PUBLISHED:April 28, 2008

Quest for Southern justice

For one week in March, 42 Duke Law students descended on six different locations across the southeast as part of the annual Southern Justice Spring Break Trip. Their work was as varied as their geographic locations: Hurricane Katrina relief in New Orleans and coastal Mississippi; prisoners’ rights issues in Jackson, Miss.; legal aid and poverty law in Whitesburg, Ky.; coal mining issues concerning both employees and the environment in Prestonsburg, Ky.; and human rights issues in Atlanta, Ga.

Trip organizers Emily Jura ’08, Mike Kaplan ’09, and Matt Lipsky ’09 worked with organizations in each location to secure housing and assign placements for the week, recruited students for the trip, and led the group’s fund-raising efforts to help offset costs.

Lipsky said that his first spring break trip to New Orleans was his favorite experience in law school thus far and led him to help organize this year’s trip. “Last year we did some house-gutting, which was perfect for right after the appellate brief,” Lipsky said.

This year, both Lipsky and Kaplan worked with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans. Jura spent her third spring break working with the Mississippi Center for Justice in Biloxi, assisting in the organization of community protests of a new port being built with funds allocated for aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“This trip reminds you why you came to law school,” Kaplan said. “And it focuses and rejuvenates you in a way that a trip to Cancun will not.”

The students’ work at the numerous locations was greatly appreciated. Jason Pollan, the Pfizer Health Law Fellow at the Mississippi Center for Justice, wrote a letter thanking the Law School for its support of the spring break trip. Pollan worked with Benjamin Douglas ’10 and LLM student Frances Eberhard ’08, and wrote that they were “nimble and thoughtful in dealing with several unconventional assignments.

“We here at the center have been working to end a terrible set of bureaucratic hurdles targeting poor children receiving Medicaid in Mississippi,” Pollan wrote. “These policies have directly resulted in unhealthy children and a spike in infant mortality. Frances and Benjamin were able to quickly integrate themselves into the work we are doing here in a way that has already yielded immediate results. It cannot be overemphasized that the work they have done will, in some way, have helped to save the health and, for some, the life of more than one child in Mississippi.”

Lauren Bartlett, staff attorney with the Louisiana Justice Institute, also wrote a letter of thanks to the Law School. “I hope you continue to lend support and encourage law students to come to the Gulf Coast during breaks and over their summer vacations,” she wrote. “We continue to struggle to rebuild and renew New Orleans, and we will continue to welcome your volunteers with wide open arms.”

This year’s trip was sponsored by McGuire Woods, White & Case, Seyfarth Shaw, and Duke Law’s Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono, Office of Student Affairs, and Career and Professional Development Center.