Community Service Program Placements
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Posted by: Prof. Edgar Cahn
Even the taxi drivers in Washington know that the UDC-DCSL School of Law has survived against the odds, year in and year out. That survival stems directly from the grassroots support. By law, the School is mandated to provide access to Justice to residents of the District and to open up the legal profession to under-represented groups. The School has honored that commitment. This community knows it.
Every entering student takes the course Law & Justice which includes a 40 hour community service requirement. This requirement comes on top of the School’s core requirement that every student provide at least 700 hours of service in the School’s own law firm to earn the clinical credits providing actual legal services to District residents.
That 40 hour requirement would, by itself, have been sufficient to place UDC-DCSL in the very top rank of law schools in terms of commitment to serve the community. Last year, 80 first-year students provided more than 3,200 hours of service. But numbers do not begin to convey the quality, significance or texture of what they gave. Here are some excerpts:
DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence
"On-call advocates are available to meet with a victim at a hospital, courthouse or police station, or speak with them on the phone. The on-call advocate is able to provide safety planning and emotional support; legal information; Crime Victim’s Compensation applications; emergency financial assistance; a temporary place to stay (a hotel); transportation; access to the Temporary Protection Order process and someone who will work with them throughout the court process and provide case management. ...When I would get a page I would call the number back and talk directly to the police officer to get information from them about the incident and then talk to the victim to see how I could assist them. ...I had previously worked with domestic violence victims in Minnesota. ...The victims I had previously helped mostly came from middle class families, while the ones located in D.C. came from very low-income neighborhoods. Coming from a poverty stricken area poses much more difficult problems than someone who comes from circumstances where they can afford to relocate and leave the abusive relationship.”
Multi-Door Dispute Resolution of D.C. Superior Court
"Mediation observation was a wonderful experience... Mediators would frequently ask my opinion, and talk about the legal issues and doctrines involved in the preceding cases... There was always something to work on, which gave me the feeling that I was truly contributing to the process.”
Court Watch Program
"The Court Watch Program is a program that monitors civil court and criminal court proceedings for victims of domestic violence…to ensure that victims are not re-victimized during the often difficult proceedings… The parents often do not have any other means for help other than the abuser adult child who is either sent to serve time in prison or alternatively ordered to stay away... As I walked back to the courtroom, I thought to myself over and over again, was justice served? …How can family members who so desperately need to mend their relationship begin to heal when they are prohibited from having any contact? ...In lieu of a stay away or jail time, I firmly believe that these broken families would benefit from family counseling or other treatment that would not separate them, but would bring them together so that they could begin to heal emotionally.”
Office of Attorney General for Child and Family Services
"This agency prosecutes child abuse and neglect cases. In addition to... an opportunity to work closely with an experienced Attorney General, I was able to apply my first year legal research and writing skills to help prepare cases for trial. Although rewarding, the experience was quite challenging emotionally... It was difficult at times to comprehend the number of children who were being neglected and the ways in which they were abused. ...Assuming each lawyer (in the Agency) had the same number of cases, at least two-thousand (2000) children suffer from neglect or child abuse in Washington, DC.”
Media Access Project
"I worked with attorneys to prepare briefs relating to broadcasting station sales across the United States, reviewed and summarized the Federal Communication Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making relating to the 700 MHZ proceeding. The summary was used … in a press release stating MAP’s opposition to FCC’s willingness to allow monopolized media to control this portion of the broadcast spectrum which was intended for public safety usages. I also composed a one-page description [that] stated why the cable leased access initiative, which was intended to promote diversity in programming, fails to do so because the FCC’s rate formula favors cable operators and discourages independent programmers.”
Advocates for Justice in Education (AJE)
"AJE was founded by Kim Jones, a graduate of the David A. Clarke School of Law. I worked under the supervision of Karu Echinique, also a graduate of our law school. These cases included those where the D.C. school system has refused to comply with special education requirements…” [The report describes participation in training and resource workshops for parents, development of revised training materials to address special education needs of school children with physical and emotional disabilities, writing an article in AJE’s monthly newsletter regarding the difference between charter and public schools and what rights special education students have in each system.] "Seeing the ability of the legal system to help change the paths of children with disabilities has reaffirmed my interest in becoming a special education lawyer, and most importantly, my interest in working with parents to develop a better line of communication between parents and the public school system.”
Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project
"Working under the supervision of the executive director and her assistant, I investigated claims of innocence from D.C. prisoners ...in cases involving DNA evidence or other newly discovered evidence.” [Describing one case], "My review indicates there are significant disputes in testimony, the possibility of inconclusive DNA testing, and a possible lead involving another who was initially arrested in the murder but released... I will be continuing with MAIP over the summer as an intern.”
Asian Pacific American Resource Center
"Staffed by 19 law student volunteers who speak up to ten Asian languages, the hotline serves as an entry point into legal services for many Asian-Americans who are non-English speakers. As an Asian-American who can speak Khmer and conversational Mandarin, I was hoping to assist Cambodians in need of legal assistance. The hotline makes you think on your feet and empathize with a client. Although, as a volunteer, you are not allowed to give out legal advice, you are constantly issue spotting and finding what course of action is best for the caller. [M]y time at the APALRC has just begun as I have made ties with the Asian and Asian-American community.”
Neighborhood Legal Services Program
"Neighborhood Legal Services allows their interns to learn the areas of law they want to learn, and also allows interns to do the work they are interested in doing. ...I completed a lot of research in various areas of law which really allowed me to practice and hone my legal research skills. I was able to use the skills in real life that I was taught in my Lawyering Process Class. My favorite part about Legal Services Program was the people who worked at the program and their attitude towards their work and their clients. You could tell everyone was there because they wanted to be there, and they genuinely cared about their clients."
