Fall 2020 presented novel challenges for the law school’s Richard and Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program, which has developed a rich array of in-house pro bono projects that provide opportunities for students to assist community members with a range of legal problems. After the pandemic moved all pro bono activities online in March 2020, program staff worked hard to make the virtual platforms available to community members while providing students with meaningful volunteer opportunities. But coming into the fall 2020 semester, staff were concerned about first-year students, who would be entirely new to the program. Would 1Ls volunteer for virtual projects? Would they find online pro bono meaningful?
To answer those questions, the Mithoff Program asked 1Ls about their fall semester pro bono experiences with the INCLUDE disability law project, which advances the rights of persons with disabilities through the involvement of law students in the disability rights movement and is directed by Professor Lucy Wood. Below Kate Gibson, Marcus Harding, Adarsh Parthasarathy, Sophia Shams, Leah Weintrub, and Neal Whetstone share their thoughts about their involvement in two INCLUDE projects:
SPEAK (Support Parents’ Education, Advocacy, and Knowledge), which includes special education workshops and direct assistance for parents in school hearings, and
PAD (Psychiatric Advanced Directive) clinics, which help community members draft advance directives for the treatment of mental illness by third parties, including medical and law enforcement personnel.
“Fall 2020 was a challenging semester for everyone, but despite the obstacles, the Mithoff Program successfully completed 35 pro bono clinics and projects. Over 240 students volunteered at least once. I am grateful to the Mithoff Program staff, the Mithoff Pro Bono Scholars, and all the students who volunteered. I’d also like to especially thank Kate, Marcus, Adarsh, Sophia, Leah and Neal for sharing their experiences with us,” said Mithoff Program Director Andrea Marsh. “Working in teams to help hundreds of people solve legal problems and improve their lives helped these students, and many more, connect meaningfully with each other and with the larger community.”
Written by Mary Crouter and originally published January 14, 2021 on the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law website.