Altruism is fostered in law students
UH is a multicultural hub — and with this mélange of ethnicities at the University comes a variety of needs, one of them being legal services.
The UH Law Center has been ranked 29th by the National Law Journal for the percentage of graduates that move on to top firms in the U.S., according to the UHLC site. Besides fostering the next generation of attorneys, second- and third-year law students work for free, or “pro bono,” in the Houston community. They provide legal services to people who would otherwise be left with no legal recourse.
Barbara Stalder is a clinical professor and supervising attorney at the UHLC who oversees law students’ pro bono work. She also works to provide legal services to low-income families dealing with issues like immigration and divorce.
“The reason why I do pro bono work is because I believe I have duty and responsibility to the profession and the community to give back a small portion of what I have received,” Stalder said.
“There is a quote that reads, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ I remind myself that I have been given much, and helping others is one small way I can pay it forward.”
She has also shared her love of pro bono work with UH law students. Ritika Narayanan, a second year law student who works pro bono on immigration cases, believes the law should not only serve the affluent, but people from all levels of society.
“For me, this isn’t all about making money, and being able to give back to people who can’t afford it is part of why this system was put in place,” Narayanan said. “It wasn’t only meant to serve those who could afford to pay for it. So I think in that light, long-term, it’s giving back in a way in which the law was initially designed to do: to serve the mass majority as opposed to only those who could afford counsel.”
For Amir Roohi, a third-year law student who has also done pro bono legal work, providing legal services is crucial to the community, especially because most people have very limited knowledge about the law due to its complexity.
“I think there’s a misconception that everyone has access to legal recourse, and they don’t,” Roohi said. “We go to law school for three years because it’s a complicated mess, and to assume that people are going to do it … by themselves is ludicrous and (to assume that they) can afford a lawyer that’s going to be good is also ludicrous. We have such an amazing justice system; everyone should have access to it regardless of if they have money.”
Fostering engagement with the community and a desire to give back is important for students, both altruistically and professionally, said representatives of the Pro Bono Counsel at Vinson & Elkins during a lecture.
Rebekah Wendt, a second year law student who has worked pro bono, feels that it is her responsibility to use her power and place in society to effect a change for the better.
“It’s all about giving back, because just the fact that we’re here in law school and are able to study means that I’m in a very privileged position in the world,” Wendt said. “And I think that comes with a responsibility to help people out to the extent that I can and being aware that you have a lot to give to people who need help.”