Record Number of Graduating Students Complete Pro Bono Pledge

Nura Maznavi, director of the Law School’s Pro Bono Service Initiative, presents Alexa Perez, '17, with the Pro Bono Award of Excellence for logging the most hours—more than 910—during her three years at the Law School.
Photo by Claire Stamler-Goody

Eighty-one Law School students were honored earlier this month for completing the Law School’s annual Pro Bono Pledge, a record high since the founding of the public service program seven years ago. Those students logged a combined 10,568 pro bono hours during law school.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment, and our students' pro bono service makes our city and our country better,” Dean Thomas J. Miles, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics, said in his opening remarks. “Increasingly our students are known not only for their intellectual acumen as lawyers but also for their dedication to pro bono service and to the public good. It is wonderful that the Pro Bono Pledge has become a way for Law School students to embrace the value of service at the very beginning of their careers. Each year, we have set a new record for the number of students fulfilling the pledge.”

The Pro Bono Pledge, launched in 2010 by Susan Curry, the Law School’s Director of Public Interest Law and Policy, challenges students to complete 50 hours of law-related volunteer work by graduation. Between 2011 and 2017, 713 students took the pledge and 313 completed the pledge.

“People often wonder how our students find the time for pro bono work, and when we’ve asked them, they give the answers you’d expect: to help those in need, to gain practical experience, develop networking contacts, and to expand their career choices,” Curry said. “But they also find the time because it very simply makes them happy. They do it because it makes them feel that their training, their experience, and their judgment can do some good. They do it because it makes them feel like lawyers.”

Added Nura Maznavi, director of the Law School’s Pro Bono Service Initiative: “The students' commitment to public service and work on behalf of the legally underserved is incredibly motivating.”

This year, Alexa Perez, ’17, received the 2017 Pro Bono Award of Excellence for logging the most pro bono hours: more than 910 during her three years at the Law School, much of it focused on immigrants’ voting and educational rights. In addition to her pro bono work, Perez is a PILI Fellow at the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Law, where she has worked on voting issues that affect low-income and underrepresented communities, and a child advocate with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. She has also been a legal intern at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and at the US Attorney’s Office in Chicago.

Isabella Nascimento, ’18, was given the 2L Public Service Award, which recognizes a second-year student whose dedication to public service both before and during law school, and whose accomplishments and leadership during law school, reflect a strong commitment to public interest work. Nascimento, who is part of the Law School’s Federal Criminal Justice Clinic and has interned for the Legal Rights Center in Minnesota, is an aspiring public defender. She has already logged 350 pro bono hours, Curry said.

Andrew MacKie-Mason, ’17, who has logged more than 700 pro bono hours for organizations such as First Defense Legal Aid, the Woodlawn Clinic, LAF, and other organizations, was awarded the James C. Hormel Public Service Award. In addition to pro bono service, he has worked on both the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic and the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic, and been involved with Defenders, the Public Interest Law SocietySpring Break of Service, and other student organizations. MacKie-Mason has worked for the Alaska Public Defender Agency, the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, and the Public Defender Service in Washington, DC.

The Domestic and Sexual Violence Project (DSVP) was given the inaugural Student Organization Pro Bono Award. For the past several years, DSVP has worked with the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services to train law students to represent victims of domestic violence in Order of Protection Hearings. This year alone, volunteers with DSVP represented more than 10 clients, successfully obtaining Emergency Orders of Protection for each one. DSVP ended the academic year with a new project—recruiting law student volunteers to work with Rise (a sexual assault legislative advocacy nonprofit), the American Constitution Society, and Law School Republicans to draft legislation supporting survivors of sexual assault.