On Aug. 22, Stephen Bright, professor of practice, gave the inaugural Public Interest Keynote address for the Center for Access to Justice. Bright is the former president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights.
Bright impressed upon students the impact a lawyer’s assistance can have, particularly for people who, without counsel, would not be able to mount an effective defense against criminal charges.
Bright shared the story of a young woman falsely accused of arson who lost her job and housing and was felt pressured to take a plea for a crime she did not commit. Bright and the Southern Center for Human Rights took her case, hiring an expert witness who provided critical testimony to refute the state’s evidence. The charges were ultimately dropped.
Bright encouraged students to commit to serving underrepresented populations, a lifelong commitment he said could begin in law school.
“The challenge to all of you — if you want to take it on — is to have a legal profession where no one is shut out, where the weak and vulnerable are not exploited by the legal system, where the system produces fair and just results based on the merits of the issues before it,” he said.
Thomaesa Bailey (J.D. ’19) was inspired by Bright’s remarks. “As a social worker and an advocate, I have a passion to change the world for the better. The grueling nature of 1L year almost made me lose sight of my passion, but Professor Bright’s lecture reaffirmed and reignited it.”
Inspiring a lifetime of service is the motivation behind the center’s new student-run Pro Bono Program, which was introduced following Bright’s presentation. The program pairs interested students with local legal organizations, providing an opportunity to develop relevant skills and substantive knowledge while giving back to the community.
In its inaugural semester, the program has partnered with several Atlanta-area organizations whose attorneys supervise law students assisting with client intake and interviews, legal research, and completing pro se forms. The program was designed to provide regular weekly timeslots with partner organizations, offering students exposure to a variety of legal services providers in an array of substantive areas.
“Law students are busy, so we wanted to ensure that anyone who had an interest in volunteering could make it happen,” said Darcy Meals, the center’s assistant director. “Working with our partner organizations brings the classroom to life, so students see how legal doctrine makes an impact in practice.”
The program’s student director, Andrew Navratil (J.D. ’18), says the program has been a long time coming. “Georgia State students have always been involved in public service, but this program makes connecting with pro bono legal opportunities even easier, so people are more likely to get involved and stay involved.”
Charles Theodore (J.D. ’19) agrees. He added, “it was great to hear about the pro bono opportunities the center is offering, so we can actively be of service in our community now even though we are still students.”
Students participating in the Pro Bono Program can earn credit toward Georgia State’s Pro Bono & Public Service Recognition Program, which honors students who have volunteered for fifty hours or more during law school.
To learn more about the Pro Bono Program or to propose a new project or partnership, visit law.gsu.edu/probono.