Each year at the ABA Annual Meeting, the Law Student Division presents the Judy M. Weightman Memorial Public Interest Award to a law school or individual to honor them for their strong commitment to public interest.
Last summer in , the award went to the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center at the University of Miami School of Law.
“We have a breadth of opportunities for our students to get involved, including traditional clinics and externships and innovative projects,” says Dean Marni Lennon, director of the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center.
Lennon, a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law, says she formed HOPE because she noticed there were students who could not afford to participate in unpaid pro bono or public interest work.
“We want to make sure that each graduate understands the importance of giving back in their professional lives,” Lennon says. “[The Resource Center] develops programs to address unmet needs in the community and makes sure students are instilled with the importance of pro bono work and ethics.”
The HOPE Resource Center gives students the chance to work at nine different clinics—ranging from a Children and Youth Law Clinic to a Bankruptcy Assistance Clinic. It also provides opportunities to participate in externships and get involved in various legal advocacy and community outreach projects in Miami.
The Resource Center also administers the HOPE Fellows Program, which provides a $5,000 stipend to law students who work in uncompensated public interest jobs during the summer.
“Fellows go directly to an agency or community and pitch unique ways to assist them,” Lennon says. “It allows [students] to reach more people and leave a lasting impression.”
After their summer jobs, HOPE Fellows return to campus and share their experiences through multimedia presentations, seminars, and photo galleries. Lennon refers to the students involved with HOPE as “ambassadors of change.”
One such student is Ashley Matthews, a 3L at the University of Miami School of Law. Matthews became involved with HOPE before entering law school. She is a Miami scholar and was awarded a three-year scholarship from HOPE because of her commitment to public service.
“Every year, I take part in the HOPE Day of Service,” Matthews says. “It’s a day during orientation that students take part in service projects like cleaning up area beaches.”
Matthews is also a two-time HOPE Fellow and worked for the Community Justice Project in Miami and Atlanta.
“I will always be involved and continue to support the HOPE Resource Center,” she says. “They have shaped my law school experience.”
Matthews says much of her enthusiasm for the Resource Center stems from its accessibility to the University of Miami School of Law student body.
“[The HOPE Resource Center] is more of a resource than an organization,” she says. “It doesn’t subject students to any political ideology. The whole school feels HOPE is there for them.”