The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
June 10, 2011

Law Students Pushing for Pro Bono

It’s graduation season, and The PBEye is pleased to see the Class of 2011 breaking its alma maters’ records for average pro bono hours per graduate.  Law students graduating from University of Virginia School of Law, University of Utah College of Law, and University of Charleston School of Law (to name a few) surpassed their schools’ pro bono numbers.  Harvard especially stood out, with an average of 628 hours per graduate.

The increased interest in pro bono not only helps the public image of these schools but is also a win-win for law students as well as people in need of free legal help.  Studies have shown that students who are introduced to pro bono in law school report a far greater likelihood of career-long pro bono participation.   Pro bono work teaches students what it means to be a lawyer while also honing their legal skills in a fulfilling way.

There is proof that this is not just an American phenomenon.  A survey conducted at the 2010 Australian Law Students Association National Conference shows that law students want “more information on social justice careers, promotion of volunteering opportunities and materials or resources on pro bono.”

Many law students have shown us that it doesn’t matter where you live just as long as you have the desire to help people.  Becca Heller never claimed to know Arabic or be an expert on the Middle East, but that didn’t stop her from starting the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project.  From her work with the refugees, she learned that – more than anything – refugees need legal help to be resettled in countries with more opportunities.  IRAP is now at 12 law schools in the U.S. and works closely with 19 law firms who donate their time.

The PBEye thinks that keeping law student interest in pro bono is important and can be done by continuing to provide opportunities for involvement and recognizing exemplary pro bono students.  For example, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law student Felix Cao volunteered with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program and mentored student entrepreneurs and small businesses.  His crowning achievement was his work with the Vietnamese-American Volunteer Law Corps conducting legal education clinics in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, which were targeted at Vietnamese community members affected by the BP oil spill.  Cao was even recognized by the Louisiana Bar Association for his work.

Some organizations have started summer pro bono programs to expose law students to the ins and outs of the pro bono environment.  The Washington Council of Lawyers is holding its Summer Pro Bono Forum on June 14 and will teach participants how pro bono work can be incorporated into any kind of legal practice.

In whatever way law students choose to get involved with pro bono, it is encouraging to see a growing interest and number of people participating.  The PBEye certainly hopes there’s more where this comes from!

What kind of summer programs did you participate in during law school?  Do you have summer associates focused on pro bono work?

Hat tip to PBI Intern Lauren Rabb for her contribution to this article.