Third-year University of Richmond law student Mike Braggs is interested in family law. He's pursued his passion working with children and has been involved in both delinquency and educational law clinics in his time as a student.

But recently, Braggs began searching for an opportunity to get away from the theoretical aspect of law and get into the real-life applications of the profession.

He's one of the four Richmond Law students involved in a first-time partnership between Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University to establish a downtown campus beginning this fall that will function as a center for community-based service.

University of Richmond Downtown, a satellite campus of more than 4,500 square feet, is located at 626 E. Broad St. in a historic building in the heart of the City of Richmond.

The T.C. Williams School of Law and the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement chose the former Franklin Federal Savings and Loan building because of its central location which can be easily accessed, specifically by bus, according to Richard Johnson, Richmond trustee and CEO of the Wilton Companies, which has provided the renovation and use of the building.

"I think [Richmond administrators] were looking for a downtown location and one that would have convenient bus service," Johnson said. "Some of the people being served there will probably have a lot of interest in using public transportation. It is certainly a tremendous plus to be on or near a bus line. In this case, we're on multiple bus lines. It's a good spot."

Richmond President Edward Ayers agreed with Johnson in saying that a downtown location would be useful to the city and its residents.

"[Richmond] will be using its expertise, good will and energy to be of help to people who could use it," Ayers said. "This is very much what I hoped the university as a whole would be known for."

The goal of UR Downtown is to address the community needs of underserved citizens through three main programs: the Richmond Families Initiative, the Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service and the Family Law Clinic.

The Richmond Families Initiative is a joint venture of the law school and the Bonner Center, and also works in conjunction with VCU's department of psychology and its school of social work. The RFI seeks to address the needs of low-income families through legal, social and psychological services.

The Center for Pro Bono Service matches local attorneys with Richmond law students to provide legal counseling to clients. Specifically, volunteers seeks to help low-income clients who are victims of domestic violence.

The Family Law Clinic is a collaborative project between the law school's National Center for Family Law and VCU. The clinic will be developed and taught by Richmond Law professor Dale Margolin. Margolin, who formerly ran a child advocacy program in New York, will supervise up to 10 law students per year as they represent clients.

Additionally, Richmond students and faculty will work with graduate students in social work and psychology from VCU to ensure that clients receive social and psychological care.

"There are so many families in Richmond who are not getting adequate legal service," Margolin said. "And children are not being represented as they should be. There's a huge need and this is a great opportunity for the university to fill that need.'"

Douglas A. Hicks, executive director of the Bonner Center, added that Richmond's collaboration with VCU would add to the specific professional fields of expertise that have not been offered at Richmond.

"We're going to take modest steps to build sustained relationships with our community partners," Hicks said, adding that this had been one of the most exciting initiatives he had been involved with during his 11 years at Richmond.

"This is the seed from which a lot of things will grow," Ayers said.

The CCE is inviting students to learn about UR Downtown at a program in the Think Tank at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 29. The program will focus on the Richmond Families Initiative and the ways students can connect through community-based learning, research and service and government partners working with Richmond families. A second program will be held Sept. 8.

Contact staff writer Carly Gorga at carly.gorga@richmond.edu

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