Georgia State University College of Law was named among the top law schools for public interest law by preLaw magazine. The college was one of 12 to receive an A+ ranking by the magazine in its Back to School 2018 issue.
To determine the top schools, preLaw considered whether the school offers concentrations or certificates in the specialty, clinical or externship opportunities, student groups focused on public interest and related centers. The magazine also examined the number of courses, faculty and whether the law school makes public interest a part of its identity.
“Georgia State Law has always prioritized public service and pro bono activities,” said Wendy F. Hensel, dean and professor of law. “We’re proud to be recognized for our commitment to public interest law and the work our Center for Access to Justice is doing to support meaningful access to courts and equality for all people.”
As part of the Public Interest Law and Policy (PILP) Certificate, Georgia State Law offers more than 75 courses within the specialty and has in-house clinics designed to give students experience representing clients. The Center for Access to Justice, which was founded in 2016 to support those working to ensure meaningful access to the courts and equal treatment in the civil and criminal justice systems, houses the PILP certificate and was touted in the preLaw article for its award-winning student-run pro bono program.
“The vast majority of Americans experience problems that could benefit from legal assistance, and yet for most of those people, such help is out of reach,” said Lauren Sudeall Lucas, center faculty director and associate professor of law. “Through the center, we aim to shine a light on how those individuals experience the justice system. We also hope to instill in students the belief that providing assistance to those in need is part of their responsibility as lawyers, regardless of the type of legal career they ultimately pursue.”
Through the center’s Pro Bono Program, students may participate in a variety of legal volunteer opportunities, working under the supervision of practicing attorneys in the nonprofit, public and private sectors to address the unmet legal needs of people of limited means. Last year alone, Georgia State law students contributed over 800 hours of pro bono legal service through the program.
The center also facilitates an Alternative Spring Break program through which students spend a week engaging in pro bono legal service, working with licensed attorneys to receive training and insight into some of the legal issues facing the community in which they volunteer. Past trips include conducting court-watching research in Mississippi criminal courts, observing dispossessory proceedings in Fulton County court and assisting tenants in filing answers to evictions, and working with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative at the Stewart Immigration Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. This year, students will return to Lumpkin with SPLC, work with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation to represent tenants and explore the impact of unstable housing on elementary school students, and travel to southwest Georgia to gain insight into the distinct access to justice concerns facing rural communities.
“The Pro Bono Program and Alternative Spring Break give students hands-on experience and direct insight into how the law can serve as a powerful tool or an intractable obstacle, especially for lower-income communities,” said Darcy Meals, center assistant director. “Even after a single shift volunteering, students see the impact they can have as lawyers.”