Public Interest Center Amplifies Access to Justice During Second Public Service Day

  • By Kayla Molander

Chicago-Kent College of Law students completed more than 600 hours of community service during the 2023 Public Service Day. The event takes place as a part of 1L orientation and is hosted by Chicago-Kent’s Public Interest Center.

The event launched in 2022 and returned this year with more than 200 student volunteers spread out across the city to aid 15 community partners in both legal aid and community projects.

“Engaging in pro bono is important for our law students,” says Michelle Vodenik, director of the Public Interest Center. “They learn how to communicate with clients, issue-spot critical information when a client shares their legal problem, and develop a response that can lead to a solution. These skills are important for all lawyers to develop, and we are excited to bring this to first-year law students at the start of their law school journeys.”

In addition to learning basic legal skills, students also became familiar with a city that is new to many of them. Students traveled on Chicago Transit Authority buses and trains and networked with legal organizations in the area.

“For some of them, this was their first time on public transportation in a large city,” says Vodenik. “Getting out into the city is important, so they can find their way around, experience the city, and feel empowered to volunteer the next time they learn of an opportunity.”

Azlynn Brandenburg ’26, of Palmer, Alaska, spent the day distributing “Know Your Rights” materials across the Cook County Medical District through the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. She enjoyed the experience so much that she now works in the Public Interest Center.

“I really enjoyed getting out into the community to promote access to justice and appreciated getting to work with and learn from one of the coalition attorneys,” she says. “Overall, I am just really thankful that Chicago-Kent prioritizes public service and gave us the opportunity to volunteer during orientation week, because, for me, it really just solidified that I had chosen the right school."

Joseph Strom ’25 enjoyed his experience so much last year that he returned to help organize this year’s event. He was one of 20 upper-division volunteers.

“Being involved in some of the planning this year, I was so happily surprised to see firsthand how this school really means it when we say we want to encourage law students to serve the communities around us,” he says. “It's a culture that is often overlooked in this profession, but Kent is supportive all the way, from day one to graduation.”

Community partners are key to making this event happen every year.

The law firm Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP donated funds used to buy T-shirts that helped students stay together on public transportation. Kimberly Washington of Ascend Justice taught students about gender-based violence and how to help clients obtain an order of protection. Michael Stone of the Center for Disability and Elder Law held a training session for students who were then able to help senior clients prepare power of attorney health care documents. Melissa Picciola of Legal Aid Chicago taught students about juvenile criminal record expungement, then led the students in filing expungement documents and contacting the client to complete the filing. Other groups took part in non-legal volunteer work at organizations such as Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, Legal Prep Charter Academy, and the Pilsen Food Pantry.

“We are excited to offer this event every year to our incoming students, and would like to do more service events like this over the winter break and spring break,” says Vodenik. “In order to grow the program, we need the support of alumni and law firms who value pro bono and community service.”

Photo: Chicago-Kent student volunteers pose in front of Pilsen Food Pantry [provided]

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