Message from the Chair, December 2023

Knowing how busy we all are right now with the semester wrapping up and the winter holidays within our sights, I’ll keep this month’s newsletter short with some quick updates and a look forward to the Annual Meeting in January.  Before I get to that, however, I want to leave you with some food (actually, a quote) for thought as we approach another election cycle.  In 2009, the late great Deborah L. Rhode, said:

“A striking aspect of recent American political campaigns is the almost complete silence surrounding access to justice. Equally striking is the absence of concern about that silence. The inadequacy of basic medical services has generated endless debates. The inadequacy of legal services has passed virtually unnoticed.”

Deborah L. Rhode, Whatever Happened to Access to Justice, 42 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 869 (2009). Available at: http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/llr/vol42/iss4/2

What progress have we seen in the past 14 years? What work remains?

I have seen more Access to Justice Commissions created and put to work across the country, the Fee Legal Answers platform developed by the American Bar Association, the White House’s restoration of the Department of Justice’s access to justice function, and many law schools putting resources into public interest and pro bono legal experiences for law students.

But even with these good things, we cannot deny that the progress is not enough. Not when thousands upon thousands of low-income people are seeking civil justice among a dearth of resources. As law school educators and pro bono professionals, we must keep telling the story of the need for access to justice and must continually challenge ourselves and the next generation of legal professionals to continue to move the needle. 

And now for updates and previews….

Sadly, this fall our executive board lost two wonderful members, Stephen Rispoli and Darcy McLean. Stephen Rispoli left his job at Baylor Law School to join Mayer LLP and specialize in jury testing and litigation management. My co-Chair, Darcy McLean, left Georgia State University College of Law in early October to oversee pro bono at Allston & Bird LLP.  We will miss them both tremendously but know that they are doing critically important work at their new professional homes.  We also know that the marks they’ve left on their law school pro bono communities and our Section are award-worthy because Stephen received the Access to Justice Award last year and Darcy will be receiving our Emerging Leader Award in January. Newsflash: Stephen and Darcy’s departure has left room on the Executive Board for new members so please consider getting involved!

This was a busy and productive fall for the Section. A few highlights:

  • We had a terrific response to our Pro Bono Honor Roll initiative, with 87 law schools submitting Honor Roll members.  Look for their names on the AALS website RIGHT HERE. 
  • In October, our Education Enrichment Program hosted Leah Goodridge, author of the groundbreaking article “Professionalism as a Racist Construct.” Leah’s presentation was excellent and left all of us thinking about how we can think critically about how we experience and teach professionalism. 
  • Our Community Conversations session on November 16 focused on the new ABA Standards 303. Participants tuned in the listen, learn, ask questions, and consider our role with these new standards as pro bono & ATJ professionals.

Looking ahead, we hope to see many of you at our AALS conference session in Washington, DC, scheduled for Friday, January 5 from 2-3:40 pm, entitled Gideon – 60 Years Later, Still Seeking Access to Criminal and Civil Justice In this session, co-hosted by the Sections on Poverty Law, Clinical Law, and Criminal Law, panelists will explore the state of the right to counsel in criminal cases, whether and how that right ought to be extended to certain civil contexts, and what role right to counsel plays or ought to play in the broader access to justice movement. Please also consider joining us for our section awards ceremony Thursday, January 4 at noon, and for our service project at D.C. Central Kitchen Saturday, January 6 from 8am-11:40am, cosponsored by the Poverty Law section.

With so many atrocities in the world, I find that I feel best when I focus on my community of change-makers: YOU are part of that community. While we do not have the power to create world peace right this minute (oh, how I wish we did), we DO have the power to incrementally work towards a more just world, even if most of that work is in our small communities at home. Keep at it, all.

