By: Matthew Hoisington
This Tuesday, the University of Florida Levin College of Law hosted a four-lawyer panel discussing a litany of pro bono opportunities within the profession. The panel was moderated by Bernice Dewlow and Dina Arouri, both 2Ls.
Reina Saco (UF Law ’17) works for FL Legal Services as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. She focuses on outreach, community lawyering, legislative advocacy and impact litigation to increase access to affordable, safe and sanitary housing for migrant farmworker communities across Florida.
Eric Neilberger (FSU Law ’09) serves as general counsel for the State of Florida’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. Prior to serving as general counsel, he worked as a federal civil rights litigator at the Florida Office of the Attorney General under Bill McCollum, and later for Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Simone Chriss (UF Law ’16) is an attorney at law at Southern Legal Counsel, a Florida statewide not-for-profit public interest law firm that is committed to the ideal of equal justice for all and the attainment of basic human and civil rights.
Professor Stacey Steinberg teaches legal writing, appellate advocacy and juvenile law at Levin. She is the Associate Director for the UF Levin College of Law Center on Children and Families.
After introductions, each member of the panel explained where they were currently employed and the role public interest and pro bono work plays in their day-to-day lives. Arouri began by asking the panel how the audience could get involved in the same manner as the panelists.
“Do community service projects, like Ask A Lawyer,” Saco said. “They redefined the professional expectations I associated with advocacy [for the better].”
Chriss shared an experience afforded to her during her pursuit of the pro bono certificate in which she visited a juvenile detention center. This experience went on to inform her approach on a case that she is currently working on raising issue with the living conditions within a juvenile detention center in Duval county.
“All of my pro bono hours were meaningful,” she said. “It’s easy to get the pro bono certificate if you put in the time.”
Arouri followed by asking the panelists to tell the audience about the kind of incentives available for public interest work, placing an emphasis on federal student loan forgiveness.
Professor Steinberg illustrated how, working across various jobs within the public sector (including UF), she recently learned she qualified for loan forgiveness. It is an accumulation of the time invested, not a 10-year commitment to a single job or position.
“You have the power to affect social change, regardless of expertise,” Chriss said. “There is a real, serious need for pro bono work in all types of law.”
Dewlow asked the panelists for advice to give students toward developing their pro bono careers.
“Research attorneys that have the job(s) you want and take the initiative to reach out to them,” Neilberger said. “Most will be flattered and happy to help you understand the process.”
The entire panel spoke to the efficacy of career services as a resource. Professor Steinberg closed with a bit of personal advice.
“Visualize your success,” Steinberg said. “By constantly thinking of the goal, you will naturally find yourself gravitating towards it.”
Matthew Hoisington is currently a 1L at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He graduated from the University of Central Florida majoring in Political Science and minoring in Philosophy in Fall of 2013. In his down time he lifts weights, listens to podcasts and cares for his aged dog and life-long companion, Swede.