KNOXVILLE—Brittany Thomas, a third-year law student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is busy planning for spring break. But she won’t be hitting the beach. Rather, she’ll be overseeing projects around the state to help women immigrants renew their visas and help soldiers write their wills.
For years of efforts like these, Thomas has been named Law Student Volunteer of the Year by the Tennessee Bar Association.
The award is given annually to a law student in Tennessee who demonstrates leadership and volunteer service by providing legal representation to the poor.
Thomas has volunteered with and is now the student coordinator of the Saturday Bar in Knoxville, a service that offers free legal advice to the public. Throughout her law school career, she has volunteered with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands and Memphis’s Community Legal Center’s Immigrant Justice Program (CLC/IJP). During her last year, though, she has taken on a significant amount of work and responsibility, including becoming the director of UT’s Pro Bono program.
The Pro Bono program has a five-year plan to increase participation, and Thomas has set out to achieve this.
Last year, 12 percent of the law school volunteered 800 hours. This year participation has reached 20 percent participation from law students and almost 1,200 volunteer hours thus far.
“Part of being the director means administrative work but another part is inspiring other younger law students to get involved,” Thomas said.
Another goal of Thomas has been to increase UT’s Pro Bono work with Alternative Spring Break. This year, a group of students will be going to Memphis to work with CLC/IJP and helping renew women’s visas. Another group will be working with soldiers at Fort Campbell conducting a “Wills for Warriors” program. Students also will be working with projects locally.
“I’ll be in Knoxville the first part of the week and then I’ll be traveling to Nashville and Memphis to visit all the volunteers,” Thomas said.
“I don’t sleep much,” she joked.
“It’s all about dedication and making time,” she said. “When you make time for something, you find it so rewarding that you want to keep doing it.”
Doug Blaze, dean of the College of Law, said he believes Thomas’s work and dedication has not only benefitted her, but the college and community as well.
“Brittany’s pro bono work will make her a better lawyer and a better advocate in the long run,” Blaze said. “But best of all, she’s helping those in need in our community and around the state, right now. I have no doubt she’ll continue her important work after graduation.”
That’s something Thomas is already thinking about.
“I’d really like to do immigration work,” she said. “I’ve had four different jobs involving immigration while in law school.”
Thomas, of Oak Ridge, got her undergraduate degree from Penn State.
Watch a video about Thomas below.
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