Award presented to 'Student Volunteer of the Year' at luncheon
NASHVILLE, Jan. 24, 2012 — Brittany Thomas, a third-year student at the University of Tennessee College of Law, was honored with the state's top award for law student pro bono work at the Tennessee Bar Association's recent public service luncheon. Held each year as part of the association's Leadership Conference, the luncheon featured award winners in several categories and a keynote address by Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin S. Huffman.
Thomas was named the 2012 Student Volunteer of the Year for her dedication to providing free legal assistance to those in need. Beginning in 2009, Thomas got involved with the law school's pro bono program, but her commitment took a giant leap forward in 2010 when she took over as director of the program. She now coordinates all pro bono projects at the university and has set a goal of increasing student participation in pro bono over the next five years. To date, under her leadership, student hours have increased by 15 percent and the number of students involved has grown by 12 percent. She herself gave more than 100 hours of time last year. In addition, Thomas has committed to a new focus on raising funds for pro bono in light of shrinking government budgets.
Thomas's influence also has been felt outside the walls of the school. She volunteers at Legal Aid of East Tennessee and is the student coordinator for the group's Saturday Bar legal clinics, and is working with a lawyer on two pending asylum cases. Over the last year, she has volunteered at legal clinics sponsored by the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, and has worked with the Community Legal Center in Memphis and Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, helping with outreach to immigrant communities.
In nominating Thomas for the award, law school dean Doug Blaze said, "In my 18 years of working with students committed to pro bono and public interest, Brittany is one of the best, if not the best." The law school's Access to Justice Coordinator Brad Morgan also said that Brittany has exceeded expectations by sheer dedication. "The number of events she attends and the number people, both attorneys and students, that she inspires to join her dramatically increased the number of indigent clients served."
Thomas is a native of Oak Ridge with an undergraduate degree from Penn State. After graduation from law school she plans to do nonprofit or immigration work.
The law student award is given annually to a Tennessee law school student who performs outstanding volunteer service working with an organization that provides legal representation to the poor.