invaluable in helping Equal Justice Works and a coalition of interested groups advocate for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. PSLF is currently being challenged by groups alleging it contributes to rising tuition and unfairly benefits professional and graduate students, including lawyers, doctors and social workers. This spring, the Obama Administration recommended capping PSLF at the undergraduate loan limit (currently $57,500) in its FY 2015 budget request to Congress. Now, Congress might propose a similar cap during the ongoing reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this year.

Your responses will be aggregated for confidentiality. You have the option to share your personal story in the survey if you would like to provide anecdotal evidence of the importance of PSLF. You can also let us know if you would like to be contacted about additional steps you can take to advocate for PSLF, including in Congress.

The deadline for completing the survey is March 2, but please complete it as soon as possible in case Congress acts sooner. Thank you for your help on this urgent issue!

Share and Get Involved

Please share this post with anyone you think might benefit from the free webinar or whose voice should be heard and encourage them to respond to the survey as soon as possible.

Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to creating a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice. To stay up to date, follow us on Twitter (@EJW_org, #studentdebthelp) and on Facebook.

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From die-ins to tangible change: how law schools and students are responding to Ferguson

Elizabeth Gyori
Program Assistant, Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School

Law school communities protest police brutality in front of symbols of their legal expertise. [Reprinted with permission.]Law school communities protest police brutality in front of symbols of their legal expertise. [Reprinted with permission.]

Law students have lain in tense, reflective silence while holding signs that read, “Black Lives Matter.” They’ve chanted, “No justice. No peace. No racist police!” while blocking traffic. They’ve acted as legal observers, demanded inclusion at their schools, and called for long-term, systemic change. Many law schools have erupted in protest, activism and internal soul-searching after a grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American, in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Michael Brown case has become symbolic of rampant police brutality against communities of color in the United States and sparked an outpouring of anger and protests across the country. This movement against police abuse gained momentum after another grand jury declined to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed African-American, on Staten Island. Because many see these cases as failures of the criminal justice system, the voices of law schools, students, faculty and staff, who have spoken out against police abuse and institutionalized racism in light of recent events in a plethora of ways, are an especially significant part of this movement.


Fordham Law School contingent at Millions March in NYC, 13 Dec 2014 Fordham Law School contingent at Millions March in NYC, 13 Dec 2014 [Reprinted with permission.]

From Berkeley to New Haven, law students have organized protests in solidarity with national protests after the grand jury verdicts. Over 200 law students, faculty and staff participated in a die-in at UC Berkeley School of Law on December 10, in which about 40 people laid down in front of the law school for 15 and a half minutes. Eleven minutes symbolized the number of times Eric Garner gasped, “I can’t breathe,” while in a chokehold. Four and a half minutes symbolized the number of hours Michael Brown’s body was left in the street after he was shot dead. Similarly, over 500 members of Yale Law School led a die-in, lying in the street for four and a half minutes in New Haven on December 5.

Students, faculty and staff have also joined national and community protests for justice, both as representatives of their institutions or groups and as individuals. In New York, members of many law schools, including Brooklyn, Cardozo, Columbia, Fordham, New York and Touro, marched in the Millions March on December 13. In general, the recent protests have been noticeably youthful, and law students have been visibly present at the various actions.

As with most controversial legal issues, law schools have sought to foster dialogue about Ferguson and racial disparity in the US through forums and other events. Lewis and Clark Law School held two open forums on the shootings and grand jury verdicts. At The University of Washington School of Law, over 200 people attended a discussion led by Seattle Defense Attorney Jeffrey Robinson on Ferguson, policing in communities of color, and the criminal justice system. Many schools will host follow-up events in the spring on the issues Ferguson has brought to surface.


Law schools and students are uniquely positioned to legally address the situation in Ferguson and surrounding issues. Recognizing this, student organizations like chapters of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) have sprung into action. The National BLSA developed an activism toolkit on organizing strategies, possible campaigns and students’ rights when protesting.

Law students are “the ones who can affect change because it is the lawyers who will essentially change the law,” Kim Brimm, National Director of Public Relations for the NBLSA, said. “Some of us will become senators, and some of us will become governors, and councilmen, so it definitely starts with us.”

