Illustration by Katie McBride
Illustration by Katie McBride

Serendipity is the word that comes to Tara Casey’s mind when she thinks about the 2008 creation of Richmond Law’s Carrico Center for Pro Bono and Public Service.

“It just seemed fortuitous that there were all these forces happening at the same time,” said Casey, the founding director of the center.

The forces took different forms — financial gifts, institutional support, and community interest — but came together at the right place and the right time. Now, 10 years later, the Carrico Center has grown in reach and impact.

One place to start its story is with its namesake: Justice Harry L. Carrico, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia from 1981 to 2003. He was a visiting professor of law and civic engagement and frequently hired Richmond Law graduates to be his judicial clerks. Although not an alumnus of the law school, Carrico in many ways “adopted us,” Casey said. So when author David Baldacci and his wife Michelle, friends of Carrico, wanted to create a legacy for the justice, the law school was a natural fit.

At that time, the University of Richmond was in search of a presence in the city center that would increase community engagement and service-learning opportunities for all of its students. Simultaneously, the law school was looking to strengthen and provide structure to its pro bono offerings. When Ted Chandler, L’77, and his wife, Laura Lee Chandler, W’74, made a gift to support a presence in the city center that would come to be called UR Downtown, the Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service was born.

This year, a record number of students received the Pro Bono Certificate for completing 120 hours of service during their three years, continuing the commitment to community service that the law school has had since its founding. The students, in turn, have gained valuable experience. We sat down with Carrico alumni, supporters, and administrators to hear about their experiences, learn about how pro bono service has shaped the school and the city, and to celebrate the impact of the Carrico Center.

The following excerpts come from interviews with Carrico Center staff, students, and partners and are lightly edited for clarity and length.

A responsibility to be a part of the community
From left: John Douglass, Tara Casey, Ben Pace, 
Ted Chandler, and 
Morgan Faulkner

ALL THEY NEEDED WAS A LEADER

John Douglass  (professor and former Richmond Law dean) One of my first tasks as dean — and it was a blessed task — was to go out into the Richmond community to see if we could find a director for the project. We solicited applications, and one of them clearly stood out: Tara Casey. I’m proud to say that the first person I ever hired as dean of the law school was Tara. It was an easy choice. Of course, Tara gave it form and energy. She was a dynamo who just made things happen.

Tara Casey (founding director) I had been an adjunct at the law school for four years — I taught while I was an assistant U.S. attorney. So I had these connections to the law school to begin with. Prior to coming to the law school, I had chaired the pro bono service committee for the Richmond Bar Association and the public service committee for the Metropolitan Richmond Women’s Bar Association. I saw this position announced, and honestly, when I read the description, I felt like this was calling to me.

The early days

Casey When I first came on board, it wasn’t like there was no pro bono happening [at the law school]. It was often organized by student organizations or individual faculty members. That first semester I was here, I just met with as many students and faculty as I could — especially with the students — because I wanted to hear from them what they were interested in and what they were doing. I wanted to respect the fact that they had been carrying that water before my arrival. That was really helpful. I met with the head of every student organization one on one to talk about what they saw as the need, priorities, capacity, interest — all of those pieces.

Ben Pace, L’02 When the Carrico Center started and Tara took over, it was at a time when the Richmond Bar had really started to address pro bono more seriously, at least from my perspective. Firms in Service, which is a group of firms in Richmond that meets to discuss pro bono needs, was really getting its legs under it about that time. In particular, we had been struggling because Legal Aid would always tell us they had 200 to 300 no-fault divorce cases on a backlog at any given time. Tara had always wanted to address that need.

When she came over to the Carrico Center, working with Firms in Service and the Richmond Bar Association, Tara really created the first viable no-fault divorce project by injecting the help and assistance of University of Richmond law students in the process. As we stand here today, there is no backlog for no-fault divorces. I give Tara and the Carrico Center a lot of credit for that.

A central location

Ted Chandler, L’77 We loved the idea of UR Downtown [at 626 E. Broad St.] and the ability to take the Carrico Center concept and actually make it more accessible and able to deliver the kind of pro bono services that our community needs in a way that we go to the people that are underserved, and not expect them to come on campus.

