Recently, Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf, Co-Deans at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, contacted me to highlight the uniqueness of their first-year students’ required participation in a pro bono legal experience. Students assist in the provision of free legal services by, for example, conducting client intake interviews for the law school’s Legal Aid Brief Advice Clinic.  Jessica and Michael’s communication made me wonder if Case Western is alone in implementing a mandatory first-year pro bono requirement and how many schools require any pro bono work as a graduation requirement.

I hope this data will be helpful to any law school considering the possibility of implementing a pro bono requirement.

The ABA’s Directory of Law School Public Interest and Pro Bono Programs lists only five law schools with a first-year pro bono requirement. In addition to the pro bono requirement by Case Western,  The University of District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law requires 60 hours, Appalachian School of Law requires 25 hours, and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock Bowen School of Law requires 5 hours of pro bono service for 1Ls. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law requires its 1Ls to enroll in a community service program as part of a zero-unit course.

Another 30 law schools require 20 to 60 hours of pro bono service some time during law school in order to earn a J.D., meaning that over 17 percent of ABA-approved schools mandate pro bono service. That figure does not include the many schools, some with highly structured programs dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, which encourage, but don’t mandate, pro bono hours.  Some of those law schools report extraordinary student participation rates—as high as 90%+.

A note about my methodology: I did my best to search law school websites if the ABA Directory listing was missing or unclear, but I will be happy to make a correction if I missed a law school. Finally, I did not count schools with clinic or externship requirements, a topic which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

If we were to add all our students’ pro bono service and all the public service work our students do in our clinics and in their externships, the law school community is devoting an extraordinary amount of time and resources to making the world a better place and teaching students the life lesson of the importance of giving back.

Not too long ago, an engineering dean I know expressed admiration for the pro bono work done by law students and lawyers and asked me to explain why we are so successful in getting our alumni and students to contribute free legal services. I guess it is all a matter of perspective. At the very least, my research for this post (and for my upcoming post on clinic or externship requirements) will give me comfort the next time someone tells me a lawyer joke.

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