Nolan '07 Receives Virginia State Bar Pro Bono Award

Maryann Nolan, who will graduate from William & Mary Law School in May, has been named the recipient of the 2007 Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award from the Virginia State Bar (VSB).

The VSB selects one law student recipient annually for the award, named in honor of civil rights attorney Oliver Hill. Hill, who is nearly 100 years old and lives in Richmond, Va., fought to end racial discrimination under the “separate but equal” doctrine, arguing one of the five cases decided under Brown v. Board of Education.

The VSB’s Special Committee on Access to Legal Services selected Nolan for her “passion for justice and [her] achievements in the areas of immigrant rights and international human rights,” noting that her legal contributions fall squarely within Hill’s legacy.

Last summer, Nolan worked for the Center for Human Rights & Environment in Cordoba, Argentina. Nolan said the organizations looks at environmental concerns as a human rights issue, as “everyone has a right to clean water and clean air, and access to land.” While Nolan was in Argentina, she assisted with a case in which Argentina was suing Uruguay in The Hague to prevent European companies from building pulp mills along the River Uruguay. “The way the river flows, the pollution from these mills was really going to affect the indigenous people [of Gualeguaychú],” said Nolan. “They were basically going to destroy this community.”

In addition to her work with the Center for Human Rights & Environment, Nolan has shown dedication to community service through numerous volunteer activities while attending law school. She works with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, going to detention centers where people are awaiting deportation and helping them check their refugee statuses. Nolan is a co-chair of the Public Service Fund, which raises money to support law students’ efforts to do public service work, vice president of the Students for Innocence Project, and an America Reads volunteer at Matthew Whaley Elementary School. In addition, Nolan serves as an Honor Council justice and a Dean’s Associate and is a member of the American Constitution Society and the International Law Society.

While some may find Nolan’s time commitment to public service overwhelming, she said getting involved in the community has made her law school experience more enjoyable. “The way I see it, you’re only in [law school] for three years, so you should really make the most of your time here,” she said. “I wanted to feel really invested and get as much out of this experience as I could.”

Before attending law school, Nolan also spent two and a half years in Ecuador as a Peace Corp volunteer and worked for a youth and family service program, educating people about HIV and AIDS. “My background had always been in government and public interest work,” said Nolan, who decided to attend law school with the goal of pursuing a career in international development work. “I came to William & Mary with a very distinct purpose, and I knew there was a focus on community service at the school,” she said, noting the Law School’s “citizen lawyer” philosophy of legal education. “The school is very supportive of public interest law, and it’s just such a blessing to be here.”

When Nolan learned that she was going to receive the Oliver Hill Pro Bono Award, she said she was “very, very surprised and really touched. I think it was so amazing to me that [ Associate Dean Robert Kaplan] nominated me because this whole school is very community service oriented,” she said.

Law School Dean Taylor Reveley said it means a lot to the entire law school community to have a William & Mary student selected to receive the award. “This is a very distinguished award that represents a compelling commitment to service,” he said, noting that Nolan embodies a true dedication to public service. “We are all extremely proud of her accomplishments.”

Nolan will be presented with the award on May 17 in Richmond, Va., just days before she graduates from law school. Post-graduation, Nolan will begin a 10-week fellowship with the International Bridges to Justice program.

While Nolan admits that pursuing a career in public interest law fields such as international development can be challenging, to those who are truly passionate about the work, “I would say to do it, and just realize you’re going to be pushing a rock uphill sometimes,” said Nolan. “It gets difficult and discouraging sometimes, but…you’re going to be so fulfilled and so happy.”