True to Ms. Brimm’s words, individual BLSA chapters have already started. In the wake of recent events, law students have begun working within their local communities to address police brutality and racial disparities. Harvard’s BLSA has been working with Professor Ronald Sullivan to draft model local cameras-on-cops legislation. The group also hosted a conference on police relations in Boston and Cambridge, which over 200 community members attended. The conference featured a “Know Your Rights” workshop and a dialogue with Boston and Cambridge police, which was “really, really powerful,” McKenzie Morris, president of Harvard’s BLSA, said.

In Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania School of Law’s BLSA has been working with the American Civil Liberties Union on two projects on stop-and-frisk and civil access forfeiture. In partnership with the local organization Disproportionate Minority Contact, they also hope to launch a program next spring that will educate local law enforcement on adolescent psychology and facilitate dialogues between police officers and students in largely minority and disadvantaged schools, Dorian Simmons, President of UPenn’s BLSA, said.

Northwestern Law School's #handsupdontshoot solidarity action [Reprinted with permission.] Northwestern Law School’s #handsupdontshoot solidarity action [Reprinted with permission.]

Other law school communities have taken public stances on more national stages. To raise awareness and show solidarity, a wide array of student groups and some law school communities released statements condemning the non-indictments and calling for meaningful reform. A statement by members of Fordham Law School, which garnered over 350 signatures, expresses support for “thoughtful reforms such as demilitarization of our nation’s police forces and shifting the focus of enforcement away from tactics that have disparate racial impact.” An open letter to President Obama and Attorney General Holder, which was drafted by Harvard Law School’s BLSA, garnered over 1,000 signatures – almost half of the law school. The letter calls for action against a system that devalues black lives, including through the use of body-worn cameras by police, and the prosecution of police officers who have killed unarmed minorities.

Several schools and student groups have also engaged in media campaigns, including Northwestern, Harvard, UCLA, and Fordham law schools. They participated in the #handsupdontshoot campaign by taking photos in front of their law school signs with their hands raised. This fall, the Harvard’s BLSA even launched their own media campaign, featuring similar photos of students.


One of the most distinct ways that law students have engaged in recent actions is through legal observing, in which neutral individuals monitor and document the activities of demonstrators and their interactions with law enforcement at the request of organizers. When the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee (FLDC), an organization providing legal support to the Ferguson community, issued a call to action for law students, many responded by volunteering as legal observers, while others provided research support. Nicholas Klaus, a 3L at Wayne State University School of Law and Co-Student National Vice President of the NLG, made two trips to Ferguson in October and November, traveling with two fellow classmates in November. “I felt like I had a duty to go,” Klaus said. “I felt like there was a call to do something. I was in a position to do the work. It’s what I came to law school to do, and so, we went.”

Watching and documenting demonstrators’ interactions with police, Klaus observed (and experienced) police use of pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets against protestors during his trips, which may prove important in defense of criminal charges brought against protestors and in affirmative litigation against such police practices.

With many student chapters of the NLG conducting observer trainings, legal observing by law students has also been prominent at community protests. Legal observing “allows people who would otherwise be pretty moderate to be a part of the movement without actually having to participate,” said Meredith Osborne, Co-Chair of University of Michigan Law School’s NLG chapter. “They can kind of be this ‘neutral observer,’ but in reality they know that they are there on behalf of the organizers.”

As protests continue, so does the need for observers. Osborne and her NLG chapter have been acting as legal observers for demonstrations in the Ann Arbor area since the summer and plan to conduct observer trainings every semester in light of an increase in interest from students.


Nothing is more local for law students than their own law schools communities. Student coalitions at Georgetown, Columbia, and Harvard law schools have called on their own schools to become more inclusive of minority students and to address racism on campus. “As students of color on campus, we feel very isolated,” said a 2L African-American Coalition member at Georgetown who asked to remain anonymous. “The Coalition basically formed out of a feeling that we needed to do more, and get the university to really listen to what our needs are and what our problems are with the way the people of color are treated on campus.”

Generally, each coalition is demanding institutional support for students affected by recent events, a public statement by their respective administrations on Ferguson, exam extensions on an individual basis, and continuing initiatives to address diversity on campus, including diversity training. Schools have begun to respond to these demands, with all three schools beginning dialogues with the coalitions and Columbia Law School granting exam extensions.

