Of all the skills Amy Weiss, L’12, has developed in law school, one of the most valuable is a skill she honed while working this semester with Richmond nonprofit Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME): translating legalese into plain English. While the Virginia General Assembly was in session this winter, Weiss helped the fair housing organization track, analyze, and blog about issues relative to pending legislation. Weiss’ posts on HOME’s blog, Take Me Home Virginia, examined issues from affordable housing and mortgage reform to foreclosure legislation.

“The experience has shown me a different way to use the law from what I’ve done in class,” she says. “I gained the practical experience of being able to communicate about the law with different types of people instead of just writing memos prepared for lawyers who already understand the law.”

Weiss was placed with HOME though a new legislative pro bono project of the University of Richmond School of Law’s Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service located at UR Downtown, 626 E. Broad St.

The program takes advantage of the law school’s proximity to the state capitol, allowing interested students to gain firsthand experience with the legislative process.

The Carrico Center also placed law students at the Virginia Poverty Law Center and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters this semester. Student Connellee Armentrout, L’12, also worked at HOME.

Ali Faruk, HOME’s director for the Center for Housing Leadership, said both law students helped his small staff research and break down a number of bills that were proposed during the session.

“I appreciate Richmond reaching out to us and making these students available” he says. “I do not see it as just free help. I think it’s really important that this is a learning opportunity for the students. I want them to learn from it and use it to help them find a career in the future.”

Weiss spent five to 10 hours a week working at HOME during the General Assembly session, usually writing two blog posts per week. While she was familiar with the organization and its work, housing issues were a new topic for her to explore. She says she was able to draw on some of what she had learned in property law and in a legislative advocacy class. And though she had done research for a law firm the previous summer, Weiss found the research she did for HOME to be quite different. “What I wrote about is supposed to be easy to understand,” she says. “I have had to summarize a lot of bills that are very complicated to understand.”

Weiss also participated in HOME’s lobbying day, where she had the opportunity to visit the general assembly with other advocates to lobby Virginia legislators on fair housing issues. “I have really enjoyed being able to work with Ali and some of the people at HOME to learn more about the legislative process hands on,” Weiss says, “especially after taking a class on legislative advocacy… I really enjoy Virginia politics.”

Weiss, who grew up in Richmond, majored in history and anthropology as an undergraduate at the College of William & Mary. She took two years off to work as a legal assistant before attending law school. She entered the University of Richmond School of Law determined to “get involved as much as possible.” Next year she will serve as a Justice on the law school’s Honor Council and as an editor for the "Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest."

Weiss, who thinks she may want to work in government after graduating, is working in the Fredericksburg Public Defender’s Office this summer. She also has a strong commitment to pro bono work.

“Since the position of being a lawyer gives you so much power, I think it's important to keep in touch with how to use that power to help other people,” she says. “That’s why I wanted to be a lawyer and I think it’s important to always keep that in mind.”