What methods have you found most effective in engaging law students in pro bono?
Speaking from a recent law graduate perspective, I gained the most useful legal experience from representing clients from the intake phase to the research, advice or representation phases with a structured sense of supervision — meaning I was able to think and analyze independently but then spoke with an attorney to put my proposals through a vetting process.
This way, I was able to gain confidence while still learning the ropes. Unfortunately though, this method is more involved and does take longer to complete than if an experienced attorney was handling cases. On the other hand though, clients may receive more thorough advice because law students feel they have to prove themselves.
Also, in my opinion, clinic experiences and mandatory pro bono requirements can be effective in engaging students in pro bono. I know many students who, by happenstance, volunteered for legal services organizations and found the experience to be completely gratifying. With pro bono requirements, an appetite for pro bono work may be awakened in students that can lead to a consistent pro bono record as attorneys.
-Kristen P., PSLawNet Fellow
The opportunity to work directly with practicing attorneys is an important incentive for students to engage in pro bono work. They receive the mentoring that helps them to develop their legal skills, and they are able to meet and make connections with attorneys whom they might not otherwise have a chance to get to know. Having students participate in legal services clinics staffed by attorneys is one good way to do this. Students can do initial intake for clients, and then participate in the interview with the attorney and assist the attorney with follow up. For those with a third year practice card, they can go on to represent the client with the attorney’s supervision.
Over the past 20 years it has been my experience that the best way to engage law students is simple- ask them! If you have a clear description of what is expected of them, the opportunity is well supervised and meaningful and the culture of your law school is supportive of student involvement-students will respond positively
Our Pro Bono Program has very positive feedback from law students (at all levels in their law school years) on participating in our legal advice clinics. The best thing about this–from the Program’s perspective–is that it takes very little staff time (which is usually at a premium in most Pro Bono Programs!) to give the students this experience of working with a lawyer and with clients. We just invite the students to participate along with the lawyers who will be volunteering during the clinic time. Besides attending the consultation meetings between client & attorney, the students also assist in setting up the clinic, screening the clients applications for eligibility and assisting clients (who are unable to complete their application forms well) to explain their legal problem in writing. Maybe this sounds like grunt work to some, but the students love it, the attorneys like working with the local students AND our Program has seen this actually instill in these students a continued interest in being part of the equal justice community for the extent of their careers.
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