Casey I don’t know if people realize this, but the original [UR] law school is in the Fan [neighborhood], at the corner of Lombardy and Grace. We were in the city originally. So much of the law school’s work is still in the city — I think probably a third of our students at any time are in the city during the course of a semester. And so here was this desire to create a city-based presence.

Wilton Cos. offered to give us the first-floor office space in the former Franklin Federal Savings & Loan at 7th and Broad with a generous lease. That gave us more opportunities for bigger thinking. We then were able to design a space that could be used for the public and have more community engagement in the space itself.

Real people, real skills

Morgan Faulkner, L’16 I think that pro bono work is important to legal education because of how much it opens your eyes to the world that’s around us. I liked that I was able to go and meet with a mother who was having issues with the heating in her house through the housing law program. It connects you more to the law that you’re studying in school in a practical way. I think it’s really important for everyone, especially people that are in law school, to understand that the law touches everyone, not just those who can afford to hire some of the big firms out there. The Carrico Center really gave us a vehicle to do that.

Cassie Powell, L’16 I think the Carrico Center is really important for all law students, even ones who are not interested in doing public service work and who are not necessarily interested in working with families and individuals in poverty.

What I’ve found in practice at the Virginia Poverty Law Center is that other attorneys that I work with — who may be representing the opposing party — have to understand my clients and their particular situations and the challenges that they face as individuals and families in poverty. Those attorneys who seem to have some compassion and understanding for the situations that my clients are in are more likely to come to an outcome that’s beneficial for both of our clients. So I think that having an opportunity for students to engage in public service and to promote public service really enriches all lawyers and budding lawyers because it allows them to connect and be exposed to all these different broader perspectives.

Kathleen Dwyer, L’14 I’m able to reference experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, such as working on a published article in the  Federal Circuit Bar Journal or arguing as a student in the Virginia Court of Appeals. These are some of the projects that I worked on. Later, when I’m in interviews or meeting potential employers, I come to the table with work history that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Pro bono work is important to legal education because of how much it opens your eyes to the world that's around us.

A sense of responsibility

Chandler It’s not enough for a university to simply be in a community. There’s a responsibility to be a part of the community. And the Carrico Center is, it seems to me, where it all comes together.

You have the opportunity to demonstrate that commitment to public service and to train the students experientially on that commitment, so they don’t just hear public service as an obligation; they actually get to see and feel the impact on clients when it’s presented.

And it’s good for the bar. I think the Carrico Center has essentially become the meeting place for the practicing attorneys and their commitment to public service, combined with the clinician work and student volunteer time.

Amari Harris, L’12 The center has had a major impact on my development as an attorney. I think that for a lot of us, when we come to law school, our focus is just to get the best grades you can, get a job, and kind of figure out what you want to do.

The Carrico Center brought a more holistic approach, not only to law school but to my career as well. What the Carrico Center reminded me, and I think a lot of my colleagues, is that our primary responsibility is to help others. You’re given a significant amount of power and responsibility when you choose to enter the legal profession. You should use it for good.

Rosanne Ibanez, L’12 I think that the Carrico Center is really good at giving students the opportunity to realize what is out there and that they have both a power and a privilege as people fortunate enough to study law and eventually practice law in whatever community they choose. The law school is good at teaching students how to learn to be good lawyers, but Carrico is where people come to learn how to be good citizens. That’s a skill set that we hope that all of our students leave with.

A responsibility to be a part of the community
From left: Amari Harris, Rosanne Ibanez, Maggie Bowman, Jacob Tingen, 
and Ian Vance

A focus on community

Maggie Bowman, L’13 You’re connecting with the community in a way that most law students don’t. We’re sort of holed up here in law school, and you don’t really venture out and get to know your city and your community. I think pro bono provides that kind of opportunity.

Amy Howard (assistant vice president of community initiatives at UR’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagment) The Carrico Center is at the leading edge of community engagement for the University of Richmond. The law school has always been one of the leading schools at the University of Richmond in connecting with the community in substantial ways — to help students learn more, but also to contribute skills and talents to the region. With the advent of the Carrico Center, that work has been amplified through Tara Casey’s strong leadership and the number of students who’ve taken the time to practice their skills while building our city to be a more thriving place.

