This summer, the city of West Palm Beach got a lawyer for free. The University of Miami, through a program called “Legal Corps,” pays to place recently graduated, bar-admitted law school graduates at city governments for six-month stints.
When the summer was over, West Palm Beach liked Christopher Van Hall so much, they hired him.
“It is such a bargain for the city and such a welcome to my office,” City Attorney Claudia McKenna told an Aug. 22 budget workshop. “I shudder to think what would happen if we lost him.”
For Chris, a graduate of Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, it’s a dream outcome. “It was really good timing for me to come in, and once I arrived, it just clicked,” the 28-year-old said.
West Palm Beach is one of several municipal governments for whom the university’s program was a godsend, especially at a time when cities are slashing staff.
Since the program began with the class of 2010, eight “fellows” were placed in positions in Palm Beach County. Two, Van Hall and Cassandra Ward, assigned to Legal Aid, were later hired.The other six took jobs in private practice.
The law school pays most of the program costs and gets donations from individuals, law firms and foundations, said
Assistant Dean Marcelyn R. Cox, of the law school’s career development office.
At that Aug. 22 West Palm Beach budget workshop, the city commission had to vote to waive its $70,000 minimum salary for the position so it could hire Van Hall, who’d agreed to $65,000. McKenna said the budget item will be covered by various cuts around the department.
“We’re all awestruck, basically, by his level of maturity, comprehension, knowledge,” McKenna said in an interview. “He sees the big picture in a way that’s really exciting for a new graduate.”
Van Hall graduated the University of Florida and got through Miami’s Law School in 2½ years. He also spent time clerking at both the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and NextEra Energy Inc., parent company of Florida Power & Light Co.
After passing the state bar this past February, he inquired about Legal Corps and asked for something in the West Palm Beach area. He discovered one of the possible placements was with the city of West Palm Beach itself. He started there May 15.
Van Hall said he could see himself staying around for a while. He said his colleagues are “at the top of their game. I tell them I learned more in the last three months than in three years of law school.”