In this time of reflection, some law schools have implemented or are considering new programs addressing diversity and racial disparity in the justice system. For example, Columbia Law School launched an online forum on police accountability, complete with fact sheets on the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases written by faculty, for interested students who want more information for informed conversations with family and friends. The school is also considering small group discussions on the issues surrounding Ferguson and a parallel orientation or year-long program for 1Ls on how race, gender, poverty and social exclusion intersect with the law, said Ellen Chapnick, Dean for Social Justice Initiatives at Columbia Law School.


Activism around and the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner has opened a space for public conversations addressing police brutality, racism and failures of the justice system in the US. Law school communities are seizing this moment of opportunity to explore innovative and creative ways to frame these dialogues and push for justice in Ferguson and beyond.


The Evolution of DC Pro Bono Week

As we get ready for Pro Bono Week 2014, here is a great example of how a community came together to do good work and sustain pro bono throughout the year in Washington, D.C.

The Evolution of DC Pro Bono Week

Each week in October, DC Pro Bono Week serves as a companion to the ABA’s Celebrate Pro Bono Week. Although it started small, DC Pro Bono Week is now a vibrant celebration – featuring a range of activities, events, and trainings designed to provide legal services and get more people involved in pro bono work. The evolution of DC Pro Bono Week into its current form has resulted from extensive collaboration, with many people from many organizations rolling up their sleeves.

The Inception

In 2009, Dechert’s pro bono partner, Suzie Turner, launched an informal working group that planned activities to promote DC Pro Bono Week. Merely by announcing a meeting on a listserv of DC legal services providers, she got attorneys from nonprofits, law firms, and law schools to come together and think about ways to celebrate DC’s pro bono community and encourage more attorneys to do pro bono work.

These haphazard meetings produced concrete results; for several years, this working group planned a series of activities around DC Pro Bono Week. The group planned pro bono fairs, where attorneys and law students could meet with pro bono coordinators at legal services organizations – making an initial connection that could grow into a serious pro bono relationship. The group also facilitated a reception in which local judges recognized attorneys who volunteered in court-based programs and thanked them for their service; as well as several other activities and clinics.

A Growth Spurt

The Pro Bono Week committee continued to expand and create major new initiatives:

  • Go Casual for Justice: Go Casual is a citywide fundraiser for the DC Bar Foundation, the largest funder of civil legal services in the District of Columbia. Employees at participating workplaces donate $5 (or more) to wear jeans to work on any day the office designates. In its first year, in 2009, thirty law firms raised $30,000. Over the years, the effort has expanded to include more than 100 law firms, corporate law departments, banks, and other workplaces. Last year, over 100 workplaces of all sizes raised nearly $90,000. These funds have helped to support the DC Bar Foundation’s legal-services grants, trainings, and loan-repayment assistance programs.
  • Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll: Each year, lawyers who did more than fifty hours of pro bono work are encouraged to register for the Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll. Those who did more than 100 hours of service are recognized on the High Honor Roll. Attorneys also receive letters of thanks from the Chief Judges of DC Superior Court and the DC Court of Appeals. The size of the Honor Roll has grown each year.
  • Virtual Pro Bono Fair. Marcia Maack (Mayer Brown) and Becky Troth (Sidley Austin) coordinated this major effort, producing an online resource that is always available to attorneys who want to make a pro bono connection – without leaving their desks. The Pro Bono Week committee was able to obtain free video services, and the gracious hospitality of Pro Bono Net, to host the Virtual Pro Bono Fair online.

A New Home

In 2013, DC Pro Bono Week had grown so much that it needed additional structure – a home, if you will. Washington Council of Lawyers volunteered to be the steward of DC Pro Bono Week. The “open door, all are welcome” approach to DC Pro Bono Week has continued – with the inclusion of law schools, bar associations, and Equal Justice Works, in addition to the law firms and service providers that have participated for years.

Jen Tschirch is a member of the Washington Council of Lawyers board of directors, and the Pro Bono Coordinator at the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law. She chaired the DC Pro Bono Week committee in 2013 and is co-chairing this year (along with another WCL board member, Georgetown Law’s Sara Jackson). According to Jen, “It’s amazing how much this group is able to accomplish by having every participant contribute their small piece of the puzzle. From credit counseling sessions to court and clinic visits to an all-new immigration clinic, it has been inspiring to see so many groups work together to highlight and expand the important pro bono work taking place in Washington, DC.” Perhaps the most amazing part is that DC Pro Bono Week is powered almost entirely by volunteer service and voluntary contributions.