Alliance for Justice
"The Judicial Selection project assigned me the task of composing case summaries from numerous Mississippi Court of Appeals decisions. These case summaries were compiled for a full report on Judge Southwick. …[T]he report indicated that Judge Southwick has an 89 percent record of voting against workers, consumers, and other victims in divided decisions. In an employment case, Judge Southwick joined a five to four decision that excused the use of a racial slur.”
Low-Income Tax Clinic and Housing Clinic
"Not until working in the clinics this year has my Spanish meant so much. I interpreted client meetings. I translated written letters to clients, and I interpreted over the telephone. In the housing clinic I was asked to translate a copy of a settlement agreement, a hefty legal document. My basic duty was to effectively interpret between the languages in such a way as to not distract from the substance of the conversation, thus preserving the feeling of dialog between the client and the student attorney. Working in the clinics was not merely a way for me to practice my Spanish in a legal setting, and to learn much specific legal vocabulary. It was also a profoundly human experience in that we were dealing with real clients and real problems. It was touching to observe the genuine interest of the law students and also to witness the hours of hard work and dedication they put into each client’s complex case."
Employment Justice Center
and D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings
"The real skill is to spend some time with the employee to get to the heart of the legal issue… The difficult task is to keep the conversation on point and to reach the main issue because often employees are disgruntled, upset, mad and simply want to tell someone their story – and it was my task to keep the conversation focused while showing compassion for their concern. The staff and volunteers at EJC are truly dedicated, compassionate and committed. I was proud to be part of their staff, if even for a limited time… In the spring semester, I began at the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. I was fortunate enough to work for Judge Ann C. Yahner, [dealing] with the Department of Employment Service which focused on unemployment insurance cases. [M]y last work included a research assignment and memo dealing with a question: what was the obligation of OAH when notice of a hearing was sent to a party but returned undeliverable?”
DC Councilmember Marion Barry
Chan Tei DuRant
"I worked on a bill to amend the current D.C. Human Rights Act to include ex-offenders as a protected class. It prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and education institutions that is based solely on having an arrest or conviction record. There are approximately ten to fifteen other jurisdictions with similar laws. I was able to work significantly on a bill that will benefit the lives of over 6,000 ex-offenders that are released every year here in the District. This experience has been one of my most gratifying throughout law school and has provided me with a staff position with the Council member this semester. "
DC Councilmember Kwame Brown
"I have never been very interested in working for the government or within the local legislature. I gained a new respect and understanding for the inner workings of the D.C. city government. I was most excited to find how many current UDC-DCSL students and alumni work in the City Council and the Mayor’s Office... Wednesday we spent eleven hours on the Council dais with Councilmember Brown. While the Councilmember questioned the three agencies, I took notes, specifically looking for unanswered questions, so that we could follow up the next day with a letter. During the questioning of the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, I sat next to the Councilmember and ... handed him documents, as he needed them. That aspect of the hearing took approximately two hours, and was quite thrilling to be so involved ... for this oversight process. [I was asked] to stay next to the Councilman for the question of the NCRC. Though I had not prepared questions specifically for this agency, I had learned enough in the last two days to be of help to the Councilmember. The hearing wrapped up close to ten o’clock that night.”
Time Dollar Youth Court
"Youth Court serves as the last stand between a life of difficulty and a life of different choices. One young woman in particular sticks in my mind. I saw her go from not caring about her life, personal goals or a future, to telling defendants they need to start thinking about their future, to do something with themselves and the reason why it is important to do so. In the fall she will attend college.”
Time Dollar Youth Court
"During the course of one of these intake interviews, I encountered a 14-year-old girl who, accompanied by her mother, had been arrested for fighting in school. Her mother told me that she did not understand why her daughter "had to go through all of this.” She viewed the situation as simply "just some kids fighting” and it was "no big deal.” … During the rest of the intake interview, I noticed that the 14-year-old girl was unable to read or write. I found this very disturbing and her mother explained to me that she had been trying to get her daughter some special assistance through the school system but was unable to. The girl was visibly distraught when I asked her to fill out some self-evaluation forms because she was unable to fill them out herself. She was on the verge of tears so I offered to fill them out myself and she was able to tell me what she wanted to say. Her mother indicated that she believed the youth court was just another bureaucratic dead end for her daughter to get help. In fact, this was not a dead end. It was a beginning. The young girl had her hearing the next Saturday morning, and as I advised her mother to request from the court, she was assigned to an education advocate through the Youth Court program to help her in interacting with the school system to find a solution to her daughter’s grievous and long overlooked needs. By the time the hearing process was over, I ran into the mother and her attitude had completely changed.”
"The majority of my service was spent preparing for and executing the Voting Rights March. This was the first march of its kind for this cause and a lot of time and energy went into planning for it. My projects involved contacting each of the ANC Commissioners, a press conference held in conjunction with a taxicab association that supports the D.C. Vote cause, creating and maintaining a data base of email addresses and phone numbers of potential volunteers and marchers, updating the website with new information, new media and new photos of events. While working with D.C. Vote, the House of Representatives voted for [ a bill] that granted a seat in the House of Representatives to the District of Columbia. I was able to see not only how a non-profit organization functions, but also how to organize a large event like the Voting Rights March.”
Public Defender Service
"My placement at DC’s Public Defender Service allowed me the opportunity to do substantive legal research and draft memos and attorney letters. I had the opportunity to visit our client at jail, research theories for his defense, and witness his trial. My supervising attorney allowed me an inside experience as to the life of a public defender."