Monday, October 31, 2005

This one's for you

It's always difficult to chose which charities to support out of the many worthy causes out there.

Except for one.  There's one charity I always donate to every year -- The United Way Gas Assistance Fund.  Every year, I get a little insert in with my gas bill, asking for contributions to help needy people pay their gas bills -- so that they'll have heat during the winter.  And here's why I give them money....

When I was in Law School, I had an opportunity to work in one of our Clinical Programs.  The Law School Clinical Programs gave students an opportunity -- under the supervision of professors who were also licensed attorneys -- to actually practice law.  With real live clients.  There were maybe a half dozen clinics to chose from -- for example, there was a Prison Program, where law students helped inmates who were challenging prison policies (for example, seeking better access to current law books).  Or an Immigration Clinic, where students helped immigrants seeking asylum.

I worked in the Landlord/Tenant Clinic, representing, as I liked to put it, "nice people who didn't pay their rent."  I didn't sign up for this clinic out of any particular desire to defend tenants from illegal evictions -- I signed up for it because, out of all of the possible clinics, it offered the most opportunities for the law students to actually go to court and argue stuff.  And, for me, as a first-year law student, the idea of going to court and arguing stuff was, y'know, cool.

The next year, I stuck around the clinic as a "supervising student," helping the new students in the clinic work their way through the complex eviction laws that I, by then, knew something about.

Each year, they gather up all the first-year law students who are interested in working in the clinics -- and each clinic is then given a few minutes to make a "sales pitch" to all the first-year students, so they could better choose among the different clinics.

At the last minute, the professor in charge asked me if (as an incoming "supervising student"), I would make the sales pitch for Landlord/Tenant.  And I said, "Sure."  And I walked over in the corner and I put together a quick outline ofall the points I wanted to make about how great the Landlord/Tenant Clinic is.  And I itemized things like how every student in the clinic got to make at least one court appearance, and how we had a perfect record of never (completely, anyway) losing a case, and how you got to write motions and argue them, and engage in settlement negotiations, and everything else that aspiring litigators want to sink their teeth into.

And the professor came by and asked me what I was going to say about the clinic.  And I quickly ran through all those points I'd planned to say about what a great experience the Landlord/Tenant Clinic is for the students who participate in it.  And the professor thought that was all good, but he also wanted me to at least mention that what we're dealing with here are real people, who are living in real poverty, who are being kicked out of their only real shelter, and have nobody else to help them, and it looks like it's going to be a cold winter.

And I felt ashamed that I'd sort of overlooked our clients in my haste to point out what working in the clinic had done for me.

And every year, when I see that little United Way Gas Assistance Fund envelope in with my gas bill, I always think back to that day -- when my professor reminded me that our work was important because "it's going to be a cold winter."  And I send them a check -- as a sort of quiet, personal way to honor him.  I think if he knew, he might think he actually taught me something.


ravenlark2 said...

There's always one professor that sticks out in our minds as a wonderful example of all we want to be. It's those professors that stick with us through the years.

I'm so glad you shared this with us. What a wonderful reason to donate and what a wonderful way of remembering the professor that had such an impact.


tammyg22 said...

Have I told you lately how much I admire you?

jeffcomedy said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome entry.


swibirun said...

This was a very impressive entry and that was very thoughtful of you!


emmapeeldallas said...

What a great entry.  Thank you for posting this.