Student pro bono work translates into path to success

Story by Valeria Obi

Stephanie Favilli, a second year law student at Stetson, turned a unique pro bono assignment into multiple internships and career opportunities.

Stephanie first learned of an opportunity to serve as a Spanish language translator for the Bay Area Volunteer Lawyers Program in the fall of 2010 through the student Hispanic Bar Association at Stetson. Stephanie, who grew up in Florida, is vice president of the HBA and speaks Spanish fluently.

Stephanie Favilli is a second-year law student at Stetson.

Stephanie Favilli is a second-year law student at Stetson.

Stephanie credits her parents, who are both from Nicaragua, with instilling in her a desire to help others.

“My mother has helped create funds to send children to school in Nicaragua and my father spearheaded programs to donate medical equipment from U.S. hospitals to Nicaragua where they are needed,” said Stephanie. “Their actions continue to motivate me  to give back to my culture.”

When Nancy Lugo, a staff attorney for Bay Area Legal Services, reached out to the HBA for assistance in translating packets of legal forms from English to Spanish for litigants, Stephanie answered the call.

Stephanie’s efforts help non-English speakers understand their legal rights.

The Volunteer Lawyers Program guides and assists pro se litigants in completing court-approved legal forms. Initially, all the packets were printed in English; however, with the help of Stephanie, copies became available in Spanish as well. Stephanie was also able to translate the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy flow chart. The Spanish version will be used by Spanish-speaking pro se litigants in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida.

“The chart has become a very helpful tool for Bay Area Legal Services clients in understanding the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process and what to expect,” said Susan Sandler, an attorney at Bay Area Legal Services. “Stephanie’s assistance in translating the brochure into Spanish allowed access to individuals who did not understand the brochure as written.”

Stephanie said that the experience she gained while translating at Bay Area Legal Services provided her with another opportunity. After completing two semesters, she received an internship with the Bay Area Legal Services Forms Clinic this past summer. While there, Stephanie was able to aid the pro se litigants in completing the same packets that she initially helped translate.

This past summer, Stephanie also worked in the law office of Vazquez Legal, P.A., which had a large Spanish-based clientele. She assisted in corresponding with clients and opposing counsel.

Currently, Stephanie interns with Robert Terenzio, an attorney specializing in reproductive technology law. Stephanie said that she plays an important role in client intake, providing correspondence with the clients and translating contracts from English to Spanish.

Although Stephanie is unsure of what type of law she would like to practice, she said that she plans to volunteer at the forms clinic even after becoming an attorney. She is also seeking more students to volunteer with Bay Area Legal Services this year.

“That initial opportunity provided me with so many other opportunities and I would like to see the same happen for others so they can carry on Stetson’s legacy,” said Stephanie.

Stetson Law’s active student organizations have a strong tradition of community and public service, logging more than 19,000 hours of pro bono service annually at more than 100 local and statewide organizations. Last February,  alumnus David Fernandez, then-president of Stetson’s Hispanic Bar Association and Law and Order, became the first law student to receive the Clearwater Bar Foundation Excellence in Pro Bono Award. Fernandez received the award for his work to provide Spanish-speakers with access to legal documents through a translation project. In 2006, Stetson’s HBA was honored by the Florida Supreme Court with the Chief Justice’s Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Service Award.