Emily Lopynski, L’20, was named the 2020 recipient of the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award from the Virginia State Bar. Administered by the Standing Committee on Access to Legal Services, the award “is reserved for extraordinary achievements of outstanding students” in pro bono service.

Since starting at Richmond Law, Lopynski has been deeply involved in pro bono efforts, including the CAIR Coalition’s ICE Detention Center Visit Program, the Wills for Seniors initiative, and the Pro Bono Housing Law Program in partnership with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “I came to law school to do exactly these types of projects,” said Lopynski.

In addition to her service during the school year, Lopynski spent her summers in public service: first as an intern at the Legal Aid Justice Center focusing on housing issues, and then working at the Virginia Poverty Law Center in outreach to Spanish-speaking residents of mobile home communities.

Pro bono work not only provided an outlet for skills building, but also helped broaden Lopynski’s perspective. “I’ve gained tools and experiences that have helped me understand what it might look like to be a lawyer in specific contexts,” she explained. And the work “opened my eyes to some of the really hard issues that people are facing.”

Tara Casey, director of the Carrico Center for Pro Bono & Public Service, submitted the nomination to the Virginia State Bar. “Ms. Lopynski’s heart has always been of service, but her mind has always been of pronounced acuity and actions have always been of radical empathy,” Casey wrote. “Her acute legal skills, her personal affability, her academic achievement all empower her mission to serve those most vulnerable in our society.”

The way Lopynski sees it, that service is a responsibility lawyers have to their communities. “Law students, and lawyers especially, have access to these really powerful skills,” said Lopynski. “If we don’t do pro bono … we’re kind of hoarding our skills, in a sense, and not benefitting the community in the way that we could.”

Lopynski was also recognized with the Nina R. Kestin Service Award at the Richmond Law Class of 2020 Commencement. Following graduation, Lopynski will start a clerkship with the Hon. Louise DiMatteo in the Arlington Circuit Court. The Virginia State Bar plans to recognize her at its 2020 Pro Bono Dinner & Celebration in October.