Pro Bono Service Initiative
At Chicago, we believe that members of the legal community have a professional obligation to provide quality legal services to the underrepresented. The Pro Bono Service Initiative puts these beliefs into action by supporting Chicago’s law students to complete at least 50 hours of pro bono service before they graduate. Participants in the Pro Bono Service Initiative contribute to their legal education by gaining exposure to important legal issues, invaluable experiences, and a hands on opportunity to influence how law affects real people.
- Oral Advocacy and Client Counseling
- Research and Writing
- Courtroom Procedure and Etiquette
- Learning How to Provide Much-Needed Legal Services to the Community
- Creating Mentoring Relationships
- Networking with Devoted Attorneys in Public Interest and Private Firms
- Award of Excellence for the graduating student who has completed the most pro bono hours
- Dean’s Certificate of Recognition for all students completing at least 50 hours of pro bono service
- Transcript notation for all graduating students who complete at least 50 hours of pro bono service
- Pro Bono Honors transcript notation for all graduating students who complete at least 250 hours of pro bono service
Taking the Pledge
How to take the Pledge
The Pro Bono Pledge can be taken in Symplicity. The pledge can be found by clicking the pro bono button on the homepage.
What happens when you meet the Pledge goal
Students who fulfill their pledge and log their hours will receive a Dean's Certificate of Recognition, receive special recognition at graduation and receive a special notation on their transcript indicating that they completed the Pro Bono Service Initiative. The graduating student completing and recording the most hours will also receive a special Award of Excellence.
What happens if you don't meet the Pledge goal
Nothing. The Pledge is voluntary and there are no negative consequences for not meeting your goal.
Should first-year students participate?
If you are a 1L student, you should consult with the Pro Bono Director, 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. Students that are unable to perform pro bono service during their 1L year should not be discouraged. There are ample opportunities in your 2L and 3L years to complete your service.
Finding Pro Bono Work
What work qualifies toward the Pro Bono Pledge
Qualifying pro bono work must be:
- Legal or policy related, and
- Supervised by a licensed attorney or Law School faculty member
- Legal research and writing, interviewing, counseling, oral or written advocacy, or representation of individuals in court, administrative, or other hearings.
- Lecturing on legal topics or writing informational brochures or web information on legal topics for underserved communities, and service to the legal profession or legal institutions.
- Assisting 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.
- Legal research in connection with a professor's pro bono legal services.
- Training sessions count towards the pledge hours as long as the trainings are to prepare students for the law-related pro bono work.
- Moot court/mock trial judging or coaching, assisting with voter registration, and participating in mentorship programs involving students interested in pursuing a legal education/career count as pro bono work, but there is a 5 hour cap on the number of hours that may be used to fulfill the pro bono pledge.
- Hours worked in certain law school clinics that exceed your credit requirements for the Quarter count as pro bono, and so do hours that exceed your summer internship funding award. For example, if you participate in a qualifying clinic that requires 15 hours of service per week, but you work 20, those 5 additional hours are pro bono; also, if you receive guaranteed summer funding to work 8 full-time weeks, but you work ten weeks, remember to log those extra two weeks as pro bono!
Does not include:
- Non-legal public or community service such as volunteering for a homeless shelter, food drive, or park clean-up project.
- Work on political campaigns.
- Work done for academic credit hours, including work at the University of Chicago Law School Clinics.
- Work done for financial compensation, including work done in the public sector arena if you received wages or any financial aid award, and also work completed during a paid law firm summer associate position, even if the work is done on behalf of a pro bono client.
- Legal research related to scholarship, a law journal article or other publication.
- Pro bono work done before you started law school.
Students who find pro bono work independently or who have any questions about whether something qualifies are encouraged to check with the Assistant Director of Pro Bono, who will make the final decisions on qualifying work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pro Bono Opportunities
The most current pro bono opportunities can be found on the Job Search Guide under the Public Service tab. Below is a list of regularly occurring pro bono opportunities. Please contact the Assistant Director of Pro Bono for more information, including how to sign up.
Weekly Pro Bono Opportunities
- Cabrini Green Legal Aid—Expungement Help Desk: Volunteers provide brief advice and service to individuals seeking to clear their criminal records through expungement, sealing, or executive clemency.
- First Defense Legal Aid—24-hour Hotline: Volunteer provide crucial, free legal services to individuals in the custody of the Chicago Police Department.
Monthly Pro Bono Opportunities
- Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL)—Senior Legal Assistance Clinic: Volunteers perform intake interviews, document review, and direct legal services on a variety of legal issues, including simple estate planning, powers of attorney, uncontested divorces, and consumer fraud.
- Woodlawn Clinic: Volunteers provide brief legal advice, referrals and help clients fill out paperwork on a range of civil matters such as eviction, child support, custody and divorce.
Remote Pro Bono Opportunities
- Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO)—LiveHelp Chat Service: Volunteers provide direct person-to-person online help assisting website visitors navigating IllinoisLegalAid.org
- Beyond Legal Aid (formerly CALA)—Immigration HelpLine: Volunteers answer calls from immigrants in need of advice or other assistance regarding their immigration situation.
The Law School provides reimbursement for transportation to pro bono projects attended as a group (three or more students), but does not provide reimbursement for transportation to pro bono work or internships done on a regular basis by an individual student. Transportation reimbursement can cover rideshares, parking costs, gas costs, and/or public transit costs. For reimbursement, please reach out to Assistant Director of Pro Bono Hannah Fine for a W-9 form to complete. With your completed W-9 form, please also send her your receipt or proof of payment and a brief description of the pro bono work done, the name of the students who attended, and the relevant dates. Please also reach to Hannah with any questions as to whether a cost qualifies for reimbursement.
Pro Bono Resources
Pro Bono in Big Law and Assessing a Law Firm’s Commitment to Pro Bono
- NALP Directory “Pro Bono/Public Interest” tab
- American Lawyer magazine ranks law firm pro bono efforts each year
- Chambers Associate provides survey results of pro bono hours at individual firms
- The Firsthand/Vault Guide to Law Firm Pro Bono Programs provides information on pro bono efforts at the 100 largest law firms
- Pro Bono Institute’s pro bono challenge lists those firms who have agreed to commit a percentage of their firm’s total billable hours to pro bono work
- Learn more about doing pro bono work while in big law here
- The Path to Pro Bono brochure published by The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service provides guidance to law students on assessing a prospective employer’s commitment to pro bono
- Pro Bono Guide: An Introduction to Pro Bono Opportunities in the Law Firm Setting prepared by Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising Harvard Law School
- Assessing a Law Firm’s Commitment to Pro Bono prepared by Columbia Law School