UDC-DCSL students are required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of pro bono local legal community service during their first year. Students begin the year with an intensive course, Law & Justice, taught by Professor Edgar Cahn. The course highlights legal issues affecting vulnerable members of the community and encourages students to explore their personal experiences with injustice. Students are then matched with a faculty advisor who serves as a mentor during the community service experience. Through the Community Service Program, students are introduced to Washington, its issues, and a cross section of policymakers and individuals who make the District and its programs work.
Some of the organizations where students have completed their community service in the past include: D.C. Human Rights Commission, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, Amnesty International, Council for Court Excellence, D.C. Office of the Attorney General, National Veterans Legal Services Program, District of Columbia Office of Bar Counsel, AARP Nursing Home Ombudsman Program, U.S. District Court, Public Defender Service of D.C., D.C. Superior Court, Center for Immigration Law and Practice, and Time Dollar Youth Court.
Students frequently find community service to be an enlightening experience that creates or cements a commitment to use the legal system to fight injustice.
The lack of lawyers providing legal services to the homeless creates another layer of structural injustice. I knew this before I volunteered at the shelter, and initially I thought my experience there would be depressing. ... I learned that I could make a difference by simply taking an interest in another person. I realized that I was in fact providing a kind of community service just by talking to them because most people do not talk to or touch homeless people. I was doing more than just providing a legal service at the shelter — we were making the men feel human. ... I will never forget my experience at the shelter, and perhaps someday after I become a lawyer, I will return to the shelter, or somewhere similar, and do more than provide legal referrals.
- Student Volunteer, Homeless Shelter in Northwest D.C.
The objective of my community service was to visit ten nursing homes as part of the Legal Counsel for the Elderly's D.C. Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. The mission was to ensure that residents understood their legal rights, to investigate and seek to resolve complaints, and to provide assistance and support until problems are resolved. ... There is not a basic well-being in these residents' way of life because human life is not limited to having food and shelter. ... I made the required reports to the Ombudsman Legal Counsel. Because that seemed superficial, I also undertook a survey investigating the number of times residents received visits from relatives or friends and the frequency of their contacts and gave that to Legal Counsel for the Elderly. I hope the survey results will be used to show ways to improve residents' sense of human value and dignity.
- Student Volunteer, Legal Counsel for the Elderly
My experience with working at Legal Aid made me more aware of people in the world less fortunate than I am. I have to commend the attorneys who work there. I never saw so much dedication. I look up to them for teaching me to understand the issues that plague the poor and low-income community. My project helped me reinforce my goal in life, which is to become a public interest lawyer.
- Student Volunteer, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
With mandatory clinics and this community service requirement, we are sending an extremely strong message to the community: we are an asset to Washington, D.C., and we are an asset to law schools across the country. There are not enough public interest lawyers. There are not enough that perform pro bono services. I fulfilled a requirement for Law and Justice, and I managed to really help some people as well as myself along the way.
- Student Volunteer, District of Columbia Office of Bar Counsel