Tuesday May 9, 2006

Pro Bono Pledge

The School of Law will ask incoming students to sign a pro bono pledge. It will honor 10 students at spring commencement for their service to the poor.

University of Dayton law students this fall will be encouraged to sign a "pro bono pledge," promising before they graduate to complete at least 50 hours of community service, of which the bulk must be free legal services to the poor.

The program gets a jump start this spring when the School of Law honors 10 graduates with a special "Pro Bono Commitment to Community Award" at commencement exercises at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 13, at the University of Dayton Arena. The students, nominated by faculty, staff and student organization leaders, will wear a special cord at graduation and receive a notation on their transcripts. A small but growing number of law schools nationally require students to complete pro bono work before graduation, but more are opting to encourage it--and in UD's case--reward it, according to Lisa Kloppenberg, dean of the School of Law.

"The Pro Bono Commitment to Community Award demonstrates the University of Dayton's strong commitment to providing legal services to the poor and marginalized and to educating our students about the virtue of working toward the common good," she said. "It's also consistent with the American Bar Association's increasing emphasis on pro bono service. I believe that students who take part in this service will be inspired to continue their pro bono efforts throughout their careers."

In all, the University of Dayton will graduate 166 aspiring lawyers this spring. The Honorable Dorothy Wright Nelson, judge in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit since 1980, will address "The Problem-Solving Lawyer" as the commencement speaker.

Among Nelson's passions is the promotion of peaceful international and community problem solving, including alternative dispute resolution (ADR). She founded the Western Justice Center Foundation, which focuses on children, communities and courts in developing innovative ADR programs. Nelson received the ABA Dispute Resolution Section D'Alemberte/Raven Award in 2000. Judge Nelson has been called on by presidents from both parties for national leadership roles and has been an advocate for international human rights across the globe. She is considered a pioneer for women in legal education. When she was named dean of the University of Southern California Law Center in 1967, she became only the third woman to head an ABA-accredited law school.

Juliette Gaffney Dame, one of the 10 students to be honored for her pro bono work, helped found the Volunteer Student Law Project three years ago and served as its first president. The program matches University of Dayton law students with practicing attorneys who are working on pro bono civil matters ranging from domestic relations to bankruptcy to environmental law. Last year, more than 80 law students participated.

"With the creation of the Volunteer Student Law Project, I was able to be part of the legal community by helping indigent people navigate their way through the bankruptcy process. Being able to actually work with someone instead of reading about cases in a book made such a difference to me," said Gaffney Dame, a Monroe, Ohio, resident who also volunteered to write appellate briefs for the Dayton public defender's office.

"This kind of work is so important for students to do in law school to open their eyes to real life law," she added. "Unless it's criminal law, you don't tend to read about indigent clients needing legal help in law school, but they are out there in every practice area and if students realize that now, hopefully they will make a point to serve those clients throughout their career."

Judy LaMusga, retired superintendent of the Montgomery County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, spent 35 years in public service before entering UD's School of Law. As a law student, she organized several blood drives each year at the school, founded the Elder Law and Estate Planning Society--a student organization that helps the elderly--and served as president of the Honor Council, a group of elected students who investigated charges of academic dishonesty, such as plagiarism. She also helped run living will clinics as part of last fall's School of Law Gilvary Symposium that examined end-of-life issues.

"Giving back to the community is part of what we all ought to be doing--whether you're a law student or a housewife," said LaMusga, a Beavercreek resident who foresees a career as a private attorney working with people with disabilities. "As a lawyer, people really value your help and assistance. You have to be ready to give it.

"When you give something," she said, "you get back tenfold."

Contact Lisa Kloppenberg at (937) 229-3795 and Lori Shaw, dean of students at the School of Law, at (937) 229-3794. To arrange interviews with Juliette Gaffney Dame and Judy LaMusga, contact Teri Rizvi at (937) 229-3255.