School of Law Opens Legal Clinic in Childhood Home of Civil Rights Activist

Lexington, VA Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Painters put the finishing touches on the W&L Community Law Clinic at the Oliver Hill House
Beginning this fall, students from the Washington and Lee School of Law will offer pro bono legal services out of the childhood home of the late civil rights activist Oliver White Hill. The Washington and Lee Community Law Clinic at the Oliver Hill House, based in Roanoke, Va., will address unmet legal needs and community issues in the Roanoke area.

Hill, who died at the age of 100 in August 2007, was a life-long civil rights activist and attorney. He was one of five lawyers who argued the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Hill spent his childhood years in Roanoke and started his law practice there in 1934. Among his many honors, in 2000 Hill received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Washington and Lee.

The new clinic will focus initially on elder law issues, such as assisting in estate planning and securing government benefits. Upper-level law students with training in elder law and client interviewing and counseling skills will staff the ElderLaw Project. Volunteer mentor attorneys from the Roanoke Bar Association, in addition to law school faculty, will review students' work and provide feedback and guidance.

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Contact Information:

Peter Jetton
Director of Communications
School of Law

2008 Law School graduate Howard Highland will serve as the Clinic's onsite fellow, overseeing the Center's daily operations and developing relationships within the community to identify future projects.

"At the Clinic, W&L law students will have an opportunity to become involved in issues as they arise in context," said Highland.  "For example, you cannot learn what a HUD Community Development Block Grant is by reading the Code of Federal Regulations alone; a W&L law student must come to Roanoke to understand how neighborhood residents, elected officials, and local administrators compete to define what the city's HUD grants should mean for the community."

Additional support for the ElderLaw Project is coming from Project 2025, a statewide effort to provide enhanced access to the legal services for older Americans in Virginia, and Blue Ridge Legal Services, who will interview eligible clients, adults aged 60 or older, and refer them to the Center.

Mary Z. Natkin, assistant dean for clinical education and public service, hopes that the Clinic eventually will serve as the hub of all community outreach and service for the School. 

"While we have placed students in externships throughout the region for years, this will be first time the School of Law has operated a clinic in a facility outside Lexington," said Natkin. "But the challenges associated with that are well worth it for the experience students will gain with public service legal issues and for the benefit it will bring to the people living in the community."

In addition to the ElderLaw Project, the School is exploring other potential projects including juvenile outreach in local schools through practical law and mock trial programs, children's rights and guardianships issues, and housing issues such as foreclosure and mortgage rate inflation.

"We feel an enormous honor to participate in these outreach programs and to help develop something that will honor Mr. Hill's legacy," added Natkin.

Hill's childhood home was made available to the School of Law by the Oliver Hill Foundation, which worked for several years to raise funds for the purchase and renovation of the home on Gilmer Street in Roanoke. The Foundation was established in 2000 to honor Hill's legacy by supporting and promoting a new generation of lawyers trained in the field of civil rights and civil liberties.

The Washington and Lee Community Law Clinic at the Oliver Hill House begins operations in the home in October, at which time Washington and Lee will take over maintenance and operating costs for the Hill House.

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