Attorneys and law students across the country will be joining the National Pro Bono Celebration from October 25-31, 2020. The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service launched this important initiative because of the increasing need for vital pro bono services to help low-income individuals and non-profit groups.
As a law student, you can be involved in many activities and take a variety of classes. Here’s why volunteer legal work should be part of your law school experience:
1. Develop your skills
By volunteering, you can develop skills that you have not been able to build through your coursework. For example, if you feel comfortable with meeting people and arguing a case on your feet, but less confident about your legal research skills, volunteer for an organization such as the New Jersey Law Revision Commission, which needs help with numerous legislative research projects to help it fulfill its mission of improving and modernizing New Jersey’s statutes.
2. Apply your skills in real cases
Working hands-on with clients, legal services providers and government agencies brings your classroom experience to life. In Lawyering, you learn interviewing skills with a simulated client. When you volunteer, you can put those skills to the test of real world counseling.
3. Experiment with new areas of law
Perhaps your interest focuses on corporate transactional matters in the law firm context, but you’ve always loved TV legal dramas and wondered what it would be like to handle a criminal case. Volunteer with the public defender’s office and give it a try. One recent graduate completed 7 different placements during law school. Each semester, he would review the Pro Bono Service Program brochure and pick a new organization to build his skills and help others.
4. Commit only a reasonable amount of time
The Pro Bono Service Program will help you find a placement to fit your schedule. While you have to complete 50 hours of pro bono work in order to receive a certification on your law school transcript, and New York requires 50 hours of volunteer legal services for admission as an attorney, there are many opportunities to work for fewer than 50 hours. Also, you can combine multiple volunteer experiences to meet your 50 hour requirement. For example, you could work for 30 hours with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, on Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, during the spring and the following year you could do a 20-hour research assignment for Disability Rights New Jersey, the ACLU, or the Last Resort Exoneration Project. Some placements will let you work intensively for two weeks in January, during intersession, or in May, after exams and before the start of a summer job.
5. Build your Network
Meet alumni and other advocates who share your passion for helping others. At The Waterfront Project in Hoboken, Elizabeth Caraballo ’07 and Monsignor Bob Meyer ’00 teach pro bono volunteers about community lawyering and how to use the law as a tool to help those around you in need, such as homeless and vulnerable individuals and families in Hudson County.
6. Make a difference in someone’s life
In just a few hours of volunteer time, you can change someone’s life. You can work at a clinic with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice and educate someone on consumer debt so they can fight a claim against them. You can be trained by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice on election law and then help voters protect their right to vote. You can work with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and help a disabled senior claim all tax refunds to which she is entitled so she can pay her bills. Empower high school students through work with NJ LEEP or Street Law by teaching youth their legal rights. These are just a few of the legal volunteer opportunities at Seton Hall Law.