Eliza Vorenberg




The AALS Pro Bono & Access to Justice Section’s Access to Justice Award honors those who manage Pro Bono Programs and who have removed barriers to justice and/or improved legal services to individuals unable to pay for such services. This year the award will be presented to Becki T. Kondkar, Director of the Tulane Law School Domestic Violence Clinic and Co-Director of the Tulane Law Women’s Prison Project. Professor Kondkar displays an unmatched commitment to advancing access to justice, removing barriers, and championing the rights of survivors of intimate partner violence. The transformative impact of her work reaches far beyond her clients and her students – it serves as an inspiration and model for individuals across the nation. As Director of the Domestic Violence Clinic, Professor Kondkar has pioneered an innovative model for holistic client advocacy that allows students to explore issues of gender­ based violence across a variety of legal forums and substantive areas of law, while also examining institutional and structural barriers to survivor safety and justice. Prof. Kondkar’s vision that was the catalyst for the founding of the Tulane Women’s Prison Project. During the program’s first three years of operation, it has secured freedom for ten women serving or facing life sentences for killing abusive partners in self-defense.


The AALS Pro Bono & Access to Justice Section Emerging Leader Award honors early‐to‐mid career staff or faculty who have made an outstanding contribution to pro bono and public service in the law school setting. This year the award will be presented to Darcy Mclean, Former Director of Public Interest Programs & Deputy Director, Center for Access to Justice at Georgia State University College of Law.  Darcy created the Center’s award-winning Pro Bono Program, which provides law students with a wide range of opportunities to engage in legal volunteer work with local and national organizations. Since 2017, students in the program have contributed more than 6000 hours of volunteer service across a range of substantive areas with more than a dozen legal services partners. The program has won three awards—the GSU Carl V. Patton President’s Award for Community Service and Social Justice, the Atlanta Legal Aid Pro Bono Rookie of the Year Award, and the State Bar of Georgia’s Law School Excellence in Access to Justice Award—and earned the College of Law a national reputation for pro bono education. Darcy also served as the faculty supervisor of the Center’s Alternative Spring Break program, which provides GSU law students with an opportunity to spend a week immersed in a substantive area of law, while also engaging in pro bono legal service. Since 2017, more than 140 students have gone on alternative spring break trips throughout the Southeast, spending the week doing a deep dive into a substantive area of law and performing related pro bono service. Darcy recently joined Alston & Bird as Senior Pro Bono & Community Engagement Manager.


The AALS Pro Bono & Access to Justice Section Lifetime Achievement Award honors those who have significantly advanced pro bono and public service in the law school setting over the course of their career. This year the award will be presented to Catherine Greene Burnett, Vice President, Associate Dean for Experiential Learning, Professor of Law, and Director of the Pro Bono Honors Program at South Texas College of Law Houston. Thirty-three years ago, Professor Catherine Greene Burnett drew together students, law professors, and a handful of staff attorneys — in a small, converted gas station filled with borrowed, mismatched furniture — because she saw a need and believed law students could play a role in filling it. She created South Texas College of Law Houston’s first clinic in August 1990, offering free legal services to the Greater Houston community. From the beginning, her vision combined two important elements: law students who wanted practice-ready legal skills and individuals in the community who needed representation but could not afford attorneys. While Dean Burnett’s work at the law school alone would merit this award, the impact of what she started in that small gas station down the street from the law school has spread across Greater Houston, across the State of Texas, and across the nation. The clinics have served more than 13,000 families in the past 33 years. While Dean Burnett has published numerous articles, book chapters, etc., about criminal law and other topics relevant to her doctrinal teaching field, she and UT Law Associate Dean Eden Harrington published a seminal article in 2010 about ways law schools could work together to increase access to justice, particularly in rural areas, (Burnett & Harrington, Laws Schools Working Together to Increase Access to Justice, 51 S. Tex. L. Rev. 680 (2010)). The Pro Bono Honor Roll acknowledges and highlights the pro bono work of individuals engaging in, expanding, and/or supporting their law school community in providing pro bono legal services. Each law school may select up to three people to be included in the Pro Bono Honor Roll each year: one staff member, one faculty member, and one student. This year we had a record number of schools participate in the PBHR.



