A Call to Public Interest Law
The ABA recommends that each lawyer render at least fifty hours of pro bono work per year. Specific requirements are listed as to the type of work that qualifies as pro bono. However, compassionate lawyers and law students are needed to answer the call to public service if we are to meet the needs of those in society who require legal assistance but cannot afford it.
I always have been amazed by how the lack of financial resources can turn a minor issue into major problem. In fact, it was my desire to assist those who could not afford legal representation that drove me to attend law school. As Gainesville native, I knew I wanted to be involved in assisting to represent indigent clients in the area while at law school. This led me to start volunteering with Three Rivers Legal Services during my 1L summer. I remained a volunteer there throughout my 2L year and was afforded the opportunity to work there during my 3L year as a Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellow. Throughout my time at law school, I have attempted to gain an understanding of the needs of different types of indigent clients. During My 2L summer, I volunteered at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office in Rochester, NY.
Through these and other experiences, I have developed an understanding of the fears and challenges that some individuals face when they are hurled into the justice system with a limited understanding of the process and with inadequate financial resources. I have learned firsthand how showing empathy and refraining from judgment can enhance attorney-client relationships and place clients at ease. Most importantly, I have learned that a patient and thorough explanation of a legal process can go a long way to assist an individual who will have to navigate the justice system alone.
Four law school classes especially have informed my perspective and have strengthened my desire to work with indigent clients: Child Support Enforcement; Criminal Procedure; Poverty Law; and Race, Law, and Crime. Each class shed light on the needs of those populations who are likely be in need of free or low-cost legal assistance. Each of these courses highlighted some of the rudimentary struggles that an individual may face in attempting to gain access to justice due to their socioeconomic status. I feel that my ability to serve low-income clients was strongly enhanced by these classes and their professors. I would encourage students interested in incorporating pro bono work into their careers to consider these courses.
The human experience is what has mattered most to me as I sought to donate my time. I was able to gain excellent practical legal experience through these volunteer opportunities while a student at the Levin College of Law. Yet, I feel most fortunate that I have had the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others by simply making myself available to serve them during their time of need.
Yvette Wiltshire is a 2011-12 Public Interest Law Fellow. The Public Interest Law Fellowship Program is funded by the Florida Bar Foundation to promote public interest law, and offered at the Levin College of Law by the Center for Governmental Responsibility.