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USC law students heed call for help

USC Law students Alison Vasan, Nina Hernandez, Kerri Sparks and Patrick Hogan survey the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the streets of New Orleans.

Photo/Courtesy of USC Gould School of Law

USC Gould School of Law students are planning their second visit to the hurricane-plagued Gulf Coast region, where they hope to offer legal help to residents battling to keep their home, collect insurance or be released from jail.

About 25 USC Law students are expected to participate in the alternative spring break in mid-March organized by the new student organization Legal Aid Alternative Breaks.

The organization is working closely with the nationwide Student Hurricane Network, which has assisted or placed more than 1,700 law students with legal organizations in New Orleans and the Gulf since Hurricane Katrina hit the region in 2005.

Like last year, USC Law students will work with practicing attorneys to offer legal aid to the area’s most destitute residents, said Andrew Miller, president of USC’s Alternative Breaks group.

But unlike last year, there will be less legal triage and more substantive work.

“When we arrived in the Gulf and New Orleans last spring, everything was new and unknown,” Miller said. “This year, we know what to expect, and I think we’ll be doing more substantive legal work. Student Hurricane Network has a lot more practicing attorneys who will be helping us.”

The trip is being organized with the help of the USC Law Office of Public Service headed by Associate Dean Lisa Mead.

“I am so excited that students got so much out of last year’s trip that they’re willing to return and offer help. The residents there need their assistance now more than ever,” said Mead, who plans to accompany the students again this year.

New to the program, Mead said, is that faculty, staff and alumni have been invited to accompany the students during spring break from March 11-18. Malissa Barnwell, a student programs adviser at USC Law, has already signed up.

“We have already been contacted by several faculty and staff members who have expressed a desire to make the trip along with the students or to contribute in some other way,” Mead said.

USC Law is one of 25 law schools expected to send 500 students during spring break, said Mike DePetrillo, a member of Student Hurricane Network and a Tulane Law School student.

Though New Orleans is no longer in the headlines, DePetrillo said interest from law students has grown over the past year.

“As more and more students travel to the devastated regions and realize the magnitude of the disaster and help that is needed, they return home and actually recruit other students to come down,” DePetrillo said. “The response of the legal community and law students in particular has been tremendous since Hurricane Katrina, with their interest and dedication to continuing to this day.”

USC Law students recently held their first informational meeting, where many expressed an interest in participating in the trip. They are planning three orientation and training sessions for the participants.

“The interest in the law school community is still really high,” said Andrew Coffin, vice president of Legal Aid Alternative Breaks. “We’re hoping to make this a learning experience that we can share with the entire USC community.”

USC law students heed call for help

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