Professionalism in a time of need: A Story from the University of Alabama School of Law

Anne Hornsby, the Assoc. Dean for Clinical Programs at the University of Alabama School of Law sent this email through the lawclinic listserv this week.  I asked her for permission to post it to the website because I think it is an inspiring demonstration of what we can mean by the notion of “professionalism”.

Dear colleagues and friends:

I know that you have been concerned about how we are doing here in Alabama, and in Tuscaloosa in particular, but have been too thoughtful to take us away from pressing needs. First, although we have around 50 law students who lost their homes, and some all of their belongings (including books, computers during finals), not one of them was seriously injured. The same is true of our faculty and staff. Tragically, there were at least 41 killed in Tuscaloosa, 8 of them University of Alabama students. Many rural areas were also devastated, and all will take a long time to rebuild.

 Our students’ response to their classmate’s needs was amazing. Even with some cell towers down, no power and little or no access to the internet in this area, they managed within hours to have located every student. They self-organized regular work parties twice a day, stocked the law school lounge with water, food and information, and took people they barely knew into their homes. As soon as the bare minimum of necessities were managed for themselves or their classmates, they began to move out into the hardest hit, and poorest, areas. Many of them are still at it, and some of the most dedicated were those most affected personally.

Their efforts inspired all of us in the Law School, and with the support of our Dean, the Law Clinics decided to move swiftly toward providing legal services to the victims. We adopted a model that had been used here in Tuscaloosa shelters housing relocated Katrina victims (thanks, Bob Kuehn), which put students in the field doing intakes, in a partnership with the State Bar Volunteer Lawyer Program and our local County Bar Association. Frankly, it took far more adaptation than I had hoped, and we continue to adapt our processes daily. But when the University regained power over the weekend following the storm on Wednesday night, we got started. The Red Cross and other volunteer centers were only too glad to know we would come to them.

On Wednesday, May 4, we held a training for students interested in volunteering to process intakes. To my shock, 74 students attended the 2-hour workshop, despite the fact that exams were starting back the next day after a week hiatus. The training included a Young Lawyer Division associate in a local firm (and alum of our first domestic violence clinic) who had some significant FEMA training, as well as our clinic directors. On Thursday, May 5, we had a model process, forms, updated disaster question and contact information, and a commitment from the State Bar to provide VLP lawyers daily on three different disaster response sites — all of them with uncertain traffic and access. Today is day 10, and we have processed 130 intakes, created a regular referral process to clinic lawyers or local volunteers, often paired with a student where desired. Our students are conducting intakes at the Clinics in the mornings, and going to the remote sites in the afternoons. We will operate with this model until June 1, when our Civil Law Clinic will have a never-before summer school session. Clinic lawyers and staff from across all seven clinics have been performing selflessly, and the community is grateful for our support.

I am, of course, disappointed that we were not able to host the Southern Regional Conference, but I know you understand that our energies have been turned elsewhere. We hope to reschedule, and hope to have many of you attend and experience our community.

Best regards,

Anne

Anne Sikes Hornsby

Assoc. Dean for Clinical Programs

University of Alabama School of Law

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