Third-year law student Sam Keen was selected as a finalist for the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award, which honors one law student nationwide for his or her pro bono contributions to society. The award aims to recognize the significant contributions that law students make to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education by performing pro bono work. Keen was nominated for the award because of his continued dedication to the Chicago community, both through his volunteer work with DePaul’s Neighborhood Legal Assistance Project (NLAP) and his public interest internships he has completed during law school.
Keen’s dedication to NLAP has gone above and beyond a typical student volunteer commitment. The first of its kind at DePaul, NLAP is a law student pro bono help desk for the homeless. NLAP takes place twice a month on Saturday mornings at a breakfast program for the homeless run by a local church. NLAP assists guests with sealing and expunging their criminal records and obtaining state IDs. NLAP also provides clients with brief advice about housing and family law, as well as public benefits and available social service resources. NLAP is staffed with a supervising attorney and four to six law student volunteers per session.
As NLAP’s volunteer coordinator, Keen recruits and schedules students to staff the program. In addition to coordinating volunteers for NLAP, he is also the intake coordinator. In this role, he conducts the initial interview with clients to assess their reasons for seeking NLAP's assistance. He answers their questions, helps them to feel comfortable, and explains NLAP's procedures and policies, before discussing the options available to them. As a NLAP volunteer, he works directly with clients to help them resolve whatever problem they present.
In addition to his pro bono work, Keen has completed internships that have allowed him to have a direct, positive impact on Chicago’s most vulnerable populations. One of his internships was with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, where he advocated for homeless youth in the Chicago Public Schools. After completing the internship requirements, he continued to work at the Coalition, logging 40 hours of pro bono work. Keen also spent last summer as an intern at the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) where he represented low-income clients facing homelessness in eviction court. Again, Sam continued to work at LCBH even after his internship was over, completing more than 50 hours of pro bono work. He has also volunteered with the Lawyers in the Classroom program and has served as a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild.
“I went to law school because l knew that a JD would allow me to make a career out of being a force for positive change in my community,” said Keen. While he has yet to embark on a law career, Keen has already made a positive impact on many people in Chicago as a law student.