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U of M Law Students Work Through PALS for Community Pro Bono Work

For release: October 3, 2011
For press information, contact Christina Zawisza, 901- 678-5201

Students at the University of Memphis’s Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will join legal professionals around the country in observing pro bono work during October. Organized by the school’s Public Action Law Society (PALS), the students will conduct legal service projects throughout Memphis.

On October 11, PALS will host a panel discussion with legal service groups from around the Mid-South. The panel will lead to a Volunteer Fair at the law school on October 20, where students can meet one-to-one with representatives of non-profit organizations and public service agencies.

"I can’t overstate how much law students are a useful, untapped resource in our efforts to do the best work possible for Shelby County citizens," said Dorcas Young, with the Shelby County Division of Community Services, of the recruiting effort. 

Last month PALS joined private and public-interest attorneys to manage a legal clinic at Memphis's first annual Project Homeless Connect, a day-long event that provided a range of social services to more than 40 percent of the homeless population in Memphis.  Student volunteers matched 97 clients with lawyers from the Shelby County Public Defender's Office, Memphis Area Legal Services, and the law firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, LLC.  Law School Diversity Scholar Tienne Anderson, also assisted.  The event was organized by Community Alliance for the Homeless, as part of the Mayor's Action Plan to End Homelessness.

“Sitting down with a homeless individual who is in great need, but lacking even basic resources, and helping that individual navigate our legal system is an extraordinary gesture of compassion and service by these law students,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.  “The University of Memphis and our entire community should be very proud of these young leaders and how they have used their skills in service of their fellow citizens.”

PALS also works with Memphis Area Legal Services to provide volunteers for a weekly clinic at Shelby County General Sessions Court and a monthly clinic at the Benjamin L. Hooks Public Library.  "It was very rewarding, as a law student, to get outside the classroom and into the real world," PALS volunteer Kyle Ference, a first-year law student, said of his experience at the pro bono legal clinics.

Starting this year, PALS is partnering with Shelby County Juvenile Court to provide clerks and jury monitors at the newly instituted "Youth Court" peer justice hearings for juvenile respondents.  Visiting Professor Angela Laughlin Brown has volunteered as a judge to support the initiative. "University of Memphis law students are invaluable to the program because their knowledge of the law enables them to serve inside the courtroom alongside attorneys as they mentor youth volunteers from eight local high schools," said Avis Lamar, Youth Court Coordinator.

Within the law school, PALS is partnering with the school’s chapter of the Association of Women Attorneys to support that group’s annual Dress for Success Clothing Drive.  Students are invited to donate professional attire for people who are seeking employment to wear at their job interviews. “This project is a springboard for men and women who otherwise wouldn’t get an opportunity to pursue gainful employment,” said Whitney Fore, a first-year law student and member of both PALS and AWA.  “It was a great chance for us to make a difference for people who really needed it.”

In 2012 the Public Action Law Society will host its second annual on-site Alternative Spring Break Program, bringing together law students from across the nation for a week of public interest advocacy and community service. "We're hoping to capitalize on the momentum from last year's program," said Anna Benson, third-year law student and PALS vice president.  "We served more than 100 clients in one week in 2011, and next year we hope to provide even more people with equal access to justice."

For more information about service projects at the U of M law school, or to schedule an interview with PALS representatives, contact Christina Zawisza, professor of clinical law, at czawisza@memphis.edu  or 901-678-5201.

Information about U of M law school activities is also available online at www.memphis.edu/law or via Twitter and Facebook.

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