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November 30, 2010

Law students promise public service with pro bono pledge

Along with 95 of her peers, first-year law student Mishan Araujo promised to donate at least 50 hours of legal volunteer work through a new, Law School–run program at the end of October. “I would have probably tried to do it on my own, but it would have been more difficult,” she said.

Araujo is taking part in the Law School’s new pro bono pledge, which is itself part of the larger Public Interest Program. The pledge, which took place during National Pro Bono Week, is part of an effort to encourage students to serve the public and to help them get experience in real-world situations. “This is another way of telling law students that even though they’re not quite yet lawyers, they have a professional obligation to give back to the community in their new profession, in a law-related way,” said Susan Curry, director of public interest law and policy. “They can help meet great client need, and we know that students will be receptive to this.”

The program, which helps students find pro bono projects in order to satisfy the pledge, is open to all Law School students. The pledge is the main component of the program, asking students to commit to 50 hours of supervised volunteer legal work. In order for the hours to qualify, students may not receive academic credit or financial compensation—and it must be supervised by attorneys or faculty members.

Araujo took the pledge because the program makes finding organizations easier. “It’s a more streamlined way of getting access to the different areas of law that need pro bono help,” she said.

In order to help students find qualifying work, the Office of Career Services (OCS) will offer help with pro bono opportunities, a new focus for the office, according to Curry. “This is a formal way for the Office of Career Services to recognize that pro bono service is also critical to the development of a career,” said Curry.

Over the course of three years, 50 hours may not seem like a lot, but they are still important, according to Associate Dean of Career Services and Policy Initiatives Abbie Willard.

Araujo said she jumped on the program right away because it allowed her to continue her other extracurricular obligations. “We always want to do more, but students do also work in clinics, and work on journals, and do other things outside of school. It’s important to give students an option where they can fulfill the requirement and not have to give up their other extracurriculars,” she said.

According to Dean of the Law School Michael Schill, the Law School’s pro bono program is part of a larger public service program. “We are launching a public service program at the Law School. This is a piece of a broader program that will involve a variety of elements to enhance our training of students to go work in jobs in government, the non-profit sector, as well as advocacy organizations,” he said.

Curry said the launch of the program is a part of the Law School’s new focus on public interest law and voluntary service. “This institution values community service and values a high level of legal education. We believe that making it a voluntary program is consistent with the practice,” she said.

In addition to learning the importance of pro bono work as a résumé booster, Curry said the program will allow students to try out different types of law to see what focus they want to pursue. “You’ll have something to put on your résumé, something about which you can speak in interviews. And more importantly, it might just give you an idea of what you want to do with your legal career,” she said.

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