Need Is Overwhelming": One Student's Example Of Commitment
To Providing Volunteer Legal Services
18, 2000 -- During America's current economic
boom, salaries for lawyers entering the profession have skyrocketed.
Meanwhile, government funding for legal services for those unable
to afford them has dropped significantly and new limitations have
been placed on those services.
a result, "there's more need than ever before for lawyers in
private practice to devote time to pro bono work," or volunteer
legal service, says Jason Zuckerman, a 2000 graduate of the University
of Virginia School of Law
who has spearheaded a new program there that formally encourages
all students to regularly perform pro bono service as part of their
career preparation. The aim is not only to provide greatly needed
legal assistance to the poor and working poor but to help law students
learn more about professional commitment and responsibility to society.
many graduating law students, Zuckerman has significant tuition
debts to pay and knows he will be working long hours to do that.
But he passionately intends to keep offering volunteer services
on his own when he goes to work for a Washington, D.C. firm, Shaw
Pittman. In fact, he chose a firm with a strong commitment to pro
bono, which comes from the Latin "for the public good."
the U.Va. law school he is praised for setting a phenomenal example
of providing volunteer legal aid to those who are least able to
As litigation director of the Pro Bono Criminal Assistance Project
(P-CAP) he has worked tirelessly to assist prisoners in their appeals
and to investigate claims of violations of prisoners' rights.
The well-known program is the largest pro bono project at the law
school, with about 50 students actively involved, and receives up
to 1,000 requests for assistance a year from prisoners, mostly in
often don't care what happens to prisoners," says Zuckerman.
"But I don't think you have to give up all your rights
because you are in prison. The U.S. can't be a human rights
model for the world without extending some basic rights to inmates.
I've been shocked and outraged by some of the violations we've
heard about in Virginia," including excessive use of force
against inmates and denial of necessary medical treatment.
receiving numerous letters to P-CAP, Zuckerman and another student
recently visited inmates at the state's Red Onion "super-max"
prison in Southwest Virginia and have contacted the U.S. Justice
Department asking it to investigate constitutional and human rights
violations described to them.
don't doubt for a moment that most of the inmates committed
heinous crimes," he says. "But we were astounded that
prison oficials have such unchecked power to physically and verbally
abuse inmates at will."
almost the only place prisoners can write to in Virginia,"
he adds. "They have no where else to turn. We want to show
that they have a voice."
addition to working with prisoners, Zuckerman has served as co-director
of the law school's Western State Hospital Project, which provides
legal services to individuals committed there. Like the work with
prisoners, he describes it as "a very eye-opening experience."
man he worked with there was being released, no longer a threat
to himself or society, but wasn't able to earn enough to live
on his own. Although the man had just spent almost a decade in a
mental institution, he was turned down for Social Security disability
assistance. "He fit the requirements," says Zuckerman,
who spent close to 60 volunteer hours conducting interviews and
successfully appealing the case.
All along, Zuckerman has tried to encourage student involvement
in pro bono work through his role as chair of the Student Bar Association's
Pro Bono Committee. Last fall the law school formally launched a
voluntary pro bono program for all its students. They are urged
to complete at least 75 hours of pro bono service during their three
years of study, or about one hour per week of classes. The law school's
Public Service Center provides a data base of service projects.
was the major inspiration behind development of the program. "His
advocacy with the dean and curriculum committee was critical to
passage of the program," says Kimberly Carpenter Emery, assistant
dean for public service.
persuades with a simple argument for pro bono. "It provides
excellent experience. And the need is just overwhelming."
Zuckerman can be reached at (804) 979-9022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856