The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and its Public Action Law Society are sponsoring the fourth annual alternative spring break next week.
It’s a series of events that will involve 48 law students from seven law schools, some of whom will come here from out of state to participate alongside Memphis law students.
This year’s alternative spring break, from March 11 through March 15, will focus on civil rights and include a civil rights educational series along with community legal service projects. And Mike Cody, a former Tennessee attorney general and a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, will keynote an awards banquet March 15 at noon in the law school’s Ball Reading Room.
Cody practices with Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC and worked on the legal team that represented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when the city of Memphis tried to stop the sanitation workers’ march in April 1968.
Students coming here for the event hail from schools like Vermont Law School and Charlotte School of Law, among others. They’ll join Memphis law students in several local service projects, and four Memphis law students will travel to the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville to serve clients needing immigration legal assistance.
“The alternative spring break is such an amazing project,” said Callie Caldwell, who oversees the pro bono programs and related duties at the law school. “And it’s a group of students who run everything. They work tirelessly to put together such a huge event, and I’m always amazed they have time to do this on top of their schoolwork, on top of everything else they’re doing. It’s easy to get to law school and forget about the real reasons you thought about going to law school to begin with.”
Public Action Law Society President Chris Martin said the alternative spring break project seeks to help low-income people who need legal representation while also giving law students an opportunity to get real-world experience. What’s more, the University of Memphis program is the only student-led alternative spring break in the country to recruit nationally, taking applicants from any American Bar Association-accredited law school, he said.
“As law students, we see the law from the vantage point of the classroom, but alternative spring break allows us to reach out to the community and help individuals who most need legal help,” said Andrew Solarski, alternative spring break coordinator for the Public Action Law Society.
Among the week’s events, students will tour the National Civil Rights Museum, and faculty and practicing attorneys will offer tutorials on legal ethics, interviewing and counseling and other law topics. Alternative spring break participants also will get exposed to several specialized legal “tracks.”
Supervised by practicing attorneys and leaders in the Memphis community, participants will be exposed to areas of the law that include family law, immigration and criminal defense, among others.
Students in the advance directives track, for example, will travel to senior citizen centers and faith-based organizations to help elders in need of wills, health care surrogacy forms and other advance directives that go along with getting end-of-life issues in order.
Students interested in family law will help people who don’t have children or property in filing petitions for pro se divorce. Students interested in immigration law will process certain forms for young undocumented people who meet the criteria for deferral from removal from the United States, so that they can complete their educations or become employed.
Law students interested in criminal law will work with the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office and General Sessions Criminal Court Judge Karen Massey to expunge criminal records for the homeless population. Other participants will conduct research on state legislation to address the growing problem of human trafficking in Memphis and Tennessee.
They also will contribute a scholarly article for the University of Memphis Law Review’s symposium issue on human trafficking.