The mission of Washington Council of Lawyers is to promote pro-bono service and public-interest law. Organizing DC Pro Bono Week is a natural fit for this collaborative organization dedicated to increasing the availability of quality legal services to those in need.


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To learn more about DC Pro Bono Week, please visit


You can follow Washington Council of Lawyers on Twitter at @WashLawyers.


Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: On the Need for Holistic Representation in Veterans’ Rights Services, by Pro Bono Publico Award Winner Martin Bunt

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

This week, the 2013-14 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award winners have been guest blogging about law student pro bono and their public interest commitments. Today, we’re featuring the grand prize winner and Emory University School of Law student Martin Bunt, a veterans’ rights advocate who co-founded the student-run Volunteer Clinic for Veterans.

Atlanta Photographer | LeahAndMark & Co. | Emory Law

Read Martin’s take on why veterans’ service organizations need to unite and work together below!

I recently went to a briefing in Atlanta on state and federal funding available for veterans and the organizations that benefit them with Sion New, the next student director of the Emory Law Volunteer Clinic for Veterans. Also present at the briefing were churches, summer camps, medical organizations, mental health organizations, veteran job training organization, veteran general support organizations, the American Red Cross.

This was not the first time I had attended a get-together of this type. To see the amount of organizations serving veterans is truly heartening. There are so many people who wish to serve veterans. However, what others and I realized at the meeting is that the amount of organizations serving veterans creates both an opportunity and a problem. The opportunity is the ability of organizations serving veterans to partner with each other to provide “whole package” services to veterans in need. The problem is how do organizations become aware of all the other organizations in their area that they should partner with to serve veterans?

Organizations that serve veterans and other organizations need to solve this problem. We cannot fully accomplish our goal of helping those we serve without working together.

Each service an organization provides is a piece of a puzzle. For example, the VCV provides legal services in the areas of discharge upgrades and VA benefits. But we only provide legal services.

The following hypothetical explains how this could fail to fully help a veteran who comes to us:

A veteran named Brad, for example purposes only, comes to our Clinic for help appealing a denied VA rating for PTSD. Brad believes that his PTSD is connected to his two tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2006. Since Brad was discharged he got married and has two kids. After service Brad realized that his temper flared easily and he often woke with nightmares of a battle where he lost three of his friends to mortar and RPG fire. Brad works at a job that underutilizes the skills he learned as a soldier and therefore he does not enjoy going to work. His temper and lack of sleep recently caused him to lose his job and has severely strained his marriage. From interviews with Brad, it is clear that he has struggled as a veteran to find a purpose and the structured lifestyle that the military gave him.

The VCV can advocate on Brad’s behalf and win a PTSD rating for him from the VA. But monthly disability checks will not help Brad get his life where he truly wants it. He needs a purpose, he needs counseling, and he needs help with his family. Just from the community of organizations I met this past week in Atlanta, Brad can get all the help he needs.


A new organization in Atlanta, the Phoenix Patriot Foundation, individually tailors programs that get veterans involved in serving their community and learning new skills to provide these services. Brad will discover a niche in helping his community with a skill he already possesses or will learn. This service will in turn lead him down a path to a job that he truly enjoys.


Multiple organizations present at the briefing provided individual PTSD counseling. These private organizations are effective and needed supplements to the VA’s efforts to provide PTSD counseling to veterans. Brad would receive individual counseling and mentoring on different methods to manage his tempers and sleep better at night.


Camp Twin Lakes is a Georgia based organization that has a Wounded Warrior program that offers weekend getaways for veterans and their families at Camp Twin Lakes different camps around Georgia. During these getaways veterans and their families not only get a wonderful vacation but attend marriage and family counseling.

After Brad receives all of the services offered by these organizations he would truly be a different man: He would be receiving the VA benefits he has earned; he would have a new purpose by utilizing his skill sets to serve his local community and in turn discovering a new, more suitable career; He would learn to control his temper and sleep better at night; His marriage would be on a much better footing. Brad would find all the pieces to the puzzle of life falling into place.

This example demonstrates why service organizations must work together in a community to aid those they serve. I believe a great solution to service organizations discovering each other is to create a central website that lists all service organizations by targeted population and services offered. This does not yet exist in Atlanta, but I believe it will happen soon. Leaders of all service organizations have a duty to work together to help those that we serve receive the “whole package,” we are failing them if we do not.