Since its inception in 2007, the Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service has connected the skills and talents of University of Richmond School of Law students with the needs of the greater Richmond community. Whether they are helping victims of domestic violence obtain protective orders, performing legislative research and analysis for local non-profits, or helping low-income seniors draft their wills, Richmond law students have devoted thousands of hours to pro bono work.

In January, the Richmond Bar Association recognized the Carrico Center with the 2010 John C. Kenny Pro Bono Award. The award is presented annually to the law firm or legal services organization that has, “demonstrated dedication to the development, implementation and delivery of legal services to the underprivileged in the Richmond area.”

Carrico Center Director Tara Louise Casey, who herself is a past recipient of the award, says Richmond’s pro bono programs don’t just benefit the Richmond community. The law students who perform pro bono work are also winners.

“It puts what you are learning in the classroom into practice,” she says. “You really get to understand something by doing it. Our students are going into the community and interacting with clients, colleagues and judges. They are getting the opportunity to experience a service-based legal education.”

Casey says the creation of the Carrico Center is part of a national trend of “law schools recognizing not only the desire to engage their students in more skills-based exercise, but also the need to provide services to a low-income client base.” The center was established with generous donations from benefactors David and Michelle Baldacci and Theodore L. Chandler Jr., L’77, and Laura Lee Chandler, W’74. It is named in honor of Justice Harry L. Carrico, former chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, and visiting professor of law and civic engagement at Richmond School of Law.

While students don't earn class credit for their pro bono work, they can earn a pro bono certificate upon graduation for completing 120 hours or more of pro bono service during three years of law school. In the past two years, more than 30 students have earned this certificate. Casey says 50-70 Richmond law students participate in the Carrico Center’s programs annually.

“I’m seeing [pro bono work] become more institutionalized,” Casey says. “It has become a part of the fabric of the law school. There’s a greater recognition of the identity of the Carrico Center and what it means. Its success really is due to the students coming forward and dedicating their time – and also doing a good job.”

The Carrico Center’s pro bono programs have developed according to the interests of law students and its community partners, Casey says. “It has been a really creative endeavor.”

The Center offers opportunities for law students to gain real-life experience in clinics devoted to: immigration assistance; disability appeals for veterans; estate and will planning for seniors; no-fault divorce; assistance for domestic violence victims; criminal appeals; and legislative research and analysis for local non-profits.

Casey, who formerly worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney, has always been committed to pro bono work. “The reason I went to law school was I wanted to save the world and be moderately paid for it,” she jokes. “I always wanted to go into public service.”

Although some might argue that pro bono service is an obligation of the legal profession, Casey doesn’t see it that way. “I believe it is an honor of our profession,” she says. “If we can show students during law school that it is an honor that should be respected, then hopefully when they graduate and go into practice they will continue with that commitment and respect for pro bono service.”