For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Monday, March 14, 2011

The first day I arrived at the Public Defender’s Office in New Orleans, I was immediately put to work. The massive caseloads that each public defender carries showed us how much need there was for our assistance. There was never a lull in the work because if you assigned attorney was at court when you finished an assignment, you could ask any available attorney for an assignment and they would have more than enough for you to do. As a 1L, I had minimal research and writing experience prior to my work in the office. I was able to develop my research and writing skills in a way that tangibly assisted many of the needs of their clients. I knew that since we were there for only a short period of time, we would not have the opportunity to see a case to completion, but have the opportunity to assist on bits and pieces of many cases, we would be allow the attorneys to spend more time with clients or addressing issues that may have been more complicated.

New Orleans is a city still recovering from the effects of Katrina it’s correlation with the increased crime rate as well as an increase in the number of Hispanics coming to the city looking for work. Many of the Hispanics that came to New Orleans after Katrina, were illegal immigrants and thus were subject to high crime because they were not able to establish bank accounts, thus carried lots of cash and were deemed “ walking ATMs” in many areas of the city. Furthermore, criminals were willing to commit crimes against Hispanics because they would rarely report them. While I had read about the increase in crime in these areas, I had not realized how intricate the effect was on people throughout the city.

–Amit Bhagwandass


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