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“What Feeds Your Soul?” Law School Professors Share Their Pro Bono Passions
Professor Monica Teixeira de Sousa discusses pro bono

Law schools are full of the busiest people you’re likely to meet: from students to professors to administrators, everyone’s proverbial plate is full. Yet, they find time for more, squeezing in pro bono and volunteer activities all year long. Why? Because it makes the world a little brighter—and them a little happier.

Keep reading for a look at some of the volunteer activities that keep New England Law professors and students going.

“What feeds your soul?” asks New England Law Professor Monica Teixeira de Sousa.

She’s addressing the crowd at an end-of-year Honors Program lunch, where students get to connect with professors, reflect on the year, and take a break from studying for finals.

But the main topic of discussion is the pro bono and volunteer work that students and professors squeeze into their busy schedules because they find it personally and professionally fulfilling.

Table after table crackles with conversation, as students and professors talk about their legal interests: elder law, antidiscrimination work, business law, immigration, contracts, and more. Everyone acknowledges that pro bono and volunteer work can be hard, especially when you’re helping families in crisis or supporting individuals when their future hangs in the balance. But they also agree—it’s worth it.

“You only get one career,” says Professor Russell Engler. “Make it something you care about.”

Student Branden Ladebush ’20, for example, is passionate about immigration law, in part because he “fell in love with the work” doing community service as an undergrad at Clark University with refugees seeking asylum.

Anna Mandrishan ’20, a recent recipient of a Rappaport Fellowship in public service and law, highlights the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, volunteer legal work students can get involved in as early as their first year of law school.

David Siegel, Professor of Law and Director of the school’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility, mentions his work with the New England Innocence Project, a regional nonprofit and legal advocacy organization committed to exonerating wrongfully convicted persons. (He helped found the organization fifteen years ago and has been on the board for the past five years.)

Professors Allison Dussias and Jordan Singer both talk about volunteering in their communities with their children. Professor Dussias works with her daughter at the Newton Food Pantry and Center Street Food Pantry, where they see just how common food insecurity is and gain an appreciation for all the hard work that goes into the food chain. Professor Singer brings his children with him when he volunteers with Family Table, a Jewish Family & Children’s Service initiative that delivers food to needy families in Waltham, Massachusetts. He says the work reminds them all that everyone deserves a good meal and is worthy of dignity.

As one of the school’s Clinical Law Professors, Caryn Mitchell-Munevar works on public interest cases day in and day out—but that doesn’t stop her from doing it in her spare time too. She volunteers with organizations like the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, the Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer for the Day programs, and many more. She says part of the wonderful thing about pro bono and volunteering is that it doesn’t feel like work to her, and she often gets to involve her students.

New England Law Dean and President John O’Brien discussed his 20 years working with the American Bar Association and its efforts to improve legal education policies. Some of their main goals include ensuring all students graduate well prepared for the profession of law and making law school more accessible, particularly to students from underrepresented groups.

So, what else do New England Law faculty members do to give back outside of school? Keep reading to learn more about some of their passion projects.

Russel Engler, Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Programs

  • My causes: Access to Justice and Civil Right to Counsel
  • What’s your pro bono/volunteer work about? I serve on the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and the Steering Committee of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. I am also involved in a number of access to justice and civil right to counsel initiatives both locally and nationally.
  • Why is this important to you? Despite the promise of equal justice under the law, there is no right to counsel in most civil cases, not enough legal aid lawyers to meet the need, and most people who are indigent or even of moderate income cannot afford to hire a lawyer. That means that even in cases where basic human needs are at stake, including those involving shelter, safety, sustenance, health, and child custody, many people are forced to navigate a complicated legal system without the help they need. The results often are devastating, and people suffer harm even when the law and facts should be on their side.

Lawrence Friedman, Professor of Law

  • My causes: Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice
  • What’s your pro bono/volunteer work about? I am currently vice-chair of the board of directors at The Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, an organization devoted to child welfare and juvenile justice issues. Its programming includes residential treatment, educational services, community-based services, therapeutic support, and criminal justice consulting, in Massachusetts and across the nation.
  • Why is this important to you? I became involved to help the organization achieve Robert F. Kennedy’s goal: that “every child in this country live as we would want our own children to live.”

Dina Francesca Haynes, Professor of Law and Director of Immigration Law Certificate

  • My causes: Immigration, Asylum, Sanctuary Cities, and Sexual Assault Prevention
  • What’s the pro bono/volunteer work about? I am involved as amici and petitioner in several federal lawsuits challenging the executive orders on the travel ban and interior enforcement. I am also advising campuses and cities on sanctuary policies. Finally, I have been working with international aid organizations and United Nations agencies on their sexual harassment and sexual abuse policies and responses in light of the Oxfam scandal.
  • Why is this important to you? I became a lawyer to seek justice for those least able to seek it for themselves. I believe that several constitutional norms and democratic principles are currently at stake, and immigration and civil rights are arenas in which these constitutional questions are being played out. I have a strong interest in working to see that due process and the few constitutional protections that presently exist for non-citizens are not further eroded, as I believe that their erosion harms us all—citizen and non-citizen alike.

Monica Teixeira de Sousa, Professor of Law and Director of Family Law Concentration

  • My causes: Workers’ Rights, Education Equity, Affordable Housing, Food Security, and Energy Affordability
  • What’s the pro bono/volunteer work about? I volunteer for the nonprofit George Wiley Center around the issue of energy affordability for low-income and working class households. I am also a member of the RIC Upward Bound Scholarship Committee.
  • Why is this important to you? I grew up in a working class community and have watched jobs that pay fair wages and benefits all but disappear from the employment landscape over the last few decades. The families who are living in the same neighborhoods today experience limited prospects for upward mobility. They face job insecurity, paltry benefits, irregular and unpredictable work schedules, soaring rents, and unaffordable utilities. Defined benefit pensions have become a relic of the past, and both young and old are struggling to make ends meet. I believe that despite all the money in politics, there are greater numbers of people whose votes can influence legislation, and that knowledge of the legal system is needed now more than ever to help equalize the scales of justice and restore a badly frayed safety net.

Learn more about the New England Law faculty and their work.