Annual Southern Justice Spring Break Trip

May 9, 2007Duke Law News

Thirty-three Duke Law students spent their spring break working on public interest and pro bono projects throughout the South as part of the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono’s annual Southern Justice Trip. Students volunteered in Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Hawaii, where they assisted organizations with a variety of issues, ranging from AIDS legal work in New Orleans to handling Appalachian poverty issues in Kentucky.

Led by Lauren Mandell ’07, founder of Duke’s Hurricane Relief Project, 24 students and Associate Dean of Public Interest and Pro Bono Carol Spruill volunteered to do disaster-relief work in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities. Working with Tulane law student Morgan Williams, the New Orleans-based co-founder and director of the Student Hurricane Relief Project, Mandell arranged for students from the Law School’s various pro bono groups, including VITA and the AIDS Legal Project, to be matched with New Orleans agencies to help file tax returns and prepare estate planning documents. It is work that Mandell says is especially helpful to a city that “from a legal perspective has been turned upside down. There is simply a shortage of lawyers, and where there are some they are essentially overworked and under-funded. Almost two years later, people in New Orleans are still living with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The further we get from the storm, the more legal work and assistance is needed.”

In addition to hurricane-relief work, students also volunteered at the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, where they worked on coal mining and Appalachian poverty issues, and at the Mississippi Center for Justice in Biloxi, Mississippi. Five students traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii, where four assisted Honolulu’s public defender and one had the opportunity to work with a federal judge.

Launched in 2002 with four student-participants, the Southern Justice Mission Trip is now one of the most vital student organizations at the Duke Law School. Dean Spruill has only the highest praise for student leaders like Amy Curry, who directed the 2007 Trip.

“Amy has devoted herself to the Spring Break Trip throughout her entire law school career,” says Spruill. “Her commitment has inspired other students to join her, and her extraordinary organizational skills have served us well in building the program seven-fold in a three-year period.”

Curry followed a straightforward approach in promoting the program, “I talked about the trip every chance I got,” she said. She organized a series of panels and call-out meetings within the Law School and worked with Spruill and the regional coordinators for each of the sites to organize volunteer sign-ups and trip logistics. Curry also helped raise additional funds to help pay for student travel and stipends. Having organized and participated in both the 2005 and 2006 Trips, Curry says she knew from personal experience how much students can benefit from the memories and opportunities these communities provide. “It is such a powerful experience; I wanted to get the word out.”

With Curry and Mandell graduating this spring, the Mission Trip will come under new leadership, a prospect that doesn’t worry Mandell. “The majority of the students who participated in this year’s Trip are 1Ls and they are fabulous. When you go to these places, there is no supervision; no one’s looking over your shoulders. We worked from 9-5, some people from 7:00 a.m. - 7:30 p.m., doing community meetings and helping where we could. We had a fabulous group, so I have no doubt that under new leadership the program will continue to thrive.”

“One of the great values of the Southern Justice Spring Break Mission Trip,” adds Mandell, “is not only that we provide some assistance with the day-to-day work of these organizations, but that we also embolden them to work even harder because they know people from the outside are supportive and willing to help.”