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Definitions of Terms Used

Pro Bono Definitions


Category or Type of Program

There are three models for structuring a law school pro bono program, with two models having sub-types. The models are:

Graduation Requirement Programs: The Graduation Requirement Program model requires students to engage in public service as a condition of graduation. There are three types of these mandatory programs.

Pro Bono Graduation Requirement Program: These programs require students to perform a set number of hours of law-related public service. The number of hours required by these programs ranges from 20 to 70. The students' service is pro bono as they receive neither academic credit nor pay for their service. A few of these programs allow non-legal service to count towards part of the requirement.

Public Service Graduation Requirement Program: The way in which this type of graduation requirement can be met varies from school to school. Most programs require students to perform law-related public service but are flexible in the form of the service, allowing service in pro bono placements, externships, clinics, and/or internships to count towards the requirement. Some of these programs allow the requirement to be met only through participation in a for-credit clinic. A few of the programs do not require actual service but allow the requirement to be met by exposure to poverty law through a class or independent study.

Community Service Graduation Requirement Program: This type of program is identical to the Pro Bono Graduation Requirement Program except that it allows both law and non-law related service to satisfy completely the graduation requirement. The student receives neither pay nor academic credit for their service.

Formal Voluntary Pro Bono Programs: There are two types of these programs.

Formal Voluntary Pro Bono Program Characterized by a Referral System with a Coordinator: The referral system is designed to match students with law-related pro bono opportunities in the community. These programs have a designated pro bono coordinator/advisor, or group of coordinators/advisors, who has the responsibility of developing, promoting and/or coordinating pro bono placements. In some schools, these coordinators/advisors also provide administrative support to student group projects. Students participate voluntarily.

Formal Voluntary Pro Bono Program Characterized by Administrative Support for Student Group Projects: These schools promote pro bono service primarily through the provision of administrative support for student groups engaged in law-related pro bono work. The student groups often work in partnership with outside organizations. The type of support provided by the school ranges from full-time staffing of a center where the pro bono projects may locate to administrative assistance in tracking hours volunteered. Students participate voluntarily.

Independent Student Pro Bono Group Projects with no school-wide pro bono program The third model for structuring a pro bono program is to rely on students to form and run group projects. There is no formal program for school-wide pro bono coordination and support, but individual pro bono projects-usually student organized and run - do exist. The student groups target a particular legal need or a particular segment of the population. Most groups work with a faculty supervisor and/or in collaboration with an outside organization. Some of the groups are long-standing and raise their own funding.

Description of Program

Pro bono programs in the law school setting are designed to inspire and to enable students to engage in pro bono service, uncompensated by credit or pay, while in law school. The primary purpose of these programs is to teach all students why pro bono service is an important professional value and to introduce them to the ways in which they can contribute in their practice as attorneys.

The ABA signaled the importance of institutionalizing pro bono within the law school setting by amending its law school accreditation standards to require all ABA approved law schools to offer "substantial opportunities for student participation in pro bono activities".

Location of Program

For schools with formal pro bono programs, the location of the program may be one of the most defining characteristics of the program. The location may be determined by the vision for the program, by the location of the pro bono coordinator, or by other practicalities such as space and resources.

There are six locations within a law school where one might "find" a pro bono program. Four of these locations are outside the administrative offices of the law school and, collectively, represent the majority of pro bono programs. These programs may exist:

  1. As a "Stand-Alone" Program (not in any office/center). These programs are not part of any other office and maintain a separate identity. Some are mandatory programs; some are not. Some have full-time staffing; others have minimal staffing.
  2. Within a Public Interest Office/ Center. The director of the center may or may not also serve as the pro bono coordinator.
  3. With the Clinical or Externship Program. This arrangement most often exists because of the unique interest of the faculty in these programs. This arrangement is less popular, in part, because of the already high time demands on clinical faculty.
  4. With Faculty. Faculty members play a significant role in the operation of these programs. Each program is very different.

Law school pro bono programs located outside of the school's administrative offices often have a curricular feel about them. Sometimes this is true because a faculty person is in charge of the program; other times this is true because the program is part of a larger effort to provide an array of public interest programming or to incorporate public service pervasively throughout the curriculum. Often these pro bono programs have an identity separate from any other program in the school, even if within a larger public interest or service center.

The administrative offices where one might find a pro bono program are the Office of Career Services ("OCS") and the Office of Students Services/Affairs. OCS is the single most popular location for a pro bono program.

  1. Within the Office of Career Services. Some schools have chosen this location in order to emphasize the importance of pro bono as a professional value to be carried into one's career. For others, it is a matter of practicality. Some of these schools have a separate pro bono/public interest counselor in the Office of Career Services. In a few cases, this function is delegated to students, who may or may not be paid.
  2. Within the Office of Student Affairs/Services.

Regardless of the location of a law school pro bono program, the structure, staffing and operation of these programs differ greatly. No location by itself defines how a program looks or operates. Mandatory programs, for example, exist in each of the six identified locations. No location guarantees success; successful pro bono projects exist in each of the locations.

Staffing, Management and Oversight of Program

There are, at least, five distinctive aspects of the staffing of law school pro bono projects:

  1. the number of persons running the program,
  2. whether the coordinator(s) is paid or volunteers his or her time,
  3. whether that person is a student or a non-student,
  4. if paid, how much of that person's time is designated for running the program, and
  5. if the person is a paid non-student, what status that person has within the law school structure.

