Villanova Law Alumna Returns to Transform Pro Bono Focus
As the inaugural Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law Director of Public Service and Pro Bono initiatives, Janine Dunlap Kiah ’07, has many aspirations, but perhaps none more important than placing pro bono work at the forefront of Villanova Law.
“The number one thing that I want to focus on is creating more opportunities for pro bono work,” Dunlap Kiah explains. “It’s very important to me because it helps build a strong culture on campus and keeps us tied to our Augustinian values.”
Dunlap Kiah received her JD in 2007 and after serving in various public interest positions, she returned to Villanova Law in her new role in summer 2022. She also serves as adjunct faculty, teaching Public Interest Lawyering. Her position, and several others, were created thanks to a portion of a $13 million gift from Charles and Barbara Widger to expand the law school’s Professional Development and Leadership Program.
“The Widgers’ gift shines a light from the top down on important areas of focus like public interest and gives us an opportunity to be leaders within that space,” says Dunlap Kiah.
In her role, Dunlap Kiah is tasked with leading a new line of public interest and pro bono initiatives to help students build their skill sets and demonstrate the impact they can have by providing free legal services to those who otherwise could not afford them.
In addition to supporting current pro bono opportunities and partnerships, Dunlap Kiah is proud to have re-launched Villanova Law’s “Lawyering Together” initiative after more than ten years. The program pairs students with prominent legal firms and organizations where they can provide legal assistance to underserved populations. In this iteration of the program, Lawyering Together serves as a platform for various legal projects.
For example, under Lawyering Together, Dunlap Kiah has already launched the "Elder Justice Project," a partnership with the SeniorLAW Center and Blank Rome LLP, and the "Housing Justice Project," a partnership to serve both the unhoused and residents of local shelters. The latter is a combined effort with the Delaware County’s Office of Public Defenders and the Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Breaking Bread Community, a shelter in Upper Darby, PA founded last December by Villanova Law Anti-Poverty Fellow Stephanie Sena, serves as the project host site.
“It means so much to me,” Dunlap Kiah explains. “This type of programming partners legal aid organizations with our students on real pro bono matters. It also really helps students widen their circle they have a chance to practice professional development and network with attorneys.”
Dunlap Kiah’s efforts have already resonated with Villanova Law students.
“Professor Dunlap Kiah has definitely given new life to the public interest programming here at Villanova Law,” explains Andrew Green ’24. “Her own efforts and passions have reaffirmed my desire to work within the field.”
Dunlap Kiah looks forward to continuing to develop and strengthen public interest and pro bono opportunities at Villanova Law—a vision that stems from her passion for the work.
“To me, it’s about character—it’s about one’s point of view on how they see themselves in the world and things that go beyond us,” she explains. “For those of us lucky enough to be educated and to have resources, if we’re not the ones extending ourselves for those in need, who will?”