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].