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Career Advisor

PRO BONO: Get Experience; Make a Difference

Published in the October 4, 2012, Advisor

By Jane Steckbeck, Associate Director for Public Service Initiatives

With a tight job market and significant, unmet need for legal services in the community, law students have a perfect opportunity to develop practical skills and gain experience while making a meaningful contribution—all during school. I encourage you to join Oregon Law’s spectacular pro bono tradition and make a difference in the community today.

What is Pro Bono?

Pro bono is law-related work performed for no financial compensation or academic credit on behalf of indigent individuals or nonprofit organizations that serve underrepresented individuals or advance important social causes; it also includes uncompensated work for governmental entities. You can review the definition of pro bono used by Oregon Law’s Pro Bono Program at http://www.law.uoregon.edu/probono/.

Oregon Law has a rich tradition of law student pro bono and was the first law school in the state to create a formal pro bono program. Law student pro bono reached an all-time high in 2006, when Oregon Law students reported over 11,275 pro bono hours to the Oregon State Bar as part of its Pro Bono Challenge.

Why should busy students do pro bono work?

Performing pro bono is advantageous to students for many reasons.

First, in a tight job market that values experience, students who do pro bono gain valuable skills, including client interviewing, counseling, legal research, writing, and analysis.

Second, pro bono involvement demonstrates to future employers a commitment to enhancing access to justice for the underprivileged, a key responsibility of members of the bar.

Third, doing pro bono as a law student simply feels good, and for students struggling to make sense of seemingly endless studying, it can make law school meaningful. Imagine the feeling of accomplishment from helping someone fend off an unlawful eviction or procure benefits wrongfully denied—benefits that will enable a hungry child to eat. Law students do this kind of work every day.

Finally, at Oregon Law, we value and recognize law student pro bono in a variety of ways. Students who perform 40 hours of pro bono during law school receive a certificate at graduation and acknowledgment in the graduation bulletin. In April of each year, the Pro Bono Board honors pro bono performers in a formal ceremony, conferring a special award on the 2L and 3L who perform the most pro bono. Finally, the Board confers a $1000 cash award, the Nicole Richardson Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award. http://www.law.uoregon.edu/probono/awards/

How do students find pro bono opportunities?

Many types of pro bono opportunities exist. The possibilities include intake shifts at Legal Aid; factual or legal research for a pro bono attorney; trial work at a prosecutor or defender’s office; Street Law classes for the community; and tax preparation for low-income individuals. Before pursuing a pro bono opportunity, a student should assess his or her schedule, interests, and ability to commit to completing the project.

A student can find pro bono opportunities in many ways, including the following.

1. The student-run Pro Bono Executive Board maintains a list of local employers that offer pro bono projects. http://www.law.uoregon.edu/probono/docs/probonomanual2011.pdf

2. The Pro Bono Board creates in-house pro bono opportunities for law students through its Street Law and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. http://www.law.uoregon.edu/probono/inhouse/

3. The Oregon State Bar, in collaboration with the three Oregon Law Schools, hosts the Oregon Pro Bono Student Network, http://www.orprobonostudent.net/, through which practitioners post pro bono projects with which they need assistance. Students can log in, accept a project, then get to work, with the attorney providing guidance. See Online Resources & Passwords under the Career Center tab on MyLaw.

4. The Office of Public Service Initiatives (send email or call 541-346-3987) can help students connect with an appropriate pro bono opportunity; the Center for Career Planning and Professional Development can also assist with this.

5. Students can approach law faculty conducting research of interest; some faculty accept pro bono cases and are grateful for student assistance. Faculty can also refer students to community organizations for pro bono projects.

6. Students can independently target public service organizations and ask how they can assist. This type of self-directed process can result in the most meaningful projects and lead to future opportunities with the organization and others like it.


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