UF Alternative Spring Break had Students dive into a week-long excursion in the practice of poverty law

Suits, legal pads, and holistic advocacy, not quite the spring break most law school students envision – especially after mid-terms. However, for a group of University of Florida law school students, their spring break was just that and so much more. On March 6, 2017, these students set foot into Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (CLSMF), a nonprofit law firm serving local area residents who cannot afford to hire a private practice attorney, to embark on an alternative spring break of professional development and legal assistance focused in the area of poverty law. The week’s theme “supporting those who served” which directly ties into one of CLSMF’s practice areas focused exclusively on veteran services. 

The Alternative Spring Break saw an ambitious and varied agenda. The law school students had lunch with Judge Reginald Whitehead, whose judicial assignment includes the Orange County Veterans Treatment Court, sat in on a staffing of cases and attended a session of Veterans Treatment Court where, as luck would have it, everything from the arguing of motions to a veteran’s graduation from the program took place… and all of that was just Monday.

Throughout the rest of the week, the UF law students were given a “crash course” by the CLSMF Veterans Advocacy Project in Veterans Affairs disability compensation benefits and veteran cultural competency. Students were then given the opportunity to have one-on-one mock client interviews to prepare them for a day of service, which came in the form of a legal “checkup” clinic for homeless veterans. In partnership with the Ninth Circuit Office of the Public Defender’s Office, CLSMF opened its doors to Orlando-area homeless and low-income veterans to meet with attorneys and social workers on a myriad of legal issues, ranging from criminal law, to VA disability compensation, to divorce. The legal clinic was staffed by pro bono attorneys, social workers, CLSMF staff, and the UF law students. 

The inaugural UF Alternative Spring Break already has plans to continue in full force come 2018. As one law school student wrote of their experience at CLSMF, “ultimately, it reassured my decision to work in the public interest sector. I loved speaking to all of the individuals who [not] only love their jobs, but truly enjoy doing what they do. I also learned so much about the different levels there are to helping veterans and how intimidating the process can be for them. It was really enriching learning what we, as students and future lawyers, can do to help veterans.”