Law Students To The Rescue

Some of the ‘first responders’ to arrive in New Orleans to help The Pro Bono Project were law students. Among the many law schools who sent students and professors early on to support The Project in rebuilding were the University Of North Carolina (UNC) and the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). UNC was the first to arrive thanks to one young man, Tim Goodson, who was a native New Orleanian and had worked at The Project as an intern in 2003 – his first year in Law School. Tim, who now resides in San Francisco, shared his thoughts about the first trip down. By the way, Tim’s parents are still in New Orleans and so he does come home often – the last time for 2015 French Quarter Fest.

At the time, UNC had, and likely still has, a winter break pro bono project that encouraged and facilitated students to do pro bono work in their hometowns over the holidays. That was how I initially got involved with The Project. It was 2003 - when I was a first year law student. I remember having my first client meeting as part of that, which was a great learning experience for me. 

When Katrina hit, my classmates Diane, Mandy and several others at UNC's pro bono program were looking for ways to help, and asked if I could put them in touch with The Project and so I reached out. As the trip started to materialize, there was the matter of where all the UNC volunteers would stay while in town. At that time – this is the winter break 2005-06 – the hotel options were pretty scarce especially for a group of that size. 

My parents and my brother had gotten a couple of feet of water in their houses, but they offered the group the option of staying with them as long as they didn’t mind roughing it a little. As it happened, I was already down there for a quite some time -- UNC let me take my finals early that semester -- so that I could get home to help my folks with the rebuilding.

I remember the afternoon when all the UNC volunteers arrived -- we were ripping up the flooring in my parents' house to get down to the bare foundation. It looked very ramshackled.  I'm sure they must have been thinking, "what did we get ourselves into here?"  But, everyone camped out on the floor upstairs and it turned out fine. 

I was really proud of the UNC’s involvement with the efforts down in New Orleans, and in particular of the leadership from the students, who had the initiative and commitment to pull things together and keep going back.  

You can read more about the UNC students and the work they did for The Project and many others at their blog: For The Good of The Gulf. Be sure to browse their archives, which begin in December 2005.

Students from UNC continue to visit The Project and during one of those visits, presented The Project with an autographed basketball signed by UNC’s 2009 NCAA Championship winner, Coach Roy Williams for The Project to auction at The Justice For All Ball. Local lawyer and former Board Chair, Mark Surprenant won the basketball (pictured above) and has since had two famous UNC signatures added to it: Michael Jordan and his UNC coach, the late Dean Smith. By the way, it was Coach Williams who helped recruit Michael Jordan for UNC and was Smith’s coaching assistant at that time.

Since that very first trip made by UNC Law, hundreds of law schools have sent students and professors to New Orleans.

Many professors and law schools made several trips in the years following Katrina, bringing dozens of aspiring lawyers and helping The Project reshape itself. At the same time, The Project helped to shape these future lawyers, who like Tim, now practice in law firms and legal organizations across the country. 

Once the word spread about students coming to help in many areas that needed labor and brain power, students often took the initiative to come on their own and from that effort the Student Hurricane Network was born. Many who came via SHN worked at The Project, and at the same time, they volunteered for many of the local and national non-profits who were working to rebuild New Orleans. They have played a key role in the city’s recovery.  See more about the SHN at the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank.

Our thanks to Tim Goodson for sharing his memories of that first trip, and to the many hundreds who came, and still come, from law schools everywhere to work in our ‘legal laboratory.’ By coming here, then and now, they learn about public service law and why pro bono matters. Never before has it been so true and so necessary as in the aftermath of Katrina.

In an upcoming story, we’ll be sharing more stories of our law students, in particular we’ll share the story of the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law and Professor Susan Waysdorf.