For The Record

Settlements are a way of life for civil trial attorneys. In the Eastern District of Virginia, for instance, parties are required to take part in a settlement conference before going to trial. But for those who choose to represent themselves — known as pro se litigants — the learning curve can be steep.

That’s where the Pro Se Mediation project — a Richmond Law program that gives students hands-on experience with pretrial processes, practices, and preparation at the federal level — comes in.

“The magistrate and district court judges were recognizing that, in some cases, these litigants were definitely being disadvantaged by not having an attorney,” said Tara Casey, director of the Carrico Center for Pro Bono & Public Service.

Launched in 2017 as a partnership of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Federal Bar Association, and the Richmond Bar Association, the program pairs pro bono attorneys with civil litigants who’ve chosen to represent themselves. Casey serves as the liaison between the U.S. magistrate judges and the pool of volunteer attorneys who work with their clients.

In addition to better preparing pro se litigants to settle cases, the program offers law students the opportunity to observe federal lawsuits and get a feel for settlement conferences.

“Settlements can go bad very quickly,” said Abigail Parsons, L’20, who was assigned a case in which a state prisoner had filed a Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act claim. “So it’s a process where you’re always on your toes.”