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U of M Law Student Receives Volunteer of the Year Award University News
For release: January 21, 2010

For press information, contact Gabrielle Maxey, 901/678-2843

Diana M. Comes
Diana M. Comes
In today’s tough job climate for law graduates, every edge will make a difference. So when Diana Comes volunteered 280 hours ¬over eight weeks ¬last summer at Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS), she was making a serious addition to her resume. Yet that isn’t why she did it.

Last spring she was volunteering at the Community Legal Center in Memphis when she met Linda Warren Seely, MALS director of private attorney involvement, who was looking for someone to help her with her work on collaborative law. “I was looking for summer work that would involve research as well as client interaction,” Comes said. “I did some preliminary research on collaborative law for her during the spring semester and found myself fascinated with the concept, as well as with the academic dialogue going on behind it.”

In recognition of her exceptional service, Comes, a second-year student at the University of Memphis’ Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Tennessee Bar Association. The award honors a Tennessee law school student who provides outstanding volunteer service while working with an organization that provides legal representation to the indigent.

Comes credits Seely with the success of her experience at MALS. “Her dedication, energy and passion are such an inspiration to students just embarking on their careers,” she said.

Comes enjoyed working with the staff at MALS as well as with the clients themselves. She worked with clients who had a variety of legal needs, from a grandmother seeking custody of her granddaughter to a woman who had become certified as a personal needs assistant in order to care for her adult, wheelchair-bound daughter, only to have her TennCare hours cut as a result.

“After a year of legal theory, it was wonderful to put into practice what I had learned, and to feel that my legal degree had the potential to make a difference,” Comes said.

What she hadn’t expected, though, was the amount of work to be done. “MALS has roughly 20 attorneys to serve tens of thousands of qualified low-income and elderly applicants in a four-county area. They depend heavily on their law student volunteers and on the private attorneys who take pro bono cases,” Comes said. “As a result, law students get an up-close and personal encounter with the law in action. I did not expect, as a 1L student, to be interviewing clients, drafting end-of-life documents, or accompanying clients to court, but those are just a few of the many things I did. MALS treats its student interns as true attorneys-in-training, with real responsibilities, and it was extremely gratifying to work hard for results that helped people in need.”

Comes decided on law school while she was an undergraduate at Rhodes College, after she became involved with women’s advocacy issues and helped found a student-staffed sexual assault crisis hotline there. “I found that work to be energizing and fulfilling,” she said. “Law school is a natural way to marry the dual passions of advocacy and inquiry.”

Originally from the Sarasota-Bradenton area of Florida, Comes now calls Memphis her adopted home. Although many of her peers are likely to be scrambling for jobs for next summer, Comes will be clerking for the Memphis firm of Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan.

“Work at the CLC and at MALS has been a rewarding way to put theory into practice,” she said. “There is nothing like the feeling you get when you realize that what you can do matters, and matters a lot, to other people.”

This isn’t the first honor for Comes. Last fall she received the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Scholarship from the National Association of Women Judges.

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