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2019-20 Events

poster image for John Bliss event * Social Justice and the Legal Profession Series: From Idealists to Hired Guns? An Empirical Analysis of Public Interest Drift in Law School - March 17, 2020

* All academic events scheduled in March and April 2020 have been cancelled in accordance with Vanderbilt University's coordinated response to the coronavirus, which is based on public health recommendations.

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Public Interest Office for the third installment of this year's Social Justice and the Legal Profession series, featuring John Bliss of University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Professor Bliss will discuss his five-year qualitative study of the experiences of more than 50 elite law students who entered law school with stated preferences for public sector work but decided to pursue private sector positions by the beginning of their 2L year. Professor Bliss studied the students' experiences through interviews, ethnographic observations, and identity mapping. His findings indicate that law student "public interest drift" is a far more complex and nuanced process than traditional accounts suggest.

Image of event poster for social justice and the legal professionSocial Justice & the Legal Profession Series - Technology and Civil Liberties Law in the Public Interest - February 24, 2020

Please join the George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Public Interest Office for the second Social Justice and the Legal Profession panel of the year. This event will feature three panelist—Laura Moy, Executive Director of the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology; Matt Cagle, Technology & Civil Liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California; and Sophia Cope, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The panel will discuss current legal issues involving new and developing technologies and how they intersect with other areas of law such as immigration and policing, as well as how the panelists have pursued their public interest careers. G.S. Hans, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School, will moderate the panel.


LGBTQ+ Advocacy Panel poster imageSocial Justice & the Legal Profession Series: LGBTQ+ Advocacy Panel - October 21, 2019

The first Social Justice and the Legal Profession panel of the 2019-20 academic year focused on LGBTQ+ issues. Professor Jessica Clarke moderated the panel, which featured Tara Borelli, counsel at Lambda Legal; Dru Levasseur, deputy program officer for the National LGBT Bar Association and Foundation; and David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s LGBT Rights Project. This annual series brings social justice professionals representing different areas of law to VLS to discuss their work along with professional opportunities in their practice areas.



The Role of Progressive Prosecutors in Promoting Meaningful Criminal Justice Reform - October 23, 2019

Lifelong civil rights attorney Larry Krasner was elected district attorney of Philadelphia in 2018 after running on a reform platform. His office continues to garner national attention as it implements policies and programs aimed at ending mass incarceration. First Assistant District Attorney Robert Listenbee also discussed opportunities for students to work with the Philadelphia DA’s Office and how the office is implementing progressive policies.


Legal Aid Society 40th Anniversary event poster imageVanderbilt Legal Aid Society’s 40th Anniversary - November 8, 2019

The Vanderbilt Legal Aid Society celebrated its 40th anniversary in April 2019.  To commemorate the LAS’s work at VLS and in the community over the past four decades, the Public Interest Office joined with the LAS to host a celebration for alumni and students.  Dean Sue Kay discussed the history of the LAS with a panel four alumni who were LAS leaders during law school: Dave Kozlowski ‘74, Bill Purcell ’79, Kendall Kerew ‘98 and Scott Tift ’08. The afternoon event also included a conversation with LAS student leaders and alumni about current LAS pro bono projects and opportunities; a talk by long-time Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands Executive Director Ashley Wiltshire ‘72, who is writing a book about the history of civil legal services focusing on Nashville; and an LAS-sponsored Blackacre. 


Image of event poster for Denise Cleveland-LeggettA Conversation with Denise Cleveland-Leggett – November 15, 2019

Denise Cleveland-Leggett, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, spoke about her experiences working in both the private and public sectors and her current work with HUD, where she oversees the agency’s Southeast operations. 



2018-19 Events

event poster imageIndigent Defense v Prosecution?: A Conversation between Nashville’s DA and PD

The final Social Justice and the Legal Profession panel of the year featured a conversation about criminal law careers with Martesha Johnson, the elected Metropolitan Nashville Public Defender, and Glenn Funk, the elected District Attorney General for Nashville-Davidson County. Professor Terry Maroney will moderate.




poster imageSocial Justice & the Legal Profession Series: Children’s Advocacy Panel

The Children’s Advocacy Panel featured Beth Cruz, Team Leader of the Education Rights Project at the Nashville Defenders; Sarah Grey McCroskey, Assistant General Counsel at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services; and Cara Suvall, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law teaching the Youth Opportunity Clinic at Vanderbilt University Law School. The panel was moderated by Spring Miller, Assistant Dean for Public Interest. The panel explored various areas of children’s rights practice, including: education rights; juvenile justice; and “best interests” advocacy, as well as the range of practice settings – nonprofit, public defender’s offices, government agencies – from which this work can be pursued.

DA Larry Krasner - A Talk on Progressive Prosecutors

The Public Interest Office welcomed progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner. His talk focused on re-imagining the role of the prosecutor and transforming the criminal justice system. DA Krasner discussed the reforms he's implementing in Philadelphia and how law students can take part in this important movement. Larry Krasner was officially sworn in on January 2, 2018, as the City of Philadelphia’s 26th District Attorney. Before being elected District Attorney, Mr. Krasner served of-counsel at Greenblatt, Pierce, Funt, and Flores.


event poster imagePracticing Public Interest Law in the South Conference

The PPILS Conference is designed to bring together lawyers pursuing innovative litigation strategies addressing prevalent social justice issues in the South with legal academics writing on related topics, with the hope that each group’s work will inform the other’s and lasting collaborations may be formed.

