Pro Bono Program Overview
As a second-year student, John Paul Berlon, Class of 2000, founded Horizon House Alliance, a group of law school students who volunteer their time to help Horizon House, a service center and day shelter for the homeless. Although the law school requires students who want notations on their transcripts to volunteer a total of 50 hours of pro bono service, John Paul clocked more than 450 hours. An award named after him recognizes law students who exhibit a similar dedication to public service.
The Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Pro Bono Program introduces law students to the professional obligation of attorneys and the benefits of providing public service, and recognizes the needs of the under-represented in society. The ultimate goal of the program is to encourage students to discharge the lawyer's professional responsibility to render public interest service once they have graduated from law school.
What kind of work is considered pro bono?
Work for which a student is compensated, either with pay or with academic credit, is not eligible for inclusion in the Pro Bono Program.
Activities that qualify as "pro bono service" for purposes of this program are as follows:
- Providing assistance to attorneys delivering legal services to persons of limited means or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means;
- The provision of legal assistance to individuals, groups, or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights; or
- The provision of legal assistance to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization's economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate.
The above definition of pro bono was adapted from guidelines suggested by the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge of the Pro Bono Institute.
As a Pro Bono Program participant, students volunteer on supervised projects for non-profit organizations, government agencies, and individual attorneys doing unpaid legal work. The work must benefit the under-served, under-represented, or organizations with limited resources. Participating in the program affords students exposure to diverse areas of practice such as administrative law, criminal law, family law, and children's issues. As a result, students gain practical experience while learning about the legal needs of the under-served.
How do I participate in the program?
The Pro Bono Program is open to all IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law students who have completed their first semester of classes. Placements with participating agencies provide students a chance to gain valuable practical experience working on real cases with real clients. A key aspect of the program is its flexibility. Some placements require only a few hours of work per week while others may require more hours dedicated to the project. Most placements are a semester long, while others will continue throughout the academic year. Preferably, program participation starts at the beginning of each semester. First year students are allowed to participate in two nights of Teen Court their first semester. Second semester first years are allowed to select an agency of their choice.
Students who wish to participate in the program need to do the following: Review the list of participating agencies, meet with LaWanda Ward (Room 115) to identify which agency with whom the student wishes to volunteer his or her time, and submit a resume to be forwarded to the participating agency. Students who wish to pursue an opportunity not on the list must have the placement approved prior to beginning work in order to ensure proper recognition.
What are the requirements for receiving recognition for pro bono work?
Students receive recognition for program participation in various ways. Students are eligible to receive a Pro Bono Program notation on their transcript if 50 hours of pro bono work are completed during the course of their law school career. Students must turn in an Hours Log (with supervisor's signature) at the completion of each Pro Bono Project (usually each semester) as well as an Evaluation Form. Once approval of the 50 hours has been given, the recorder's office will request the notation to be placed on the student's transcript. A certificate and a recognition reception will be given at the conclusion of each academic year to those graduates who contributed 50 or more hours to the program. The law school also will recognize program participants who achieved 50 or more hours of service during their law school careers by listing their names in the graduation program. Please note that only those students who turn in their Hours Log and receive approval will be mentioned in the graduation program.
Is there recognition for students who complete more than 50 hours of pro bono service?
Yes! There are three levels of recognition for the Pro Bono Program:
- Bronze Level Participants - 50-99 hours
- Silver Level Participants - 100-199 hours
- Gold Level Participants - 200+ hours
The Norman Lefstein Award of Excellence is given to graduating law students who have contributed 200+ hours of pro bono service throughout their law school career.
The John Paul Berlon Pro Bono Award is given to a graduating student who has contributed a significant amount of time to the Pro Bono Program and to other community activities throughout his/her law school career. The recipient of this award is someone who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to public service.
Can I start my own Pro Bono Project?
Yes! You may contact a particular attorney or organization to set up your own project. However, you must contact LaWanda Ward before starting this process to discuss the project and obtain approval.
What are my responsibilities during a Pro Bono Project?
Once you have signed up to participate in the program and have received notification from the participating agency, certain responsibilities are assumed. Please remember that your performance matters not just to your client and supervising attorney, but also to other law students who want a chance in the future to work for the same supervisor or agency!
Student responsibilities include:
- Stay in regular communication with your supervising attorney. It is important the agency know what hours you will be working and that you honor your commitment to those hours (unless unforeseen circumstances arise, in which case you should notify your supervisor). You must notify your supervisor and the Pro Bono Office immediately if you realize that you may not be able to complete the project as planned.
- Stay in regular communication with the Pro Bono Office. The Pro Bono Office will contact participants periodically, but please let the office know if you have any concerns or questions regarding your agency placement. You must notify the office immediately if you are not able to complete the project as planned. Remember, at the completion of each pro bono project you must turn in your Evaluation Form and Hours Log.
- Maintain confidentiality and act in a professional manner in all interactions with clients and staff members at your placement agency/organization.
- Keep track of hours and other important paperwork. You are required to keep daily time logs and obtain your supervisor's signature periodically. You must turn in to the Pro Bono Office your completed time logs and evaluation forms at the completion of your project and/or 50 hours of pro bono service.