Public Service Policy Recognizes Students Who Gave Back
The president of the State Bar of California joined Dean Bryant Garth, the faculty and school in thanking and congratulating 200 students for the impressive pro bono legal services they provided to clients and the community in the 2009-2010 academic year. Under a policy change enacted in Fall 2009, students were honored and formally recognized for the first time for devoting specified amounts of public service work, which totaled almost 5,000 donated hours in less than a first, full academic year of tallying.
Twenty-four graduating students received signed letters of recognition from the Dean for volunteering 75 hours or more of their time. These students' law school academic transcripts will also carry a formal public service notation. They joined 57 other students who volunteered 25 hours or more, received congratulatory letters from the Dean and were invited to an April lunch honoring all the 2009-2010 participating Southwestern legal Samaritans, keynoted by State Bar President Howard Miller.
Miller praised students for their legal service, arguing that all lawyers must embrace pro bono work as not only a core value but also one of the pinnacles of their profession's practice. "Lawyers exist to serve their clients, communities and the public interest," he said, adding that the State Bar will affirm this idea with prospective California rule revisions on practice that will, as occurs nationally, call on all practitioners to provide 50 hours annually of pro bono service. The Bar president called on students to look to their future to figure how to fix broken economic models that now send too many citizens into legal proceedings without counsel, even as record numbers of lawyers are under- or unemployed.
Professor Laura Cohen, who served as the point person on the push to increase, record and recognize Southwestern's public service efforts, praised students for their energy, enthusiasm and accomplishments in a shortened, first year of the school's policy to honor volunteers. She noted that the law students eagerly took on a vast array of duties, assisting the young, old, families, the poor and needy across Southern California. She said the public service initiative, which took a generous, expansive view of what constitutes legal service, won wide embrace among students whether they were first-years, SCALE scholars or soon-to-graduate 3Ls.
"Students' excellent hard work, and especially their initiative in finding new volunteer situations, will open up even more options and opportunities for the public service program to grow in the years ahead," she said at the honors lunch. The event also recognized students who were chosen for 2010 Public Interest Awards and those who received 2009 and 2010 Summer Public Interest Grant Awards.
Dean Garth thanked participants and joked that he was pleased to have a sore hand from signing so many recognition letters. "This program has fit so well and has already exceeded our expectations," he said. "You should all be very proud of the example you have set for Southwestern's expanded emphasis on public service."