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VOL. 125 | NO. 33 | Thursday, February 18, 2010

Comes Receives Top Student Volunteer Award From TBA

By Rebekah Hearn

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Diana Comes, a second-year law student at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, recently was named Student Volunteer of the Year by the Tennessee Bar Association, the state’s top award for law student pro bono work. She received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from Rhodes College in 2008. Currently, Comes is a judicial extern for U.S. Magistrate Judge Tu M. Pham in Memphis federal court.

Comes is the recipient of several honors, including a Cecil C. Humphreys Fellowship under professor Donna Harkness, the National Association of Women Judges Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Scholarship, the Association for Women Attorneys Dorothy Osradker Memorial Scholarship, the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award, the Law Alumni Board Honors Scholarship, the John R. Benish Award for Excellence in English Studies, a University Scholarship for academic merit and a CALI (Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction) Award for Excellence in Contracts I.

“There is no better way to learn than by experiencing for yourself the challenges of trying to get help for your clients in a complex court system.”

– Diana Comes

During her senior year of high school, she attended the Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France, where she received a Certificat de Langue Française.

Comes, a Florida native, is involved in the AWA, the TBA, the U of M Public Action Law Society and competed in the Freshman Moot Court competition in 2009.

She also is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, the Sigma Tau Delta Honor Society, the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society and the Iota Iota Iota Honor Society (women’s studies). Comes spent the summer of 2009 working as a law clerk with Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., where she conducted legal research, drafted wills, advance directives, powers of attorney and other legal documents for MALS clients. While at MALS, Comes helped Linda Warren Seely, director of pro bono projects, on a case involving a wheelchair-bound Memphian fighting for her TennCare coverage (see the Oct. 31 edition of The Memphis News at www.thememphisnews.com).

Q: In what areas of the law do you think you might focus your practice on?

A: After graduation, I hope to clerk for a judge for a year or two. Ultimately, I will likely go into civil litigation, with an emphasis, preferably, on business, civil rights, or employment, or some combination of those.

Q: You seem highly involved with women’s organizations and issues, including a stint as the director of the Rhodes College Women’s Center as an undergraduate. Do you want to incorporate that interest in women’s studies into your practice?

A: Absolutely. Legal issues that affect women will always be important to me. Involvement with those issues may take the form of pro bono divorce cases, providing legal counsel for a family planning organization or taking on a leadership role in a professional women attorneys’ group.

Q: What are some of the things you’ve learned as a judicial extern that you didn’t know or that has surprised you?

A: I’m externing for a magistrate judge and deal primarily with pre-trial motions. One thing I will take away from the experience is what a case looks like from the very beginning. The complexity of issues at the outset has surprised me, because in law school you learn the law generally by reading appellate opinions, which don’t really illustrate the mechanics of a lawsuit.

Q: Of all your experiences so far, what has been the most valuable one to you?

A: Working at MALS last summer was an incredible experience. Linda Seely was a fantastic mentor, and graciously allowed me to observe what excellent, compassionate lawyering looks like. There is no better way to learn than by experiencing for yourself the challenges of trying to get help for your clients in a complex court system.

Q: Has your background in French helped you in your studies and/or your interaction with clients?

A: Unfortunately, French doesn’t crop up too often in the law, although I did have a tiny moment of triumph in Property I when we learned about life estates pur autre vie.

Q: How do you like to spend your spare time?

A: In the summers, you can find me volunteering every Saturday at the Downtown Memphis Farmers Market. It’s a fun place to catch up with friends and stock up on amazing locally grown tomatoes.

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