Published on October 29, 2021 by Morgan Black
In recognition of Pro Bono Month, which occurs every October in the state of Alabama, the Alabama State Bar (ASB) launched its first Pro Bono Book Club with the help of members of Cumberland School of Law’s faculty and staff. LaJuana Davis, professor of law and director of clinics, and Allen Howell, assistant dean of career development and external relations, partnered with the ASB to host weekly meetings of the book club.
Every Tuesday the book club gathered on Zoom to discuss A Knock at Midnight by Brittany Barnett, a story about a pro bono lawyer that challenges the way we see our justice system and how well intended policies can have dire consequences especially to the most vulnerable in our society. It’s the author’s story of moving forward when drugs and violence became obstacles and ultimately it becomes a story that honors her mother and her imprisoned clients. Barnett’s biography of hope also becomes an autobiography of discovering her vocation and passion for pro bono.
Howell, who represents Cumberland on the Alabama State Bar’s Pro Bono Task Force, sees a lot of value in having launched this book club. “One of the aspects of Pro Bono Month is to bring attention to the legal and community issues which often affect those in need. Ms. Barnett’s book has been a great catalyst for us to discuss such issues and seeing the difference a lawyer can make in the lives of others through pro bono services.”
Davis served as a primary facilitator for the book club. Her experience includes work as an attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama and working as a consultant for the Federal Defenders for the Middle District of Alabama. And, in 2020, she worked with law school faculty to launch several pro bono student clinics at Cumberland including an innocence clinic, a capital defense clinic, a criminal appeals clinic, and a veterans assistance clinic.
The book club was held by Zoom this year which Howell considered a big advantage. “Every week I’ve recognized lawyers from across the entire state of Alabama and lawyers from a wide variety of practices. That kind of community across hundreds of miles was probably only possible with technology like Zoom. We’ve had lawyers logging in from their office and calling in even when they’ve been away from a computer. These terrific lawyers are pausing their legal practice because they want to be part of the conversation about pro bono issues. And that’s because they all have a desire to serve others and be part of the solution.”
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