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Pro Bono Spring Break 2024

Written by Legal Aid WV


During the week of March 10, 2024, Legal Aid of WV (LAWV) was proud to host law students from Vanderbilt University Law School for a Pro Bono Spring Break trip. Vanderbilt offers pro bono opportunities for law students every year, as a way for students to get real experience applying concepts learned in law school. Pro bono work also helps students identify possible career paths, make connections with employers, and travel to areas in need of legal help.

Emma Harrison, a third-year student at Vanderbilt is originally from Morgantown, WV, and went to West Virginia University (WVU) for her undergraduate degree. She has participated in the Pro Bono Spring Break program at Vanderbilt every year during law school and was given the privilege of planning a 2024 Pro Bono Spring Break.

“I knew I wanted to come back to West Virginia,” Emma says. “I reached out to Molly Russell at Legal Aid; I knew her husband from my time at WVU. When we started talking about the type of things we could do in West Virginia, I was excited for others to get to experience the clinics we planned.”

Three Vanderbilt law students pose in front of legal aid logo
(Left to right) Grace Yang, Grace Hayes, and Emma Harrison in the Charleston LAWV office.

Vanderbilt students Grace Yang and Grace Hayes joined Emma for the week in the Huntington, WV area, where they worked three pro bono clinics and enjoyed other activities. Two WVU College of Law students also took time from their spring break to volunteer for the third clinic.

The first clinic was held on the morning of March 12, in Wayne County, WV. This Wills Clinic focused on helping individuals at the Wayne County Senior Center prepare simple wills and medical power of attorney documents.

In total, nine people received estate documents prepared by the Vanderbilt students and volunteers from Nelson Mullins and LAWV. Nelson Mullins sent eight volunteer staff, including paralegals Natalie Taylor, Rebecca Mitchell, and Ed Houck, and attorneys Randy Saunders, Jonah Samples, Kendra Huff, Allyssa Kimbler, and Eric Salyers.

The second clinic—a Name Change Clinic—was also held on March 12, in the evening, on Marshall University’s campus in Huntington.

The clinic was held in partnership with Huntington Pride and Branches Domestic Violence Shelter and served a total of 13 people (eight reserved slots and five eligible walk-in clients). Along with the three law students and LAWV attorney Jennifer Singletary, local attorneys Hoyt Glazer, James Barber, and Bill Stanley also volunteered their time at the clinic.

The final clinic on March 13 helped clients navigate the processes of driver’s license reinstatement and expungement in Charleston, WV, at the Kanawha County Public Library.

WVU College of Law students Tristen Nichols and Dominic Martin joined the Vanderbilt students and LAWV attorneys to serve 20 people, including 9 pre-screened appointments and 11 walk-ins. The outreach for this clinic generated tremendous interest from the community, and LAWV fielded more than 100 requests for more information about driver’s license and expungement help as a result.

law students and legal aid staff pose at the Kanawha County Public Library after a clinic on March 13.
Students and Attorneys at the Driver’s License Reinstatement and Expungement Clinic (Left to right): Grace Yang (Vanderbilt), Emma Harrison (Vanderbilt), Tristen Nichols (WVU), Cindy Withrow (LAWV), Marie Bechtel (LAWV), Dominic Martin (WVU), Molly Russell (LAWV), Grace Hayes (Vanderbilt)

The five law students who volunteered throughout the week all shared an interest in applying their classroom knowledge.

“I knew if I didn’t do the Pro Bono Spring Break program, I would be sitting around for spring break,” explains Grace Hayes, a second-year student at Vanderbilt. “Instead, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve gotten to help people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to get help. I went to law school to become a public defender, so the chance to do public interest was something I knew I had to take.”

Tristen Nichols, a first-year student at WVU College of Law, appreciated a way to serve clients in his home county. “I’m from Elkview, WV, just outside of Charleston,” he says. “This clinic is the first opportunity I’ve had to do pro bono work and do something practical with what I’m learning in law school.”

Students worked with an assigned volunteer attorney at the clinics. Matt Hayes, a LAWV attorney who worked with Vanderbilt student Grace Yang, says there is definitely a need for pro bono work. Matt typically works on the phone, giving legal advice and guidance to people who apply for help from LAWV. “It’s great to dive into one area of law and help the next generation of lawyers get some work under their belts.”

WVU College of law students pose after the volunteer clinic on March 13.
WVU College of Law students Tristen Nichols (left) and Dominic Martin at the Kanawha County Public Library.

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