Pro Bono Service Initiative

students in New Orlean on spring break of service

Our Mission

At Chicago, we believe that members of the legal community have a professional obligation to provide quality legal services to the under-represented.  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. 

Build Skills

  • 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

Recognition

  • 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 transcription notation for all graduating students who complete at least 250 hours of pro bono service

How to take the Pledge

The Pro Bono Pledge can be taken in Symplicity. The pledge can be found by clicking the pro bono tab under “My Account.”

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 Service Initiative 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.

What work qualifies toward the Pro Bono Pledge

Qualifying pro bono work must be:

  • Legal related, and
  • Supervised by a licensed attorney or Law School faculty member

Includes:

  • 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 under-served 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.   
  • Training sessions do count towards the pledge hours as long as the trainings are to prepare students for the law-related pro bono work.
  • Moot court judging counts 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. 

Does not include:

  • Non-legal public 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) or financial compensation (such as work completed during a paid summer associate position, even if the work is done on behalf of a pro bono client of the firm).
  • Scholarly research, such as academic research for a professor or work for a law journal or publication.  
  • Community service that is not law-related.
  • 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 Pro Bono Service Initiative Director, who will make the final decisions on qualifying work.

Supervision

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.

Minimum hours

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 in Symplicity and on the Pro Bono Board’s Facebook page. Below is a list of regularly occurring pro bono opportunities. Please contact the Pro Bono Director 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.
  • Domestic Violence Legal Clinic—Order of Protection Division: Volunteers conduct interviews, complete pleadings, and draft affidavits for clients seeking Orders of Protection.
  • 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.
  • Wills for Heroes: Volunteers prepare basic wills and powers of attorney for first responders and veterans and their spouses or partners.
  • 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
  • Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA)—Immigration HelpLine: Volunteers answer calls from immigrants in need of advice or other assistance regarding their immigration situation.

Step 1: Find the Pro Bono Module

Log into Symplicity using your UChicago e-mail address and Symplicity password. Use the “Pro Bono Reporting” shortcut tab on your home page.

Step 2: Take the Pro Bono Pledge

If you haven’t already taken the Pro Bono Pledge, you will be prompted to do so before you log any hours. Complete some preliminary information then read and agree to the Pro Bono Pledge by checking the "I Agree" box at the bottom.

Once you have accepted the agreement, click "Save Changes."

Step 3: Report Pro Bono Hours

To enter pro bono hours, click the “Pro Bono Reporting” tab and click "Add New."

Enter the employer name in order to search for your employer and click “Go.” From the dropdown list, select your employer. If your employer is not listed, please add them under the "New Employer" field.

Complete the required fields (including dates, hours, and supervisor’s name). Note: You are encouraged to add your hours per week, month, or quarter rather than day-by-day.

Please indicate whether you found this pro bono opportunity on your own or through the pro bono office. When complete, click “Submit.”

If you have questions regarding the Pro Bono Pledge, Program or using Symplicity, please contact Nura Maznavi nmaznavi@uchicago.edu.