St. John’s Law Students Spend Spring Break Helping Underserved Communities in New Orleans

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Instead of heading to sand, slopes, or home for Spring Break, 10 St. John’s Law students traveled down to New Orleans for a week of volunteer service with the nonprofit Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS).

Organized by the Law School’s Public Interest Law Students Association (PILSA) — with lead work by PILSA executive board member Nicholas Bebirian ’14 and Public Interest Center director Rachel D. Andron — the service trip was the culmination of months of preparation. Along with Rachel Andron and Nick, Angela Capello ’14, Alison Goldsmith ’14, and Josephine DeLuca ’14 worked tirelessly to raise funds through PILSA events, including the Halloween Spooktacular and the annual Public Interest Auction. They also received a donation from Themis Bar Review.

SLLS offers free civil legal aid to the Greater New Orleans area, as well as to 21 other parishes in southeast Louisiana. It aims to handle civil legal problems for as many people in underserved communities as it can, without sacrificing the high quality of its services. It also supports community efforts to improve the quality of life for the poor.

The St. John’s Law students identified SLLS as a fitting partner organization based on its excellent track record of working with law student volunteers from around the country. SLLS also stood out because it allows students to choose the substantive law units they volunteer with. The partnership with SLLS was solidified by St. John’s alumna Amanda Golob ’08, who has worked for the organization’s housing unit for five years. As a law student, Amanda organized a St. John’s Law service trip to New Orleans to assist with the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. Now, years later, she offered students a wonderful example of mission-in-action as she worked with them on housing cases during their first two days in New Orleans.

In addition to volunteering in the housing unit, the St. John’s students also assisted with legal issues related to: employment and public benefits, family law, homeless advocacy, consumer law, foreclosure prevention, tax, and successions/title clearing. They interacted with attorneys, drafted research memos and briefs, and talked clients through the intake process, among other tasks. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the First City Court for Orleans Parish, where the students observed eviction proceedings before Hon. Veronica E. Henry. She welcomed the group, explained the post-judgment process, and answered questions. 

 “Volunteering with SLLS, and the entire service trip, was extremely rewarding,” said Nicholas Bebirian.  “Not only did we get to give back to a community in need, we also learned new aspects of the law, gained real-world lawyering experience, and honed practical skills.” Rachel Andron, who accompanied the students to New Orleans, also valued the experience: “The service trip was so gratifying. The students were able to put into practice St. John’s Vincentian mission of promoting social justice.  It was also wonderful to work closely with one of our dedicated public interest alumni, Amanda Golob. I commend our student volunteers for spending their Spring Break doing pro bono work and offer many thanks to Nick Bebirian and PILSA’s 3L Executive Board for all their hard work organizing this trip.”