Law School Students Head South for Spring Break of Service

By: Michelle Lee, UCSC Communications Intern

Many people spend their spring breaks napping on the white sandy beaches of some exotic locale or napping in their beds at home, but not James DuBray.

A second-year student at the University of Chicago Law School, DuBray is a board member and participant of Spring Break of Service—a CSRSO that plans a weeklong service opportunity for students interested in volunteer legal work.

DuBray has a good amount of experience in social and community work, having interned at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS), worked at the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic, and participated in several Days of Service.

One of DuBray’s largest focuses, however, is Spring Break of Service, a CSRSO that brings law students to do volunteer legal work in regions most in need of help. DuBray is one of six members on the Board and works to plan and facilitate this trip.

About 20 to 30 students participate each year. “The majority are community-oriented in different ways,” DuBray said. Some are focused on social justice issues, while others have volunteer and community service experience from college.

"[We] traditionally [send] people…to the Gulf coast,” he continued. “[There’s] a big need for legal help lately because of both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.”

"[Last summer] we worked for an organization called the Mississippi Center for Justice...a legal aid organization that does civil [work],” he said. Because most of Mississippi’s industry is tourism and Gulf-related (such as fishing), the hurricane and oil spill affected many livelihoods. DuBray and the other students helped the residents navigate government procedures in order to get their lives back in order. DuBray also worked in a walk-in legal clinic to "intake and funnel people to attorneys.”

Other students were sent to the Orleans Public Defenders Office.

This year, students will be returning to the Orleans Public Defenders Office as well as traveling to the Knoxville Community Law Office. Knoxville does “pro-bono legal work that specifically tries to serve the poor in the south” and uses “holistic representation,” DuBray said. In other words, they try not only to represent individuals’ cases, but also to solve what got them there in the first place. Accordingly, they offer various programming, such as rehabilitation and after-school programs. Volunteers will be working at an “expungement clinic on weekends [for] individuals with minor convictions,” he added.

This will not be his first time dealing with criminal law. Last summer, Dubray worked with Professor Alison Siegler at the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic, defending people charged with crimes. "[The Clinic] forces judges and prosecutors to see that the individual is more than the mistake [he or she] made,” he said. "It was incredibly rewarding to be able to form relationships with people and fight for people in really bad situations.”

DuBray continues to work with the Clinic on a volunteer basis.

Participants will be leaving on March 20 for their sites. They will work from March 21-26, then drive back to Chicago on the 27th, only to start classes the next day. It’s a grueling, fast-paced schedule that only the most committed students can take on.

Ultimately, Spring Break of Service is an opportunity for law students to “keep going to regions of the country where people really need help [and to get] exposure to non-traditional legal careers...something different from the big law firms,” said DuBray.

What he values most is the opportunity to “[do] something positive in someone's life who could use it,” he said. “Being a lawyer is a lot about being an advocate and fighting for someone.”

“One of the best way you can use a law degree is to fight for people who need it best,” he said.

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