A Calling to Serve

Since she was a little girl, Taylor Noonan has cared about human rights issues.

“I have a passion to advocate for people who do not have a voice,” she said. “I want to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden and restore justice to seemingly hopeless situations.”

With an undergraduate degree in international relations, Noonan had a number of career options available to her.

“I wanted to choose a career where I could help people in the name of Jesus,” she said. “The law is an effective tool that impacts every single person, and I felt that a law degree could give me an opportunity to help the most people with the amount of knowledge and skills that I would learn in law school.”

Her journey brought her 2,749 miles, nearly coast-to-coast, from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Lynchburg, Va., because “God made it exceedingly clear” that Liberty University School of Law was the best place for her legal training. Noonan is now a third-year law student.

Likewise, second-year law student Rachel Ballman moved from Florida to Lynchburg because of the unique culture at Liberty Law.

“Liberty definitely attracts people who have a mission, a calling,” Ballman said. “People at Liberty’s law school have this mindset more than people I talk to at other law schools. … I went to law school to be a defender — someone who will stand up for victims of abuse.”

The idea that law is a service profession is a deeply rooted belief at Liberty Law, one that draws promising scholars with the talents and hearts to use their gifts to better the world.

“At Liberty University School of Law, one of the foundational tenets is a belief that the study and practice of law is a calling — a calling to serve others,” explained B. Keith Faulkner, dean of Liberty Law. “Being the voice of the voiceless, helping to heal the broken, and protecting liberty and the rule of law through public service are certainly the noblest of traditions that lawyers — especially Liberty lawyers — should strive toward. Our students enter Liberty Law with that desire to serve.”

Taking action

Kristine Smith, Esq., (left) pro bono director and managing attorney at the Virginia Legal Aid Society, talks with third-year law student Taylor Noonan, who serves at VLAS. (Photo by Leah Seavers)

From the moment students enter Liberty Law as first years (1Ls), the doors are open for them to roll up their sleeves and help others. As students sharpen their skills through their second (2L) and third (3L) years, the opportunities become more specialized.

Recently, law students assisted hundreds of community members by offering free tax services through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA).

“The law is not something to be learned and placed on a shelf; rather it is practiced and applied,” said Liberty Law Associate Dean of External Communications Tim Spaulding. “That is why providing students the opportunity to use and apply their knowledge by engaging with diverse communities is a primary focus of Liberty Law.”

Taylor Noonan combines her training and passion to serve by working with the Virginia Legal Aid Society (VLAS), which offers no-cost legal services to low-income individuals. VLAS and Liberty formed a partnership last year that allows eligible 3Ls to interview, counsel, and represent clients in court under the supervision of an attorney. Cases involve issues such as housing, public benefits, guardianship, uncontested divorce, unemployment, and Social Security.

Civil legal issues will affect everyone at some point, explained Kristine Smith, Esq., VLAS pro bono director and managing attorney. “It hits so many areas of our lives … and it is cost prohibitive. The statistics on how much better parties do when they are represented are overwhelming. Our system is made to work when each party has zealous and
effective advocacy.”

With a broad service region, covering 20 counties, six cities (including Lynchburg), and multiple towns, the VLAS is inundated with cases. Liberty Law students have proven to be an “invaluable asset,” she said.

“They have been phenomenal in how they interact with clients. I think our firm and our legal aid system across the board is going to benefit,” Smith added. “They are so energetic and so willing to do anything that will help. I think the value (students add) is only going to increase.”

Smith has seen a genuine effort by Liberty, beginning with the administration, to add value to the community through its combination of service and expertise.

“I think Liberty has done so much for Lynchburg, taking the skills from their professional schools and putting their students out there so our community benefits,” Smith said. “A lot of schools might say that, but Liberty definitely walks the walk. It makes the legal community and all of our clients realize what a wonderful resource we have at Liberty and how it is mutually beneficial for all of us.”

“We are really proud to be Lynchburg’s law school, and we want Lynchburg to be proud of us,” Faulkner said. “Getting out here serving in the community is part of that.”

Helping children and veterans

Every year, Liberty Law students volunteer to help with the Superhero Run for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which is a voice for children who are removed from homes due to abuse or neglect. The November event was held on campus and raised more than $50,000. (Photo by Andrew Snyder)

As a 2L, Rachel Ballman has already been given a practical, firsthand look at how the legal system works for area children. As a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer, she labors as a third party in child custody cases that involve some level of neglect or abuse. In this role, she interviews all those involved, from health care providers to birth and foster parents, and presents a written report to the court.

While she originally pursued a legal career to help sex trafficking victims, the experience has broadened her aspirations to include child advocacy.

“I am really able to see not only the need but also how important child advocacy is,” Ballman said. “I’m seeing how the system works and correlates to things I am learning in school. Being in court and being around these attorneys has been really helpful to me in understanding how the law works in regard to children and child abuse.”

First-year law student Mary Johnson is married to a marine veteran, and the couple has two sons also in the corps — one active and one recently discharged. As she learned about the struggles many veterans faced, Johnson developed a desire to advocate for veterans and, at age 47, started law school.

Liberty served as a host site for the Veterans Legal Services Clinic in October, and Liberty Law students volunteered while observing practicing attorneys give back to American heroes. (Photo by Kevin Manguiob)

Last October, Johnson jumped at the opportunity to volunteer when Liberty served as a host site for the Veterans Legal Services Clinic, presented by the Attorney General’s Office in partnership with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and the Virginia State Bar.

Johnson’s goal was to give the veterans “a real connection” as she sat in on their attorney interviews and served as a legal witness to their document signings.

“Sometimes, I look at this journey and think, ‘I am a nontraditional student; I will never make it,’” she said, noting that her sons’ service prompted her to consider a second career after years working in information technology. “But then you hear somebody affirm why you need to do this,” she said, referring to a time when one of her veteran clients expressed his appreciation for her. “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘You’re just like me.’”

Johnson wants to continue to put the law to work for those who feel like it’s beyond their means to seek legal assistance.

In moments like these, Liberty’s law students experience the joy of touching a life. The idea that their education is truly a calling is reinforced, inspiring them to do more.

“My client and I just had a conversation that made him feel like a real person,” Johnson said. “He told me, ‘This gives me hope that people are starting to recognize that we have needs.’ It meant a lot to him, and it was life-changing for me.”

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