Spring Break Caravans 2009

Media Contact: Nancy Goldfarb, 212-854-1584, [email protected]
Public Affairs Office, 212-854-2650,
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New York, March 16, 2009—This week, a group of about 60 students from Columbia Law School will spend their spring break vacation volunteering at social justice organizations across the country. 
The program, known as Spring Break Caravans, is run by Criminal Justice Action Network (CJAN), a Columbia Law School student organization that advocates for prisoners’ rights, improved indigent defense, and the abolition of the death penalty. Hundreds of Law School students applied this year for the limited number of slots.
Students are working in Atlanta; Miami; San Francisco; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Zacatecas, Mexico; and, staying a bit closer to home, in the Bronx, N.Y. They will assist practicing lawyers on indigent public defense, advocacy for children and families, death penalty litigation, refugee and immigrants services, and migrant workers’ rights.

"The Caravans program give students a rare chance to work and play together, teaching them that pro bono work is satisfying, necessary and, often, fun," said  Ellen Chapnick, Dean of Columbia Law School's Social Justice Program. "It also spurs a deep personal commitment to the professional ethical obligation that lawyers use their education and time on behalf of underserved individuals, communities and issues. We are very grateful to Simpson Thacher for making these experiences possible for students who otherwise could not afford to go."

Also this week, 13 Columbia Law School students will volunteer at community organizations in New Orleans, Louisiana, through the Student Hurricane Network (SHN). Law School graduates Laila Hlass ’06 and Anna Arcenaux ’06 are among the small group of former law students who founded SHN in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In the past two years, 4,500 students from more than 110 law schools have helped provide long-term assistance to communities in the Gulf Coast region through SHN.

Columbia is one of a select group of law schools nationwide that requires all students to undertake pro bono work during three years of law school. Stemming from student interests and requests by public interest lawyers and organizations, the Law School created a mandatory
pro bono program, which continues to be shaped by student input. The pro bono offerings enrich the students’ law school experience, and add relevance to their coursework. Most students perform more than the required 40 hours of service.

Spring Break Caravans benefit both the organizations and students, says Amanda Hungerford, the CJAN president. “These groups, which provide invaluable services to their communities but face funding cuts, get some needed manpower from students,” Hungerford said. “In turn, students are also exposed to the inequalities of the legal system, and hopefully are inspired to continue fighting those inequalities after they graduate.”

Generous support for the CJAN Spring Break Caravans and Student Hurricane Network trips comes from the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. “This program gives future lawyers hands-on experience helping people in poor and underserved communities,” said Todd Crider, co-chair of Simpson Thacher’s Pro Bono Committee. “We hope the caravan participants develop a lifelong commitment to pro bono work, based in part on this special public-service opportunity.”
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