Where we have come from and where we are going…

In 1997, when Deborah Rhode was beginning her presidency with AALS, she created an AALS Commission on Pro Bono & Public Service Opportunities. The Commission made a variety of findings and recommendations and established the AALS Section on Pro Bono & Public Service Opportunities. This summer, we have changed our name to the AALS Section on Pro Bono & Access to Justice. Why the change? In large part, the change is simply because our Section’s charge is more specific than “public service opportunities.” Our focus is on the integration of pro bono legal service and other tools intended to raise awareness about the justice gap. We intend to highlight and develop solutions to fill this incredible gap and the challenges and barriers so many in our society face when navigating legal matters. Maybe in 1997, the phrase “access to justice” wasn’t used as frequently to describe the umbrella under which pro bono legal service fits. Now, in 2022, Access to Justice is more broadly understood as a movement to ensure access to justice for all through numerous avenues, one of which is pro bono service. 

Sue Schechter, 2021 chair of this Section and director of the field placement program at Berkeley Law, shares her thoughts about the new name:

As someone who has known and worked with this Section for a long time, I have always wondered how and why our founders chose ‘Public Service Opportunities.’  Perhaps, when they started the Section, the hope was to support law school staff & faculty to create and highlight opportunities, but as this field has grown and some (but still not enough!) law schools have dedicated professionals focused on highlighting and promoting public interest, public service, and social justice opportunities on law school campuses through their Career Development Offices and beyond, the focus of this Section has evolved to highlight and support Pro Bono as part of the larger movement for Access to Justice.  With the growing field of Access to Justice scholarship and advocacy, this Section seems like a great home to embrace and promote that work.

Greg Zlotnick, the director of pro bono programs at St. Mary’s University School of Law, thinks of the updated name this way:

Law schools serve as catalysts: not only for the development of attorneys committed to the public interest but also for systemic change to make justice accessible to all.  The Section’s new title reflects this critical, dual role that our law schools already serve in advancing the common good.

Tara Casey, the director for pro bono and public service at University of Richmond School of Law has a similar perspective:

The new name reflects more accurately our dual mission: to increase student opportunities in the pro bono space while also advancing access to justice everywhere. It is not enough to engage in direct service; we must also look to systemic change.

Allison Standard Constance, the director of pro bono initiatives at UNC School of Law sums it up nicely: 

Making the change to include Access to Justice in our section name is an important way to capture the true focus of the work that we do and the goals we set for our law schools.

While we move forward with a new name, we still look back with gratitude for and honor our founding leader, Deborah Rhode, whose career revolved around questions of injustice. The Section on Pro Bono & Access to Justice is pleased to partner with three other Sections—Leadership; Professional Responsibility; and Women in Legal Education—to gather nominations for the annual Deborah Rhode Award. Click here for more details about the Deborah Rhode Award. We hope you share the nomination information and submit a nominee yourself.

We are also seeking nominations for outstanding colleagues worthy of recognition for the three awards sponsored solely 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 nomination process here. The deadline to submit nominees for these awards is September 30, 2022. Again, please spread the word and nominate a worthy colleague.

Last year, we rolled out an Education Enrichment Speaker Series. The committee behind that series has been hard at work this year and is hosting an online session on September 20, 2022, entitled Using Experiential Education to Fight Imposter Syndrome. The session will explore law student struggles with belonging and confidence and how experiential education can serve as a remedy. See details about the session, including the Zoom link to join, here.

Additionally, our Section is excited to announce the creation of the AALS Pro Bono Honor Roll. This new Honor Roll has been created to acknowledge and highlight the exceptional work of individuals engaging in, expanding, and/or supporting their law school community in providing pro bono legal services. Law school Deans should have received information about how to submit the name of a staff, faculty, and a student to include on the 2022 Honor Roll for supporting, encouraging, and engaging in pro bono service. The deadline for nominations will be Friday, October 7, 2022.  The names of the awardees will be publicized through AALS, and electronic certificates will be sent for distribution to honorees.  

Looking ahead to the AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego, January 3-7, we hope to see many of you in attendance at our conference session taking place on Thursday, January 5 at 3 PM entitled, “Incorporating Access to Justice & Pro Bono Across the Law School Curriculum.” The session will feature our colleagues whose courses provide students with insight into how lower-income people navigate the legal system and the ways in which that may differ from what we learn in casebooks. We hope you plan to attend the conference and our Section’s session. Conference registration is now open. We look forward to gathering in person once again.

This newsletter is coming to you all at a very busy time of year. I hope this serves as a reminder that you (we) are not alone in your (our) work. We are a strong community here to support each other as we work toward fulfilling the promise of access to justice for all. If you would like to get involved with the Section on a deeper level, please let me know.

Best wishes for a terrific fall ahead,

Angela F. Schultz
Chair, Section on Pro Bono & Access to Justice
Assistant Dean for Public Service
Marquette Law School
Assistant Dean for Public Service