By Dominique McPherson, Nicole Safker & Yvette Sturkes
UF Law students & Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellows
"Public service is a core value at the Levin College of Law, and it has been at the heart of our mission for decades. Preparing our students to serve not only their clients but also the justice system and the public consistently with the highest ethical standards and ideals of the legal profession is an indispensable part of providing students with a well-rounded legal education." —UF Levin College of Law Dean Robert H. Jerry
Living and working in a smaller, more rural community creates challenges for students with finding public interest law placements. Yet, UF Law students and faculty are nonetheless immersed in the legal work of our state and local community. UF Law's Pro Bono Project gives students the opportunity to perform valuable community service, learn about the legal needs of traditionally underserved groups, and gain practical legal experience. Since 2009, UF Law students have donated some 25,676 hours of pro bono work. The Joseph W. Little Pro Bono Support Fund reimburses students for reasonable travel and office expenses associated with completing pro bono work. Moreover, UF Law's various fellowship programs also support student placement at government agencies and non-profit, public interest organizations. Such fellowship programs include the Center for Governmental Responsibility's Public Interest Law Fellowship (funded by The Florida Bar Foundation) and the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations' Yegelwel Fellowship.
Students have the opportunity to participate in several criminal or civil clinics, representing indigent clients, non-profits or public entities. One such clinic, the Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic, is breaking new ground nationally by collaborating with the UF College of Medicine, Shands Teaching Hospital and local non-profit Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network, providing low-income victims of intimate partner violence with comprehensive legal, medical and social services. Additionally, UF Law's new Criminal Justice Certificate Program provides academic advising, mentorship, area-specific education, and detailed criminal-practice training for students dedicated to a career in public service in criminal law. In addition to the clinics, students have access to a variety of externships at courts, local governments, state and federal agencies and elsewhere, most of which focus on some aspect of public interest law.
Students also work with local groups to assist in: restoring the civil rights of convicted felons; providing volunteer low-income tax assistance; and conducting research for the Florida Innocence Commission, which is advising the Florida Supreme Court on reducing wrongful convictions. Moreover, the Association for Public Interest Law, the Center for Career Development, The Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellows at the Center for Governmental Responsibility, the Environmental and Land Use Law Society and other student organizations promote public interest law on campus by bringing in speakers, hosting conferences, connecting students with public interest law resources, and raising awareness through events such as the Public Interest Law Week. Students and faculty at UF Law recognize the importance of public service and work to carry out public interest and pro bono work statewide.
This article was submitted to the White House as part of the 'Champions of Change' event Oct. 13. The blog article will be posted online by the White House.