More Law School Students Take the Pro Bono Pledge
More and more University of Chicago Law School students are choosing to devote fifty hours of supervised volunteer legal work during their law school years by signing the Law School’s Pro Bono Pledge, now in its second year. Thirty students joined the Pledge during Coffee Mess on Wednesday, bringing the total number of participants to 170.
The Pledge is a key component of the Law School’s Pro Bono Program. By participating, students have the opportunity to gain legal experience while lending assistance to individuals, groups, or causes that are underrepresented in the legal system. Since its inception in October 2010, 140 students have logged more than 2,800 pro bono hours.
“The Pro Bono Pledge complements the Law School’s philosophy that attorneys have a professional obligation to incorporate pro bono services into their careers. We want our students to form this habit now, while they are still in law school,” said Susan J. Curry, the Law School’s Director of Public Interest Law & Policy. “The Pledge also encourages students to practice using their legal skills before they graduate and to explore different types of legal work.”
Though students may commit to the Pledge anytime, the program officially kicked off for the academic year on Wednesday, Oct. 26 during National Pro Bono Week. Chicago Law students also received encouragement to pursue pro bono work the previous week during a live webcast of United States Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Champions of Change” address on public service legal professions. Holder used the address to honor sixteen public service advocates, including alumna Lillian Johnson, ’75, Executive Director of Community Legal Services in Arizona, for her dedication to providing legal services to low-income people in need.
In the webcast, Holder urged law students to perform pro bono work and held a discussion with the honorees using questions submitted online by current law students, including a question from Chicago Law student Alejandro Herrera, ’13, about the type of pro bono opportunties that are appropriate for first-year students. Todd Belcore, an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law, responded that first-year students should look for opportunities to use their legal research and writing skills or find opportunities to complete basic work, such as intake interviews–anything that will provide an introduction to pro bono work and contribute to the organization’s services.
For the Pro Bono Pledge, students earn hours by participating in activities at qualifying organizations or government agencies that require lawyering skills, such as legal research and writing, interviewing, counseling, representing individuals in court, or oral or written advocacy. The Law School’s Office of Career Services can help match students to available opportunities. Students who complete the hours receive a special honor at the Law School’s hooding ceremony.
In its inaugural year, sixteen students graduated with Pro Bono Pledge honors despite having only one year to complete the hours. “We are proud of the 2011 Chicago Law graduates who completed the Pledge in such a short period of time,” Curry said. “It demonstrated a great deal of devotion to public service work and set a positive example for the other classes.”
Students have logged hours by volunteering at a wide variety of public service organizations. Those organizations include the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cook County Public Defender, Equip for Equality, Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Institute for Justice, National Immigrant Justice Center, Associacion de Vendadores Ambulantes (Street Vendors’ Association in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood), National Resources Defense Council, and