Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said: “Service is the rent we pay for living. It is not something to do in your spare time; it is the very purpose of life.”
At the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, we agree. And we make it a point to emphasize the importance of service early and often. For example, on the first day of new student orientation, we hold a “Call to the Profession” ceremony where leaders of the judiciary explain that becoming a lawyer is a privilege and a responsibility. Part of that responsibility includes pro bono service, and for more than 20 years, our school has worked to connect students with those in the community who are without the means to otherwise obtain legal assistance.
I am incredibly proud (and even humbled) at how our students respond to this call. Recently, one of our third-year students, Maggie Little, received the Indianapolis Bar Association’s Law Student Pro Bono Award, in recognition of more than 500 hours of pro bono service with the MESH Coalition, which provides emergency preparedness services to hospitals and health care organizations in Indiana, and with the Indiana University Student Outreach Clinic. “I am extremely honored to have been nominated and selected to represent McKinney with this award,” Maggie said when she learned she would receive the award. “There are so many deserving students who devote much of their free time to pro bono activities at McKinney so I am very grateful to have been chosen for this award.”
Maggie is indeed in good company among her McKinney Law classmates. At our most recent Pro Bono and Clinical Program awards event, we celebrated – for the second year in a row – the fact that our graduating class had contributed more than 20,000 hours of pro bono service to the community during their law school careers. This includes many of our part-time students, who juggle school with work and family obligations, while also finding time to give back. Last spring, four members of that class (Tarah Baldwin, Jerad Childress, Lela Rae and Jason Sprinkle) received IUPUI’s William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion, an honor for graduates on campus who have excelled in their commitment to service learning, volunteerism, community and social issue advocacy, community work-study, and political engagement. When Tarah (now an attorney working in the juvenile division at the Marion County Public Defender Agency) received her award, she noted: “McKinney and IUPUI provide so many opportunities for students to engage with their community and to make a difference with the knowledge that they are gaining.”
As Tarah suggested, our students not only give back, but also gain through their service, receiving valuable experience working among future colleagues in the legal profession. And many of those are McKinney alums who continue to make service a lasting part of their professional careers. In fact, at the same event where Maggie Little was honored, the Indianapolis Bar Association recognized our alum Darrell Dolan (’92) with the “Attorney Aiding Individuals” award, recognizing his commitment to the community as he runs his own successful law practice.
I could go on. But hopefully, this handful of inspiring examples gives you a better sense of why I am proud of our McKinney Law students and optimistic about the future of our profession in Indianapolis. So many here continue to heed Marian Wright Edelman’s words: “Service is what life is all about.”•
Andrew R. Klein is the dean and the Paul E. Beam Professor of Law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The opinions expressed are those of the author.