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10th Anniversary Pro Bono Reception Showcases Youth Reentry, School's Service

Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project co-founders Lauren Fine and Joanna visser Adjoian Lauren Fine and Joanna Visser Adjoian

October 26, 2016

The law school’s commitment to community service took center stage at an alumni reception that coincided with National Pro Bono Week on Oct. 25.

In 10 years’ time, Kline School of Law students provided more than 125,000 hours of legal service to under-represented members of the community.

Attorneys Lauren Fine and Joanna Visser Adjoian, who launched the nonprofit Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project in 2014, commended the law school for its leadership in directing talent where it's greatly needed.

“Our work with juvenile lifers would not be possible without the Kline School of Law,” Adjoian said, explaining that one fourth of the children sentenced to life in prison without parole in the United States are incarcerated in Pennsylvania and that the majority of those youths are housed in Philadelphia County facilities.

alumna Krystal Kane and Donna Gerson at 10th anniversary pro bono reception 2016In January, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded upon a 2012 ruling that struck down mandatory life terms for juvenile offenders, applying the decision retroactively to thousands of individuals who’d been sentenced to automatic life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, Fine said.

With more than 300 juvenile lifers potentially eligible for release in Philadelphia, the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project is scrambling to find advocates to handle their cases and help them make a successful return to the community, she added.

Several current students are providing pro bono service to support the YSRP, while others have taken on cases through the Community Lawyering Clinic, said Rashida West, director for pro bono and public interest programs.

alumni Scott Molski, Sam Mukiibi and Ernie Holtzheimer at 10th anniversary pro bono reception 2016The school has already hosted two training sessions to prepare students and their peers from law schools at Penn, Temple and Villanova universities to assist the YSRP and will hold another in November, West said.

“What a historic moment to be a law student in this city,” Adjoian said, noting that the organization has benefited greatly by leveraging its connection to the law school.

The commitment to pro bono service that has been a guiding principle since the law school’s launch has also ensured that Kline graduates are particularly well-prepared advocates, Dean Roger Dennis said.