UK Law Students Serve Eastern Kentucky With Pro Bono Services
By: Whitney Harder
LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 31, 2015) — Lounging on beautiful beaches, cruising the Caribbean and even international volunteer trips have become today's popular Spring Break pastimes for college students. A less common excursion is spending the week providing legal aid in Eastern Kentucky. But this year, two University of Kentucky College of Law students opted for the latter, providing a much needed service many may not think of when "alternative spring breaks" come to mind.
Using what they have learned from UK law courses and the desire to make a difference in their career, first-year law students John Shearer, of Raceland, Kentucky, and Nealy Williams, of Lexington, traveled to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Prestonsburg, Kentucky — the same city Robert F. Kennedy visited in 1968 for his "war on poverty" tour — and spent the week of Spring Break providing pro bono legal services to citizens there.
Pro bono work, an important staple of the legal profession, provides those who would otherwise not be able to afford any sort of legal advice or representation with proper advice and representation.
According to the Legal Aid Network of Kentucky, the "justice gap" in Kentucky is so severe that only 20 percent of low income Kentuckians' legal needs are addressed.
Hailing from Raceland, also in Eastern Kentucky, Shearer personally understood the impact of his work in the area.
"It is especially important in areas like Eastern Kentucky where a large portion of the population is living below the poverty line. These individuals do not always have the funds to promote and sustain their constitutionally granted rights, and attorneys and other various organizations provide a means of doing so via their pro bono work," Shearer said.
On their trip, Shearer and Williams volunteered under the direction of Eastern Kentucky lawyer Ned Pillersdorf, a partner of the law firm Pillersdorf, DeRossett & Lane, who often assists low income individuals. The pair drafted a response to a motion, attended court hearings, visited a client in jail, sat in on some of the firm’s initial consultations with prospective clients, and conducted confidential due diligence.
"Nealy and John were excellent ambassadors for the law school," Pillersdorf said. "They were exposed to a wide array of legal and cultural experiences during their visit to the mountains…I sincerely hope talented law students like Nealy and John will consider bringing their talents here one day."
Shearer and Williams also worked with AppalReD, an organization that provides free legal representation and advice to impoverished individuals and families in eastern and south central Kentucky. In one particular case, the students had the opportunity to assist various individuals seeking a remedy for property damage and participated directly with the community at a town hall meeting to discuss the damage.
“The College of Law has been working hard to provide our students with more pro bono opportunities," said Daniel P. Murphy, assistant dean of administration and community engagement at the college and organizer of the students' trip. "We are proud of students like Mr. Shearer and Ms. Williams who sacrifice their time to help citizens in need.”
The trip not only benefited residents of Eastern Kentucky with crucial legal services, but it also provided both UK students with hands-on professional experience and the opportunity to meet many prominent members of the legal community in the area, including Pillersdorf's wife, current Court of Appeals Judge Janet Stumbo.
Even as first-year law students, they were able to apply many classroom concepts to real clients and cases. Shearer said legal research and legal writing skills were probably used the most, but they were constantly cross-examined by Pillersdorf and quizzed on various aspects of what they have learned in the classroom so far.
"The trip was a great way to see the content I learned in my core 1L (first year of law school) courses in practice," Williams said. "It also helped to supplement the lessons I've learned by giving me an actual person to help, and it was a great way for me to focus in on what areas of my previous studies I actually enjoy doing in the real world."
At the core of the experience though was the mission of service. Williams and Shearer even volunteered some of their time at the Floyd County Animal Shelter.
"Being a lawyer means being committed to your community. Being a UK College of Law student means having the opportunity to fulfill that commitment by providing pro bono services to citizens of the Commonwealth," said UK College of Law Dean David A. Brennen.
For more information about the pro bono services and community service activities of UK College of Law students, visit Pro Bono and Community Engagement.