AALS Annual Meeting Section Service Project-Saturday, January 6 from 8:00 a.m. to noon with DC Central Kitchen. Participants will assist DCCK kitchen staff and Culinary Job Training Program students with food prep, which entails chopping fruits and vegetables and related tasks in support of assembling the meals they distribute for the week to DC schools, shelters and other partner agencies. This will be an opportunity to build community both with one another and with a wonderful local partner. DCCK combats hunger and poverty through job creation and training alongside food preservation and meal preparation. 

The shift will take place from 9:00am – noon on Saturday, January 6th at the Klein Center, located at 2121 First Street SW, Washington, DC 20024. We will coordinate with volunteers in advance of the visit, but for planning purposes, the group will meet at the hotel entrance at 8:30am. Registrants will receive follow-up instructions on logging into DCCK’s portal to sign a waiver in advance.

How to Sign up:

  1. Signing up for the service project can be done when you register for the Annual Meeting by simply adding the service project as a session you will attend.  If you have already registered, you may email [email protected]to ask our registration team to add the service project to your registration.  
  2. In addition, you will need to complete the steps below to sign up with D.C. Kitchen and sign the waiver:

Portal Website: https://dcck.appianportals.com/dcck-volunteer-registration.

Step 1: Please select “Create an Account for Group Registration”  

Step 2: Follow the correct prompts to proceed. When you choose “Type of Volunteer Experience” be sure to search for your organization (AALS)  in the search bar.

Step 3: Continue to fill in the additional requested information 

Step 4: Digitally sign our General Liability and Waiver form. Note: The COVID-19 Vaccine Attestation form is optional. 

More Important  Information:
Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your shift time to allow enough time for orientation. Also note that late arrivals may not be able to volunteer for their scheduled shift.

Location: Klein Center, 2121 First Street SW Washington, DC 20024 Ward 6

How to get here: D.C. Central Kitchen is located closest to Waterfront Metro Station (Green Line). There is also a metro bus (Bus 74) that runs between the Waterfront station and directly in front our facility. The AALS Group will coordinate group transportation plans by email.

Dress Code: Safety is our number one concern. All volunteers must wear appropriate and professional attire suitable for an industrial production kitchen. Please wear closed toed shoes, sleeves, and long pants. Shoes with high-grip soles are strongly recommended. Due to health regulations, volunteers who do not follow this dress code will not be allowed to work in the Kitchen.

  1. Long pants (no leggings, no shorts)
  2. Closed toe shoes
  3. No tank or halter tops
  4. Hair must be up and out of face. (We will provide hair nets.)
  5. Masks are not required; however, they will be available for those who would prefer to wear them.



Storytelling as a Tool for Action & Change

Touro Law Center, along with Herstory Writers Network, has developed a new semester-long pro bono internship project for law students to become part of a unique and powerful movement that uses a story-based strategy for change.

Law student interns will be writing side-by-side with family court-involved young people from Acting Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho’s Concept Court, an expansion of the youth incarceration-diversion program on Long Island. The students will collaborate with the young people, mentoring and inspiring them to share their stories.

Cate Carbonaro, Touro Law’s Director of the Public Advocacy Center and Public Interest who oversees the program stated, “Through this internship, law students will acquire new lenses through which to experience the real needs, aspirations, and dreams of the populations they are studying and will eventually serve as legal professionals. In addition to looking at the impact of current policies and practices on youth involved in the criminal legal system, we will explore the effects of mass incarceration on families and communities. I know this program will be impactful for all who participate.”

Student interns will be leading guided workshops with the involved youth. Together they will write about the criminal legal system, racial injustice, and other relevant and timely issues that law students and young people experience. Students will also be given the opportunity to critically think about structural injustice by looking at police practices, while developing story-based action and advocacy strategies to elevate the voices of those who have not had a place at the table regarding fair access to services, social and criminal justice policies. Utilizing a unique pedagogy based on daring a reading stranger to walk in each storyteller’s shoes, the law interns will move a step beyond advocating for young people who need second chances, to helping each young person find the voice to dream new futures and advocate for themselves.

This program was named in honor of Linda Howard Weissman, who served as Assistant Dean for Institutional Advancement at Touro Law Center for nearly 30 years. Linda was on Herstory’s board of directors, bringing a number of Herstory Initiatives to Touro, including a celebration of the publication of Brave Journeys, a book of stories by 15 young people who crossed the border by themselves, which has since circulated over 10,000 copies, and a special workshop for children of the incarcerated coming from a local high school, leading to the publication of All I Ever Wanted… in partnership with Prison Families Anonymous. It was Linda’s dream that the Herstory approach to “dare even a hard-hearted person to care” would someday be used by lawyers to help their clients tell their stories in a way that would stir empathy in those who had power over their lives.

Do you want to learn more and consider how to implement this in your law school? Contact Cate Carbonaro at [email protected].


Message from the Chairs, August 2023

Scott Cummings recently wrote about the late great Deborah Rhode that she had an “unflagging and courageous commitment to placing social justice and reform at the center of her work” and that “she called on us all” to make pro bono “live up to its ideals” and “to connect it to other strategies for access to justice.” Cummings, Scott, AN ODE TO RHODE: IN PRINCIPLE AND IN PRACTICE, 91 Fordham L. Rev. 1201, 1205 (March 2023)

Rhode’s perspective feels especially on point now as we all approach this next school year.  How can we fulfill Rhode’s call as we plan our pro bono programming? With more and more low-income, disenfranchised people going without the legal help they desperately need and, as result, falling further into poverty, making pro bono “live up to its ideals” with the next generation of lawyers feels especially urgent.  Perhaps we can help our law students understand that they will be the keepers of the justice system and responsible for addressing the justice gap by broadening the lens through which they understand ABA Rule 6.1 to include a professional responsibility to attend to, and work to close, the justice gap, and to improve the quality of justice, not only through the provision of pro bono service but through impact and reform work.  Could we help them see the opportunity they will have as members of our profession to address the root causes of the justice gap and take on the work of finding effective solutions to this crisis?  This coming school year, we’d love to hear your thoughts on whether and how to talk to law students about this. Are you considering:

  • explaining the role of the lawyers’ monopoly on legal services in preventing those who most need our help from getting it, and pointing to the medical profession’s use of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to increase access to medical care,[1]
  • discussing Civil Gideon and the possibility of a right to counsel in civil cases where basic human needs are at play,
  • making sure they know the history of our civil legal services program, and how funding and anti-poverty mechanisms were gutted in the 1970s, greatly undermining LSC-funded organizations’ capacity to engage in critically important reform work, and
  • challenging them to consider the quality of justice imparted on those with less means-both in civil and criminal cases

As we train our law students to be advocates for their clients, let’s think about and discuss how we can train them to be advocates for the justice system generally.

Thanks for reading our newsletter and letting us know if you’d like to join our conversations. We’re a welcoming group.

Darcy and Eliza

[1] Our very own Darcy Meals co-wrote a piece on this. Check it out here: https://illinoislawreview.org/online/a-prescription-for-increased-access-to-justice



Pro Bono Honor Roll

It’s time to yet again name one faculty member, one staff member, and one student per school for the second annual AALS Pro Bono Honor Roll, which celebrates the exceptional work of individuals engaging in, expanding, and/or supporting their law school community in providing pro bono legal services. We understand that there are so many deserving people who serve year in and year out without acknowledgement. The Pro Bono Honor Roll is an easy annual way for you to recognize them for their contributions and lift them up for making a difference in our law schools and communities. For purposes of this award, pro bono is defined as work that is primarily legal in nature, supervised by a licensed attorney (for law students), not for pay or academic credit, and of service to underserved individuals, groups, or those with barriers to access to justice.  We welcome new or former recipients from the 2022 Pro Bono Honor Roll. You may submit a faculty, student, and staff person from your law school by September 6th, 2023, using this form. Recipients will receive an electronic certificate, and their names will be publicized through the AALS electronic newsletter, website, and at the annual conference. If you have any questions about the Pro Bono Honor Roll, please reach out to section secretary Cate Carbonaro at [email protected].

