May 16, 2019 – Patty Rivera looked at the Charleston School of Law’s 30-hour pro bono graduation requirement as an opportunity to gain valuable legal experience and pursue her passion to help others. Rivera, who graduated on May 12, never set out to break a school record. In the process of learning and volunteering, Rivera performed a record-breaking 1,953 hours of pro bono work. The previous record was 1,743 hours of pro bono service from Brian Justice, a May 2014 graduate.
“Any time I had a break from school, I did pro bono work to get as much legal experience as I could,” Rivera explained. “I learned about different areas of the law, and I realized that I am most interested in criminal law and immigration law.”
Rivera did most of her pro bono work with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Houston, Texas, where she is from and plans to return. “I am grateful for my family’s financial and emotional support during my summers at home doing pro bono work,” Rivera added. Rivera’s dedication paid off, and she plans to accept a position with the Harris County DA after she becomes licensed in Texas.
In addition to working for the district attorney’s office, Rivera did additional pro bono work with the Charleston County Public Defender’s Office, the City of Charleston Legal Department, the ACLU of South Carolina, and a recent pro bono project that assisted asylum seekers detained in Charleston with their “credible fear” interviews, the first stage in the asylum process.
Rivera described her work with the asylum project as particularly moving. Fluent in Spanish, Rivera translated and conducted client interviews and spoke casually with clients to put them at ease. She saw about 25 clients but will never forget helping a 16-year-old boy separated from his mother and sister.
“He was from Honduras, spoke no English, was fleeing gang violence, and was terrified. My parents are immigrants to the United States from Ecuador and Uruguay, and my brother is 15. It tugs at my heart to help immigrants and anyone who cannot afford legal services,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s Spanish fluency also has been helpful with her work with the district attorney, public defender, and ACLU. She will take her empathy and passion for helping others to any position during her future legal career.
Looking back on her pro bono work and law school career, Rivera is glad she came to the Charleston School of Law not only to experience a different culture from Houston but to take advantage of the many opportunities law students have in Charleston.
“There are so many opportunities in Charleston with just one law school compared to cities like Houston with multiple law schools. Students should take advantage of these opportunities and not stress about meeting the pro bono requirement. Pro bono work can help you in so many ways,” Rivera urged.