If It's Springtime ... It's New Orleans ...

When Spring comes to New Orleans, law students flock to The Pro Bono Project instead of the beach as they take a break from the lingering winter. This past week, The Project hosted six students from Georgetown Law.

While on site, the students worked with volunteer lawyers and staff members on divorce, succession and Child in Need of Care (CINC) cases.

 l to r: Sarah Purpura, Hui Min Cao, Johanna Schmidt, Darci Stanger, Nikhil Vashee, Chenying Tan

l to r: Sarah Purpura, Hui Min Cao, Johanna Schmidt, Darci Stanger, Nikhil Vashee, Chenying Tan

They experienced the fast pace of a divorce clinic, a gut-wrenching day in court witnessing CINC proceedings, and the inner-workings of family histories in the drafting of succession documents.

All this, and the fun of being in warm weather and the welcoming city of New Orleans – what more could they ask for?

We'll let them tell you in their own words.

When asked on her application why she wanted to come work at The Pro Bono Project during Spring break, law student, Chenying Tan wrote:

This is due to my great passion for pro bono work. Such passion came from the volunteer work I did in China, where I provided children with rudimentary legal knowledge and offered pro bono services to their parents who had ongoing legal issues. What I experienced made me believe firmly that law is the field that I am willing to dedicate my life to - for solving problems and helping people are what bring me the greatest joy.

Nikhil Vashee

I often get laughed at when I tell people that I went to law school to “help people.” I understand that it’s a cheesy, clichéd response, but it has the virtue of being true. During my time at The Pro Bono Project, I had the opportunity to shadow an attorney who really was dedicated to helping people, as he went to court to represent the interests of children in custody adjudications.

The attorney was part of the Child in Need of Care program at The Pro Bono Project and his duty was to battle for what the children wanted and to help the child stay with the guardian that they wanted to go to.

As I watched the relentless churn of custody cases being reviewed, I was depressed by the way that these parents neglected their children and I questioned whether the government process I was witnessing actually held out any hope for a better life for the child.

What struck me during this is that all the while, the attorneys on all sides of the disagreement fought vigorously for their client’s best interest, while the judge firmly and fairly attempted to weigh competing narratives to come to a decision to protect the best needs of the child.

It was amazing to see that The Pro Bono Project was helping to make the child’s voice heard when it would have been so easily lost amongst the debate of competing parents and government agencies.

Slowly, I began to realize that despite what suffering, abuse, and neglect the children involved may have been subject to, the court of law and the lawyers who fought within it truly offered a path to some kind of solution.

Law school tends to make people more cynical, and the endless reports of legal scandals, media coverage of our broken criminal justice system, and streams of lawyer jokes can easily sap one’s resolve in pursuing the legal profession.

I thought that watching custody hearings would be a depressing experience, and I was deeply saddened to hear how some of the children were treated. But coming down to New Orleans and seeing lawyers and judges fighting to make children’s lives better was also deeply nourishing and has renewed my belief that the legal profession can be a noble path.

The next time I tell someone that “I went to law school to help people,” I won’t feel so embarrassed, because I know the volunteer lawyers of The Pro Bono Project are doing exactly that.

Johanna Schmidt

As a 1L mindful on what direction I want to take in my next years in law school, I keep coming back to children—and the need for child advocates. I worked with high school students last year, and thus I am keenly aware of those needs.

While I admire the work of advocates for children within the criminal justice realm, I do not believe that is where my path is. However, I still want to work with or for children, at least in some capacity.

I did not know how this would work—up until attending court with one of The Pro Bono Project lawyers, Jesse George. Mr. George works to provide the voice of children within child abuse and neglect cases; he helps to ensure their needs are heard within a court.

This is amazing, and I am so grateful for the opportunity. It gave me an insight to what I can do as a career, and what working with children and protecting those voices means. I am so grateful to The Pro Bono Project as a result of this week—thank you so much for all of that!

Hui Min Cao

My week at The Pro Bono Project has been inspirational. I traced generations of New Orleans families through the succession drafting process. I enjoyed working with Chris Coty to ensure that these families’ financial futures are secured.

Working at The Pro Bono Project reminded me why I started law school, to form a genuine connection with families in the community and support them in a legal capacity. Thank you for this amazing experience.

Darci Stanger

I thoroughly enjoyed my week working with The Pro Bono Project.  I really appreciated that we were able to fully experience divorce proceedings at various stages of completion, including the submission to the courts and getting a judge to sign the final judgment. 

The staff at The Pro Bono Project was extremely accommodating and welcomed us with open arms. They provided excellent guidance and ensured that we received help when needed. 

The projects that we were assigned to complete were interesting and gave me some exposure to drafting of divorce petitions. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the clients when we ran the divorce clinic.

It was nice to be able to put faces to the names and meet the people we were working for. The clinic was extremely busy, fast-paced and successfully completed! Thank you so much for the experience!

Sarah Purpura

Working with The Pro Bono Project opened my eyes to the need for pro bono attorneys and organizations in all facets of life.

Divorce, for example, is one of the many things that The Pro Bono Project assists with, despite being something that people generally do not think about, or want to think about, on a daily basis. Regardless, there are times when it is necessary, and unfortunately, the process has many hoops to jump through, and costs that many people cannot afford.

The Pro Bono Project helps people quickly navigate those hoops at no cost so that they can move on with their lives. I enjoyed every minute I spent working with The Pro Bono Project, and would love to come back the next time I am in New Orleans. The work they do is inspiring, and the city they are in is captivating.

Thanks to Georgetown Law and their students, who not only help us with our work, but keep us on our toes with their inquisitiveness, enthusiasm and desire to learn all they can while visiting with us. As well, thanks to staff members Jesse George, Chris Coty, Zakiya LaGrange, Robin Roper and Linton Carney who manage the students while they are onsite at The Project.