Challenging Ideas for Public Interest Work Proposed at Pro Bono Summit: Miami Law Students Develop Action Plans


Miami Law students Leah Weston and Chip McGinley. (Photo: Provided to Miami Law)

How are attorneys contributing to pro bono efforts around immigration, family law, and housing in Miami? What are some of the obstacles to getting more attorneys to take pro bono cases? How can technology improve pro bono participation?

These were a few of the topics up for discussion at the Miami Pro Bono Summit and Fair on May 21 at Miami-Dade College.

Members of Miami Law's HOPE Public Interest Resource Center joined the conversation along with about 100 attorneys representing South Florida's largest law firms, the judiciary, and legal aid agencies. The summit was organized by the Miami Pro Bono Round Table, a coalition of firms dedicated to increasing pro bono participation among members of the private bar, and the Florida Bar Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. Miami Law students with a demonstrated commitment to public interest work were invited to participate in the summit as ushers and to offer their thoughts as future members of the legal community.

The summit kicked off with a panel discussion featuring Judges Adalberto Jordan, of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals; Vance E. Salter, Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal; and Ellen Sue Venzer, Miami-Dade County's Criminal Division. A tone of urgency filled the room, as each of the panelists agreed that to address the volume of unmet legal need in our community, more attorneys must accept pro bono cases.

The rest of the day consisted of breakout sessions on housing and community development, immigration, family law, civil rights and prisoner cases, and technology and pro bono efforts. Miami Law students joined attorneys in each of the sessions to develop action plans for improving attorney and law student participation in pro bono efforts. Some ideas included developing an online clearinghouse for attorneys to find available pro bono opportunities, pairing law students with attorneys to gain valuable legal experience, and promoting the pro bono ethic among leadership at major law firms. Afterward, participants enjoyed a Pro Bono Fair and cocktail reception while learning more about legal services and other pro bono agencies, including Miami Law's HOPE Public Interest Resource Center.

HOPE is the first stop at Miami Law for students interested in public interest opportunities. In addition to offering summer fellowships and the Miami Scholarsprogram, HOPE organizes the Pro Bono Research Project, which matches attorneys working on pro bono cases with law students to provide assistance with legal research and writing.