Law students are gearing up for a national convention in Philadelphia in October.
Law professor David Kairys will be honored at the 74th Law for the People Convention held Oct. 12-16 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The convention, organized by the National Lawyers’ Guild and local law students, will draw legal workers from around the country, and will feature workshops and panels on a variety of issues.
Kairys will be distinguished at the convention banquet on Oct. 15 with the 2011 Law for the People Award for his work as a civil rights lawyer, along with firm partner David Rudovsky.
“I’m really proud to have been part of the civil rights struggles over the years and to have it recognized,” Kairys said. “It’s very gratifying.”
A Temple law professor since 1990, Kairys’ noted work includes winning a race-discrimination case against the FBI, and stopping police sweeps of minority neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
He is the author of two books, including a memoir of his civil rights work. His work with the NLG began when he was president of the student chapter at Columbia Law School in 1966.
“When I was coming to law school, the guild was, and still is, a network and a community of like-minded legal workers of all types,” Kairys said. “The guild today gives you a chance to link to history and is very active on the key issues of our time.”
The NLG was founded in 1937 as a way of protesting the racist and exclusionary practices of the American Bar Association. The organization professes itself to be a nonprofit federation of lawyers, legal workers and law students dedicated to advancing social justice within the American legal system.
“Being involved with the guild is a really good way to get actual legal experience while still in school,” second-year law student Diane Akerman said. “With pro bono [for the public good] and public interest work, there is so much need that anybody can get involved.”
The NLG has maintained a chapter in Philadelphia almost since its inception. Group members dedicate themselves to numerous endeavors, including reducing police abuse, defending war resisters, providing pro bono counsel to Central American refugees and upholding First Amendment rights of protesting activists.
“It seems like such an obvious concept to me,” Akerman said. “We’re using the law for progressive change. Being involved with the NLG reminds you that legal work doesn’t have to be up in a high rise. You can be down on the ground actually speaking to people and helping your own community.”
Several Philadelphia law schools have active NLG student chapters, including the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova and Temple. Students participating in these chapters are responsible for recruiting law students and non-law students to volunteer at the convention, as well as housing out-of-town students who will attend.
The Temple NLG chapter currently has two chairpeople, Akerman and second-year law student James Clark.
Third-year law student Andrew Kelser, who chaired the organization last year, said the group serves as a way to connect students to legal issues outside the classroom.
“[Law school] is a very frustrating time for most people, especially for people who go to law school because they are passionate about doing work that helps people,” Kelser said. “All you do in law school is read a case and find out what the facts are and what the law is. There’s no discussion about what the social issues are, [or about] whether it’s fair or right.”
Akerman encourages students interested in participating in the group, or those wanting to attend or volunteer at the convention to contact the chapter.
Similarly, Kelser urges students to learn more about what workshops and panels that will be offered.
“Find out what is going on at the convention and what sparks your interest,” Kelser said. “There’s something for everybody.”
Kate Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.