What types of pro bono work can law students do?
Law students can help provide much-needed assistance to legal aid and public interest law organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means. Law students can choose from a range of pro bono opportunities that complement their interests and skills, including:
- Interviewing clients at a local legal aid agency, hotline or clinic;
- Researching legal issues;
- Drafting legal motions, memoranda or briefs;
- Assisting in trial or administrative preparations;
- For students with a Rule 711 license, appearing in court or representing clients at administrative hearings under the supervision of a licensed attorney;
- Assisting with pro bono transactional legal assistance, which can include work in the areas of corporate, tax, intellectual property and real estate work, to low-income small business entrepreneurs or community-based nonprofit organizations involved with community economic development issues;
- Helping clients navigate the legal process at court-based self-help centers or advice desks, or at neighborhood clinics; and
- Making presentations and/or developing community legal education materials on legal issues of interest to persons of limited means.
How do law students benefit from performing pro bono work?
In addition to helping to provide much needed legal assistance to persons of limited means, performing pro bono work exposes law students to many personal and professional benefits that ultimately will help them become better lawyers, including:
- An opportunity to meet and assist a “real” client, often the only opportunity to do so while in law school;
- Development or enhancement of many legal practice skills, including interviewing, research, writing, trial preparation, case management and interpersonal skills;
- An opportunity to gain exposure to various areas of substantive law, which may help with the selection of a future practice specialty;
- Gaining professional experience, enhancing resumes and building relationships with practicing attorneys who may be important contacts for future employment;
- Emotional fulfillment which will help increase law students’ connection to the community, while making it a better place to live;
- The opportunity to learn firsthand about the unmet needs of the poor and working poor; and
- Learning to balance responsibilities and integrate pro bono work into their practice at the beginning of a law career.
Why are pro bono legal services so important?
Legal aid is a critical social service that helps prevent minor legal issues from spiraling into crises. According to a major study, The Legal Aid Safety Net: A Report on the Legal Needs of Low-Income Illinoisans, low-income Illinois residents succeed in obtaining help for only one out of every six problems they face which require the services of a lawyer. According to this study, poor people faced more than 1.3 million civil legal problems, involving issues such as domestic violence, divorce, child custody, evictions, mortgage foreclosures or the physical and financial abuse of the elderly. Unfortunately, Illinois’ legal aid system remains severely under-funded today, leaving hundreds of thousands of lower-income residents unable to obtain civil legal assistance that is critical to their safety and independence. The equivalent of only about 325 full-time legal aid lawyers practice in Illinois; this is a ratio of one legal aid lawyer for every 4,752 problems faced by the poor. The rapidly growing gap between the legal needs of those who cannot afford legal services and the resources available to meet the needs must be bridged, and law students can and should play an integral role.
What resources are available to assist law students in their pro bono efforts?
Illinois Legal Aid Online has developed web-based resources for pro bono volunteers throughout Illinois. Through our website, interested volunteers can find a listing of pro bono opportunities available at legal aid organizations throughout the state. Users can search based on a variety of factors, including location, type of opportunity, area of law, skills they would like to acquire, specific client type, and their time availability.
The website contains thousands of legal resources in 24 areas of law. The largest volume of practice support information is concentrated in the areas of greatest need for lower-income clients, including housing, family law, and consumer law. Website users can sort the legal resources library by practice area or by type of resource, so finding forms or video training presentations is easy.
Illinois Legal Aid Online works with every pro bono program in the state to provide volunteers with the highest quality and most up to date information and training resources. The website supports both pro bono attorneys and pro bono programs seeking volunteers.
What pro bono and public interest programs are available in Illinois law schools?
The ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the Center for Pro Bono has published a directory of Law School Public Interest and Pro Bono Programs which provides current information on law school public interest and pro bono programs and curricula. Visit the ABA for a Directory Law School Public Interest and Pro Bono Programs in Illinois.
What are some examples of pro bono programs available for law students?
In addition to law school pro bono programs and our website's comprehensive listing of law student pro bono opportunities, below are examples of pro bono programs available specifically for law students:
- Illinois Justice Corps: This is an innovative new program to enhance access to justice for the growing number of unrepresented people in the courts by empowering and training student volunteers to help people without lawyers navigate the court system. For more information or to sign up for a training, please visit Illinois Justice Corps.
Additional sites to learn more about law student pro bono
- The American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono
- The Path to Pro Bono: An Interviewing Tool for Law Students
- Association of American Law Schools
- Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI)
- Equal Justice Works
- PSLaw Net
Updated: October 2016