The conference focused on three themes: (1) new movements for bail reform; (2) access to justice for immigrants in detention; and (3) economic justice and barriers to entrepreneurship and wealth creation in underserved communities.



poster imageSocial Justice & the Legal Profession Series: VLS Grads Serving the Public Interest

This panel featured three outstanding young VLS alums working the public interest sector. Karen Lindell '12 is an attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, which she joined as a Skadden Fellow in 2014. Vidhi Joshi '15 was a Skadden Fellow focusing on re-entry issues at Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Darrius Woods ‘17 is an Equal Justice Works fellow working on predatory lending and housing issues at Atlanta Legal Aid. The panelists discussed their current work and their paths from VLS into public interest work.

Kentucky Pro Bono Disability Project Training

Kentucky attorney Ned Pillersdorf and the Public Interest Office conducted a training for students interested in working during the 2018-2019 academic year on a significant national pro bono project to provide support and assistance to hundreds of vulnerable residents of eastern Kentucky. These individuals faced the loss of social security disability benefits due to their former attorney Eric Conn's conviction on federal fraud and bribery charges. Law students provided remote legal and fact investigation support on these cases to a network of pro bono attorneys representing these clients in federal administrative hearings before the Social Security Administration.

Youth Court Training

The Tennessee Youth Court Program offered a presentation and training for law students interested in becoming Youth Court volunteers during fall 2018.  Volunteers mentor Metro Nashville high school students participating in Youth Court, an alternative sentencing program for youth facing charges in the juvenile justice system. Juvenile Judge Sheila Calloway spoke, along with Tennessee Youth Court Program leadership.

HUD’s Legal Honors Program Presentation

Mary Barrett Brewer ‘86, Tennessee Chief Counsel for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, presented about HUD’s Legal Honors Program, for which VLS alum Austin Holland ’17 was recently selected.

Southern Poverty Law Center Info Session

Representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center held an information session to learn about the organization’s civil rights work and about opportunities for law students and attorneys to get involved. SPLC uses litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. Paid summer and post-graduate opportunities are available for law students and attorneys to work in its children’s rights, immigrant justice, LGBT rights, economic justice, criminal justice reform, and voting rights projects.  It has offices in Montgomery, AL; Atlanta; New Orleans; Miami; and Jackson, Miss.

The Fight for Marriage book cover"The Fight for Marriage: Church Conflicts and Courtroom Contests," a Conversation with authors and Nashville attorneys Phil Cramer '00 and Bill Harbison

Co-sponsored by the Branstetter Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program




2017-18 Events

Kristin Clarke

Kristen Clarke of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law delivers 2018 George Barrett Social Justice Lecture

In the 2018 George Barrett Social Justice Lecture at Vanderbilt Law School on April 5, Kristen Clarke challenged VLS students to use their legal skills to address a “national assault” on civil rights that has included voter suppression, mass incarceration and police brutality.

Read more>

Social Justice and the Legal Profession Panel Series

The George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Office of Public Interest are pleased to announce the 2017-2018 Social Justice and the Legal Profession lunchtime panel series. The series will expose students to a diverse range of career paths that allow attorneys to put into practice their social justice and public service values.  It will also explore the special responsibility all attorneys have for the quality of our justice system.

Indigent Defense Panel Social Justice and the Legal Profession Series: Indigent Defense Panel

The George Barrett Social Justice Program and the Office of Public Interest began a new lunch series—Social Justice and the Legal Profession. This first panel featured four public defenders to discuss careers in indigent defense. Panelist include Alexis Hoag, Office of the Federal Defender, Middle District of TN; Dan Kay ’14, Bronx Defenders; Adam Levin, Georgia Capital Defender, and Georgia Sims ’09, Nashville Defenders. This event is free and open to the public; lunch will be provided.

Big Law and Social Justice poster Big Law and Social Justice, Really? The Promise and Limits of Pro Bono

The second part of the series featured Akin Gump Pro Bono Partner Steven Schulman, head of the firm’s worldwide pro bono practice. He spoke on the promise and limitations of pro bono as a means of overcoming the access to justice gap and advancing social justice. 

Advancing Social Justice from the Private Sector

The third panel featured three local attorneys to discuss practicing public interest law from the private sector. Panelist include Brian Winfrey ’06, Morgan & Morgan; Tricia Herzfeld, Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings; and Kyle Mothershead ’02, Mothershead Law.


Legal Aid Lawyering poster Legal Aid Lawyering for Social Justice

This panel discussed the work of legal aid lawyers, who serve as the front-line responders to the civil legal needs of low-income individuals and communities throughout the U.S.

The speakers included Andrae Crismon '03 of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands (Murfreesboro office), Kevin De Liban of Legal Aid of Arkansas (West Memphis office), and Sarah Bolling Mancini of Atlanta Legal Aid and the National Consumer Law Center. The panel was moderated by Amanda Moore of the Shriver Center for Poverty Law.


Transactional Lawyering poster Transactional Lawyering for Economic Justice

The final installment of our Social Justice and the Legal Profession series for the year was "Transactional Lawyering for Economic Justice."

The speakers include Clark Arrington of The Working World, Matthew Currie of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), and Hannah Kilson of Nolan, Sheehan and Patten. The panelist will discuss careers in transactional economic justice lawyering as well as their work in affordable housing, cooperative development, and nonprofit lawyering. The panel will be moderated by Professor Lauren Rogal, director of Vanderbilt’s Turner Family Community Enterprise Clinic.