PUBLISHED:March 15, 2011

Students lend legal skills and elbow grease to community service projects

Fifty-eight Duke Law students took part in a range of legal and community development service programs over their March break. Participating in Duke’s annual student-organized Southern Justice Spring Break Trip, the students offered their services to a number of projects in New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami, Whitesburg, Ky., Jackson, Miss., and Pittsboro, N.C.

First-year classmates Matt Triplett, Paul Yin, and Ken Wu volunteered at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm in Jackson that focuses on advancing social and racial equality through litigation and policy campaigns. They researched the ownership and corporate affiliation of payday lenders that often employ predatory tactics, and provided assistance on the center’s campaign to educate students on the dangers of large student loans and non-accredited, for-profit college programs.

“We really enjoyed spending our spring break using our legal skills to help provide justice for low-income and marginalized communities,” said Triplett. “One of the reasons each of us came to law school was to make a positive difference in our communities, so this experience was both rewarding and exciting.”

Candice Reder ’13 and Stephen Scriber ’11 spent the week at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, reviewing trial transcripts from a capital murder case and writing briefs for their supervising attorney. “I reconnected with my purpose for attending law school,” said Reder. “I can’t wait to go back next year when I have even more experience to contribute.”

Thirteen students worked in Miami at three legal agencies. At the Florida Justice Institute, a nonprofit law firm that assists federal inmates with civil suits, 1L Andrew Barr read through claims, summarized the issues presented and made recommendations on the claims at hand.

“It was a great experience and put perspective on the practice of law, something I lost in everyday life as a student,” said Barr. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the FJI and hope to return to Miami upon graduation.”

The biggest contingent — 33 students — headed to New Orleans where they worked in the office of the public defender, at legal aid, on fair housing issues, and helped rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Nine volunteered with Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West, an hour outside of New Orleans.

“We helped put the finishing touches on a nearly completed home, which should be ready for the Nixon family to move in around May,” said Lauren Fine ’11. “It was great to contribute even a small amount to the area, and also to meet Duke Law students from other classes.”

Michelle Huang ’13 joined 11 other first and second-year students in rebuilding houses with the St. Bernard Project.

“It was a great experience because we had to be creative solving tangible construction problems, and I liked actually seeing the results of the work I did,” said Huang. “At the end of three days, we had dry-walled most of the house and had begun mudding the second floor walls. We met the homeowner on the last day and it was really satisfying to know that we helped get her that much closer to moving back home.”

The Southern Justice Spring Break Trip is overseen by the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono.