As the legal community brings National Pro Bono Week celebrations to a close, Miami Law solidified its commitment to giving back with the 13th Annual HOPE auction at the University of Miami's Lowe Art Museum.
Students, alumni, faculty and members of Miami's legal community came out to support the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center. Every year, the auction provides a critical source of funding for HOPE's student-oriented public interest programs and scholarships. One such is the HOPE Fellows program, which enables students to travel around the world promoting access to justice in marginalized communities.
"I'm here to support HOPE because it not only funds student initiatives to perform much-needed pro bono services, but it helps students learn how to develop, initiate and complete their own projects," said Thomas Oglesby, a recent Miami Law graduate and past HOPE Fellow. "I think that's a valuable skill."
As guests entered the Lowe Art Museum, some were greeted with a welcoming hug by Marni Lennon, assistant dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono and director of the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center. Others were ushered to the sign-in table by members of the Public Interest Leadership Board, which Elizabeth Rieser-Murphy, its president, called "the student engine that drives public interest" at Miami Law.
"We are so grateful for everyone who came out tonight to support public interest!" Rieser-Murphy said.
Cristina Barrios, the HOPE Auction chairwoman, helped plan the event and led the solicitation efforts for a large array of auction items. "There was a core group of students that helped out who are very passionate about making sure that access to justice exists on a global scale," Cristina said. "Without their hard work, this wouldn't be possible."
Miami Law alumni came out to support, offering various reasons for their dedication to furthering HOPE's mission.
"HOPE is the reason I decided to attend Miami Law," said Sarah Wood Borak, an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow with the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office. "The least I can do now as a practicing attorney is give back."
"It's an inspiration to see how much HOPE has grown and what the Fellows are doing now!" said Evian White, JD '11.
Rob Collins, JD '11, agreed. "HOPE does a lot of good work for the people, so I love to support it," he added.
During the silent auction, guests were treated to hors d'oeuvres and an open bar while they mingled with other attendees and bid on items such as custom-framed Romero Britto paintings and autographed Lady Gaga posters.
"This is a great event because we get to all come together and support the amazing programs that HOPE offers,' HOPE Fellow and PILB member Amanda Leipold said. "My fellowship this summer was phenomenal and I couldn't have done it without HOPE."
When the silent auction ended, guests went into one of the larger Lowe galleries and were shown a video highlighting the public interest efforts of HOPE Fellows Tricia Robinson, Ashley Matthews and Eric Olson, who had held summer public-interest positions in Namibia, Africa; Atlanta, Georgia; and Miami, respectively.
HOPE also awarded the first Distinguished Leader in Public Service Award during the event to noted trial lawyer and activist H.T. Smith, a trailblazing Miami Law alum who paved the way for many attorneys who are dedicated to equal justice.
"We represent clients. Real people. That's what makes you go the extra mile," Smith said after receiving the award. "Don't let anyone tell you you can't make a difference, that you can't change the world. Not just Miami – but the world."
Smith continued: "The law is made by the rich and powerful, so we know for certain that the law will protect them. We need to protect the least, the last, the lost, and the looked-over, and the left-out. We need to close the gap between the great ideals of our legal system and the realities of that system."
Following the award presentation, Laurence "Lonny" Rose, Professor of Law Emeritus and director of the Litigation Skills Program, led the live auction. "Public service is an inherent part of being a lawyer," Rose said. "Every client we represent supports public interest generally, but we have to remember those people who don't have access to justice. We represent the unrepresented."
As guests bid on the eclectic selection of auction items, members of the HOPE office took down the names of the highest bidders. The proceeds will help make it possible for future law students to make remarkable differences in communities that need it the most.
"This was an exceptional turnout," Marni Lennon said. "I am invigorated and humbled by the people in this room because they came back to the 'U', bringing their passion and excitement. Many were past students of mine or in the Miami Scholars program. Some of them even predated the amazing clinics and programs that are now offered at Miami Law. These are role models because they lead, and that's what we like to cultivate."
To see photos from the auction, click here.