Most pro bono programs are run by administrators, many of whom wear other hats. A few of the pro bono coordinators/ directors have the status of faculty, mostly non-tenure track.

Some schools involve students in the running of the pro bono program. These students may be paid to work as a pro bono coordinator, under the supervision of an administrator or faculty member, or to assist the pro bono coordinator. Some programs involve students as members of a board or committee that coordinates and develops pro bono placements or as members of an advisory board or committee.


Almost all pro bono programs are funded through the law school's operating budget. In these cases, some programs have their own budgets; others have budgets as part of the office in which they are located; and others have no specific budget. A few pro bono programs rely on outside funding for some or all of their operating expenses.

Most schools provide funding to faculty members, usually through faculty accounts and administrative assistance, to support pro bono service.

Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono

Believing that "active faculty participation in pro bono work is highly important for the sake of their students," the AALS Commission recommended that "all law schools adopt a formal policy to encourage and support faculty members to perform pro bono work." Specifically, the Commission recommended that law schools adopt a policy with six components: an annual expectation, universality, beyond teaching and institutional service, institutional support similar to research support, autonomy, and annual reporting. Only a few schools have adopted such policies.

While the Commission's recommendation focuses on faculty, this category also includes policies that address both faculty and attorney staff.

Also captured in this category are the ways in which faculty are involved with pro bono student group projects and/or in stimulating new opportunities by involving students in faculty-related pro bono projects such as research assistance, independent study, and course offerings supporting pro bono work.

Awards and Recognition

Institutions award and recognize that which they consider important - in order to give due praise but also to show others what can be accomplished and, in some cases, what is expected. Accordingly, recognition of pro bono service performed by students and faculty makes a public statement about a law school's commitment to teaching the value of public service.

Many law schools give one or more awards -- sometimes a financial award -- for student pro bono service. These awards may be given at the time of graduation or annually at an awards ceremony or dinner. Some schools have special awards for outstanding faculty pro bono service.

At schools with voluntary pro bono programs, the coordinators may obtain student commitment through pro bono challenges, pledges, and honor programs. At a minimum, these methods help set expectations for the students, expectations that are often exceeded. In some cases, the recognition programs themselves help to define the pro bono program.


Public Interest Definitions

Certificate and Curriculum Programs

Public Interest Certificates/Curriculum refers to a specific curriculum track for students who wish to concentrate in public interest law. Schools with public interest scholarship programs often design a public interest track for scholarship recipients. Some law schools grant a certificate in public interest law, upon completion of specific courses and/or a designated number of hours.

Public Interest Centers

Public Interest Centers are formal centers that either oversee a law school's public interest programs or focus on a particular public interest issue, such as poverty law or environmental law. These centers vary greatly in staffing and stature. They may be funded fully by the school or dependent upon outside funding.

Public Interest Career Assistance

Career Services (or Professional Development) Offices collect and disseminate information regarding employment opportunities and assist with the development of strategies to secure employment meeting a student's and/or graduate's career needs and goals. All law schools offer some level of career services or development to students and graduates, which typically include resource materials, general placement counseling and on-campus interviewing opportunities. Others offer more, including participation or sponsorship of specialized job fairs, mentor programs, individualized public interest career counseling and public interest panels or networking events.

Some career services offices have a specialized public interest counselor or a public interest program. At other schools, general career services staff assist public interest-minded students.

PSJD, a NALP initiative, is a global network of more than 120 law schools and over 11,000 public service organizations working to foster a community service ethic for law students and lawyers and to encourage all lawyers to incorporate public service into their careers. PSJD offers comprehensive current information on a broad range of pro bono and public service opportunities for law students, as well as public interest job listings for law graduates. 

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)

Loan repayment assistance programs ("LRAPs") provide financial aid to law school graduates working in the public interest sector, government, or other lower-paying legal fields. In most cases, this aid is given to graduates in the form of a forgivable loan to help them repay their annual educational debt. Upon completion of the required service obligation, the LRAP administrator will forgive or cancel these loans to program participants. Most LRAPs contain limits on the amount of income a recipient can earn while participating in such a program. There are various types of LRAPs, administered by law schools, state bar foundations and federal and state governments, providing debt relief to some law graduates.


Post-graduate fellowships provide financial assistance to law students who accept a public interest position upon graduation. Post-graduate fellowships generally pay a salary or stipend to a graduate in a lower-paying public interest job. Some law schools offer public interest fellowships to their graduates. For information about outside fellowships, such as those sponsored by Equal Justice Works ( 

Term-time fellowships and stipends are awarded during the school year and are designed to encourage pursuit of public interest law by students who have demonstrated a commitment to public interest. Students may receive a full or partial tuition scholarship and enjoy special programming and counseling as well as academic opportunities not available to the student body. While academic grade point average, LSAT scores and financial need may be considered for eligibility, schools also place a heavy emphasis on a demonstrated commitment to and experience in public service. Stipends and fellowships range from nominal sums to full tuition waivers.

One of the more common financial resources available to law students, summer fellowships and stipends provide financial assistance to students who would otherwise not be able to accept low-paying or non-paying public interest summer employment. At many law schools, law students spearhead efforts to raise funds, with law schools matching or contributing to the amount raised. Other summer fellowship funding is provided by grants from foundations and gifts from alumni.