Pro Bono Service Initiative
At Chicago, we are dedicated to the principle that members of the legal profession and those aspiring to enter the legal profession have a professional obligation to assist in providing quality legal services to individuals, groups, or causes that are under-represented in the legal system.
In furtherance of this principle, the Pro Bono Service Initiative encourages law students to complete at least 50 hours of law-related volunteer work before they graduate. The Pro Bono Service Initiative is entirely voluntary, but participants will gain exposure to a range of important legal issues and invaluable experience that will contribute to their legal education.
Each Chicago student is encouraged to complete and report at least 50 hours of pro
bono service during his or her time at the law school. How to pledge: Click on the Pro Bono Pledge and provide some basic demographic and contact information.
To count toward the Pro Bono Pledge, work must be legally related, must not be done for academic credit hours or financial compensation, and must be supervised by a licensed attorney or a Law School faculty member. Legal work is broadly defined to include activities that require lawyering skills, such as legal research and writing, interviewing, counseling, oral or written advocacy, or representation of individuals in court, administrative, or other hearings. Legal work also includes legal education activities such as preparing for and delivering lectures on legal topics or writing informational brochures or web information on legal topics for under-served communities, and service to the legal profession or legal institutions. Also, legal work includes helping underserved or disadvantaged individuals find or obtain needed legal information, or general information about what the law says or how the court works, or legal forms. Work that does not qualify includes non-legal public service such as volunteering for a homeless shelter, food drive, or engaging in a park clean-up project.
You can find public service opportunities at nonprofit organizations, government agencies, legal services offices, law school clinics, and even firms with pro bono projects. The following are perfectly acceptable options for finding pro bono opportunities:
- Students are welcome and encouraged to find or develop their own public service opportunities by networking with student organizations or faculty. A number of Law School student groups and associations regularly organize and coordinate pro bono opportunities. The OCS Chalk page provides a variety of pro bono directories that can be useful, and the Director of Public Interest Law & Policy, Susan J. Curry, or Pro Bono Service Initiative Manager, Shehnaz I. Mansuri, firstname.lastname@example.org, can also provide assistance.
- Pro Bono opportunities for law students are posted on the law student page of IllinoisProBono.org. This page features a law student pro bono opportunity database sorted by Opportunity Type (e.g. client intake, litigation, research, public education, translation), Practice Area (e.g. consumer law, family law, public benefits, housing), Client Population (e.g. women, children, seniors, LGBT), Your Schedule/Availability (e.g. business hours, evenings, weekends), or Skills (e.g. legal research/writing, public speaking, negotiation).
- Employers post pro bono opportunities directly on the OCS Symplicity system, or forward pro bono postings directly to OCS for Symplicity posting.
- Students should monitor the Law School's Public Service (PILS) ListServ. Information about pro bono opportunities is immediately posted on the Public Service ListServ.
- Students can consult the Chicago Bar Foundation's Pro Bono Opportunities Guide for a list of local opportunities.
Students who find pro bono work independently or who have any doubts about whether something qualifies are encouraged to check with Shehnaz I. Mansuri, email@example.com, the Pro Bono Service Initiative Manager, who will make the final decisions on qualifying work.
Reporting/Logging Pro Bono Hours
Click on the Student Pro Bono Time Log to log your hours. For 3L/graduates, be sure to log your hours by April 30 to ensure that you will be eligible for recognition.
At the end of each pro bono project, students must submit a Student Evaluation.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: What kind of work counts toward the pledge?
A: To count toward the Pledge, work must be law-related, must not be done for academic credit or other compensation, and must be supervised by an attorney or a Law School faculty member.
- Q: Do I have to be supervised by an attorney?
A: Yes. Because law students are not licensed to practice law, they must work under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Law school faculty members may also supervise student pro bono work.
- Q: Should first-year students participate in pro bono work?
A: If you are a 1L student, you should carefully consider whether you are able take on the additional burden of a volunteer project. We especially recommend against any extra activities during the first quarter of law school. If you do choose to engage in pro bono work during your first year, consult Shehnaz Mansuri, Pro Bono Service Initiative Manager, who can help guide you to a placement that requires a minimal time commitment or tasks that do not require advanced legal research and writing skills.
- Q: May students take on legal research or matters on their own, or respond to requests from the general public?
A: No. Students may not engage in legal work on their own; this would be an unauthorized practice of law. Students cannot accept cases from the public and cannot give legal advice and assistance without the supervision of a licensed attorney.
- Q: Are students limited to projects that only require 50 hours of work?
No. 50 hours is the minimum number of hours necessary for students to serve in order to fulfill the pledge. Students are welcome and encouraged to complete more than 50 hours.
- Q: Must individual projects require a minimum number of hours' worth of work?
No. There is no minimum number of hours of work that a single project must require. Employers often need pro bono assistance for just a few hours on a single project. To achieve the 50-hour pledge, students may handle a number of these smaller, discrete projects or may choose to take on only one larger pro bono project.
- Q: What types of work qualify?
A: Qualified activities include those that require lawyering skills (such as legal research and writing, interviewing, counseling, oral or written advocacy, or representation of individuals in court, administrative, or other hearings), public education activities (such as preparing for and delivering lectures on legal topics or writing informational brochures or web information on legal topics for under-served communities), and service to the legal profession or legal institutions. Interpreting or translating on otherwise qualifying matters is also considered qualifying work.
- Q: Is there work that does not qualify?
A: Work that does not qualify includes non-legal public service such as community service. While critically important, this does not involve service to the legal profession. Examples include: volunteering for a homeless shelter or food drive, or engaging in a park clean-up project. Also excluded is assisting in political campaigns.
- Q: If training is required for the student to volunteer, will this training count?
A: Yes. Training sessions do count towards the pledge hours as long as the trainings are to prepare students for the law-related pro bono work.
- Q: Will the hours I work at one of University of Chicago Law School Clinics count?
A: No, not if you are receiving credit for the clinical work and opportunity.
- Q: What happens if I meet the Pledge goal?
A: Students who fulfill their pledge, log their hours, and submit an evaluation will receive a Dean's Certificate of Recognition and receive special recognition at graduation. The graduating student completing and recording the most hours will also receive a special Award of Excellence.
- Q: What happens if I do not meet my Pledge?
A: Nothing. The Pledge is voluntary and there are no negative consequences for not meeting your goal.
- Q: Who can I contact with more questions?
A: You can contact Shehnaz Mansuri, Pro Bono Service Initiative Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (773) 834-5994 with any questions.
If you are a nonprofit organization or a government agency seeking more information about posting pro bono opportunities, please contact Shehnaz I. Mansuri, Pro Bono Service Initiative Manager, email@example.com, or (773) 834-5994.
Submit a Pro Bono Project
Pro Bono opportunities are made available to our students and graduates via our Simplicity.com website.
If you are an individual seeking legal assistance, please note that University of Chicago law students cannot provide direct legal advice or services to members of the general public. For assistance in locating an attorney, please visit the attorney referral programs available online at the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, or the American Bar Association. If you believe you are entitled to free legal assistance, contact Chicago's Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS) .