Shaping Justice Conference

Alex Haden '17

This weekend, February 3rd-4th, the Shaping Justice conference will kick off at UVa Law. The conference is being held in honor of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center’s twentieth anniversary. The conference’s goal is to inspire both students and practitioners to take the formation and processes of the law into their own hands in order to provide justice to all people. Participants will be encouraged to collaborate and discuss the various means to use the legal system in order to fix the injustices that exist in the country and the world.

The Public Interest Law Association (PILA) has been very involved in the planning and creation of the event. PILA President Teresa Hepler noted that:

“The goal with the conference was to bring UVa more into the spotlight when it comes to public interest and to allow students in the region to collaborate on ways to provide equal access to justice to those who are still not receiving it in the 21st century.  We are honoring the Public Service Center’s 20th anniversary in the launch of the conference, because the office has done so much to expand public interest at the law school and put students in careers that allow them to “shape justice.”  The conference is nonpartisan, providing varying viewpoints about particular crises in justice (criminal, environmental, housing, etc.) and hopefully inspiring students to ask more questions about the legal system and generate ideas on how to improve it.  We also wanted to give students not just ideas but tools on how to implement those ideas, hence the workshops.”

The event kicks off on Friday, February 3rd with a welcome address from Dean Risa Goluboff. Following her address, participants may choose between a set of three concurrent panel sessions: (1) Building Wealth: Expanding Economic Opportunities through Land, Housing, and Development (sponsored by the Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law); (2) Before, During, and After: Issues Facing Women in the Criminal Justice System (sponsored by Women of Color, Feminist Legal Forum, and the Virginia Law in Prison Project); and (3) Environmental Justice and the Law: Attorneys’ Many Roles in Combatting Environmental Injustice (sponsored by Virginia Environmental Law Forum).

A second set of concurrent panel sessions will immediately follow: (1) Crime, Youth, and Justice: A Multidisciplinary Approach (sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, UVA Chapter and Child Advocacy Research and Education); (2) Invisible Violence: Increasing Awareness and Improving Aid for Domestic Violence Victims in Underrepresented Communities (sponsored by the Domestic Violence Project, LAMBDA Law Alliance, and the Virginia Journal of Criminal Law); and (3) Fair Housing and Civil Rights in Virginia (sponsored by the Black Law Students Association, UVA Chapter and Center for the Study of Race and Law). A networking reception will follow immediately in the Karsh Student Center Atrium (right outside of Admissions).

The next day, the conference starts with a breakfast session where students interested in various practice areas can gather in groups to discuss various ideas and tips pertaining to that area of public interest law. The next event is a set of concurrent sessions of workshops designed to help students learn how to apply the tools they have to the issues that have been discussed throughout the conference. These workshops include client interviews, identifying human trafficking, handling trauma with clients and victims, community organizing, and lawyering in the field of civil rights. 

The main event of the day is a lunch with the Keynote speaker, Robin Steinberg. Hepler noted that Steinberg was selected as the keynote speaker because she embodies the goals of the conference, since she founded the Bronx Defenders in order to provide legal services to people who were in real need of those services. Steinberg’s list of accomplishments is lengthy and impressive, as shown on the program website:

“Robin Steinberg is a leader and a pioneer in the field of indigent defense. In 1997, Robin founded The Bronx Defenders, where she developed holistic defense – a client-centered model of public defense that uses interdisciplinary teams to address the underlying causes and collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement. She is the co-founder of The Bronx Freedom Fund, the first charitable bail organization in New York State, and the project lead for Still She Rises, Tulsa, the first public defender office in the country dedicated exclusively to the representation of women with children. Robin has been honored by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association for her “exceptional vision, devotion, and service in the quest for equal justice,” and by the New York Bar Association for her “outstanding contributions to the delivery of defense services.” She has taught trial skills at various law schools and travels nationally and internationally speaking about holistic defense.  Robin is the author of a number of articles, including: “Police Power and the Scaring of America: A Personal Journey” (Yale L. &; Pol’y Rev. 2016); “Shared Roots and Shared Commitments: The Centrality of Social Work to Holistic Defense” (Hamishpat  L. Rev., 2016); “Broken Windows Policing and Community Courts: An Unholy Alliance” (Cardozo L. Rev. 2016); “Heeding Gideon’s Call in the 21st Century: Holistic Defense and the New Public Defense Paradigm” (Wash. & Lee L. Rev., Summer 2013); and “Beyond Lawyering: How Holistic Lawyering Makes for Good Public Policy, Better Lawyers, and More Satisfied Clients” (N.Y.U. Rev. L. &; Soc. Change, 2006), among others.”

More information is available on PILA’s website, found here: