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January 22, 2009

On Jan. 8 and 9, 13 USF law students participated in the Rural Education and Access to the Law (REAL) winter break trip, co-sponsored by the Public Interest Clearinghouse and the USF School of Law.

Phyra McCandless '08 and Salena Copeland, Equal JusticeWorks AmeriCorps legal fellows at the Public Interest Clearinghouse, with USF students in front of Glenn County Superior Court.

Students helped more than 40 clients complete court paperwork for divorce, child custody, child visitation, guardianship, child support, and unlawful detainer cases.

"The REAL trip was a great opportunity to provide assistance to rural self-litigants, to learn about the judicial process, and to speak first-hand with people committed to that process," said Sheila Husting 1L. "I'm glad that I had the opportunity to participate and hope to do so again in the future."

The first day of the REAL trip, USF students traveled to Red Bluff in Tehama County, accompanied by Salena Copeland, legal fellow for Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps. Students assisted clients at a community fair sponsored by the Self-Help Assistance and Referral Program (SHARP). The second day students worked with SHARP in Willows (Glenn County) and watched courtroom proceedings.

Students observed how rural courtrooms are very different than urban courtrooms. In Glenn County, there are only two judges, who deal with everything from bankruptcy to family to criminal cases.

The goal of REAL is to provide students with practical experience while helping clients and supporting rural legal service organizations, Copeland said. "Perhaps most importantly," she said, "we hope that students will make a life-long commitment to pro bono and public interest work to help meet the needs of underserved communities."