Section Awards

We are also seeking nominations for outstanding colleagues worthy of special recognition through three awards sponsored by our section:

1) a Lifetime Achievement Award,

2) an Access to Justice Award, and

3) an Emerging Leader Award.

Please read more about our Section awards here. The deadline to submit nominees for these awards is September 15, 2023. Please spread the word and nominate a worthy colleague! 



Upcoming Education Enrichment

Join us to hear from Leah Goodridge, author of Professionalism as a Racial Construct, on October 26, 2023 at 1pm ET. Zoom link to join: https://rwu.zoom.us/j/94086528138

Upcoming Community Conversations 

In our next Community Conversation on November 16 at 1 pm ET, we hope to focus on how you see your Pro Bono Programs as a vehicle for addressing revised ABA standards 303(b) and (c) and the formation of professional identity.  If you have other topics you’d like to raise for a Community Conversation, please let us know! Zoom link to join: https://rwu.zoom.us/j/95644060720

Annual AALS Conference 

Conference Session: We hope to see many of you in attendance at our AALS conference session in Washington, DC, scheduled for Friday, January 5 from 2-3:40 pm, entitled Gideon – 60 Years Later, Still Seeking Access to Criminal and Civil Justice. Sixty years after the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainright affirmed a right to counsel in certain criminal cases, questions remain about the vitality of that right in practice in the criminal legal system. At the same time, there is a growing movement for a civil right to counsel, particularly in areas involving vital human needs, such as shelter and child custody. In this session, hosted by the Section on Pro Bono and Access to Justice, panelists will explore the state of the right to counsel in criminal cases, whether and how that right ought to be extended to certain civil contexts, and what role right to counsel plays or ought to play in the broader access to justice movement. Co-sponsored by the Sections on Poverty Law, Clinical Law, and Criminal Law.

Section Awards and Service Project: Please also consider joining us for our section awards ceremony Thursday, January 4 at noon, and for our service project Saturday, January 6 from 8am-11:40am, cosponsored by the Poverty Law section. Watch for more details when conference registration opens.



Facilitated by Michelle Takagishi-Almeida, Public Service Program Director at Southwestern Law, veterans and newcomers to the law school space were invited to gather on May 25th for an informative session sharing brief highlights and available materials on selected topics from the law school pre-conference at the 2023 Equal Justice Conference.

The Community Conversation was especially helpful to section members in reviewing program models, policies, approaches and new possibilities in preparation for fall returns as well as being able to exchange directly with others in attendance and with panel moderators making encore appearances on topics, such as: Law School Best Practices Refresher by Anna Strasburg Davis, Director of Externships and Pro Bono Programs, UC Irvine School of Law; Law School Pro Bono: Dispelling Myths and Finding Your Fit by Elizabeth R. Boe, Director, Pro Bono and Community Service Initiative, Assistant Director of Public Service Law, Law Career Services, DePaul University College of Law; and How to Measure and Assess Pro Bono and Use that to Elevate Pro Bono at Your School, by Grace Sung Ehn Meng, Director, Judge Rand Schrader Pro Bono Program, UCLA School of Law.

Available materials from May’s Community Conversation can be found at the AALS Pro Bono and Access to Justice Section website here.




Almost weekly, David A. Grenardo, Associate Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions and Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, publishes a new blog post related to Professional Identity Formation, particularly as it connects with the new ABA standards 303(b) & (c). Some of the posts discuss pro bono explicitly while others are more generally relevant.  Check out the Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog here.