Casey A lot of what we do through the Carrico Center at UR Downtown is the community engagement piece — not just picking up students and doing what we’re doing here but in a different building. It’s using UR Downtown to connect the broader community with the University of Richmond closer to where that community is.

A lot of that is our community partners. For the Carrico Center, all of our programs are in partnership with outside organizations because they have to be. Law students cannot provide independent representation or legal advice or counsel; they have to be supervised by a licensed attorney. So all of our programming is in partnership with outside organizations.

Most of those outside organizations are located downtown. To be able to provide that ability to connect with them and meet with them closer to where they are is big. Part of it is to make sure the legal community is aware of issues of societal import. The other is to make sure the legal community is connected to where they’re needed.

The spirit of the students

Casey Our student body is full of really smart people. They had different paths they could have pursued, but at some point, they were called to the law. Often times, the reason was to be of service. That’s the spirit that I see consistently every class year. And that spirit of service does not necessarily diminish because you’ve chosen to become a corporate tax attorney at a large firm.

Jacob Tingen, L’12 The law students that I’ve had the chance to work with today as adjunct faculty and those I’ve mentored through pro bono programs — they get it. They get it a lot more than I did [when I was a student at Richmond Law]. They get that there are people out there that need to be helped. They get that there are rights that need to be defended. And so it’s been a real pleasure to work with law students here at Richmond Law.

The law school is good at teaching students how to learn to be good lawyers, but Carrico is where people come to learn how to be good citizens.

Moments of pride

Tingen For me personally, when I graduated law school, I decided that I should continue to participate in the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Pro Bono Clinic. Eventually, we decided to move part of that program here to the law school, and I started as adjunct faculty last semester teaching an immigrants’ rights practicum. I’m mentoring a set of law students who are taking pro bono cases, and so it’s kind of come full circle for me.

It’s been an exciting time to share what I’ve learned and my passion for pro bono service and the immigrant community generally. Especially in political times like these, there’s a lot of opportunities to help people preserve and defend their rights. It’s important work.

Casey A number of years ago, we started a name and gender marker change clinic for members of the transgender community with the Virginia Equality Bar Association. It’s a need of the community. I like to think that our thoughts and our perspectives are open to the needs of communities, regardless of who they are, but I didn’t know what the reception was going to be like.

So I just said, “OK, let’s do it and see what happens.” And I remember when we recruited law students for it that it was one of our most popular programs right out of the gate. I had a waitlist of 30 students who wanted to volunteer. That made me proud that our students are stepping up to help a very marginalized community.

pro bono PLUS public service

Casey In 2017, the Center changed its name from the Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service to the Carrico Center for Pro Bono and Public Service. Ultimately, what we want to be are good civic stewards, and to do that, you have to be connected with your community.

Do you have to be connected with your community in just providing legal services? Not necessarily. Sometimes that community connection happens in other arenas, and that’s where the community need is, too. So I think it’s important for our students to recognize the gifts they can give to our community outside of their roles as lawyers.

An impact on careers

Tingen I came to the law school with plans to do mergers and acquisitions and big corporate work, but that kind of mission for my legal career changed when I got to know real people with real problems. That definitely influenced the direction that I’m taking now with how I go about practicing law. My involvement with the Carrico Center was a big catalyst for the rest of my legal career today.

Faulkner The Carrico Center has definitely impacted my career, especially now that I am at the public defender’s office here in town. When I first started law school, I felt like my classmates talked mostly about going into big firms or just firm life in general, and I never felt like that was 100 percent what my calling was.

When I started out doing some of these things like wills for seniors and the no-fault divorce program, it opened my eyes to how big the legal network is in the Richmond area for different public interest jobs and that I would be able to make a living and do something I’m passionate about at the same time.

Team Carrico

Bowman Easily my favorite part of the Carrico Center is Tara Casey. And since I have graduated, she brings back all of the former and current Carrico Center student employees for lunch, maybe twice a year. It’s really exciting and important, I think, to see the Carrico Center past, present, and future, and Tara Casey does that.

Ian Vance, L’14 My favorite Carrico moments are the continued moments. What I mean by that is director Tara Casey does a great job of keeping all of the current and past project managers together. We are now the staffers and volunteers at these programs and at these events.

Emily Cherry is director of law school communications.