May 01, 2014
Assistant Dean Julie Jackson presents a certificate to Tulane 3L Tyler Whittenberg at the April 16 Pro Bono luncheon.
Tyler Whittenberg’s pro bono work helping juveniles with disciplinary problems stay in school has led to a job as a special projects attorney with the Youth Law Center in San Francisco after his May graduation from Tulane Law School.
Emma Sholl’s volunteer work for legal services and nonprofit agencies convinced her to pursue a career in public interest law.
And Kyle Curson’s experience on the prosecution side in a Navy JAG office actually helped prepare him for work the following year as a law clerk for the Orleans Public Defenders.
These three are just a few examples of students who’ve devoted hundreds of hours to pro bono work while at Tulane Law School. The Class of 2014 reported more than 26,500 pro bono hours during law school, and 192 third-year students — or more than 80 percent of the class — have exceeded the 30 hours required for graduation, according to Eileen Ryan, public interest program coordinator. Some even compiled more than 500 hours of service across three years.
In 1988, Tulane became the first U.S. law school to make pro bono work, through which students aid their community by volunteering legal services for indigent clients, an essential part of the curriculum. Students can select from more than 70 public service opportunities or develop their own proposals.
During the 2013-14 academic year, 115 students from among all classes provided 60 or more pro bono hours.
Some students have focused on a single agency, while others have handled a variety of projects. Sholl, for instance, has worked with the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center at Children’s Hospital, assisted the family unit at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services and helped produce a publication on Texas juvenile specialty courts for distribution to lawmakers and judges.
Whittenberg and 3L Khalid Samarrae took leadership roles in Stand Up for Each Other, a student-led group that represents youths who have been suspended or expelled from New Orleans public schools. They advocated for students at hearings, helped develop alternative discipline plans, mediated meetings between parents and school officials and trained other law students.
For their work, Whittenberg and Samarrae are being recognized with the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Student Pro Bono Award, to be presented May 20 at the Louisiana Supreme Court. The group’s work was also featured this spring at the American Bar Association’s midyear meeting in Chicago.
Samarrae, who plans to take the New York bar in the summer, said his experience with SUFEO showed him how the education and criminal justice systems are failing minorities, especially young black males.
“I entered law school with some naïve notions of justice in the United States, and I learned more about the reality of the law in this country and the function of law in general working at SUFEO than I did in class,” he said. “I think I am a better person now for knowing what I know, and it is my hope that I am able to use the knowledge I have gained at SUFEO and in law school to try and make a difference.”
Whittenberg, who received a master’s degree in Politics and Education before law school, said he plans to continue advocating for education equity and an end to the school-to-prison pipeline. His job in San Francisco will focus on an initiative nicknamed the Baby Elmo program, which teaches incarcerated juveniles with young children the skills to be committed parents both while they’re in custody and when they’re released.