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Vanderbilt University Law School

Vanderbilt University Law School
131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203

Law School Pro Bono Programs

Contact Information

Spring Miller
Assistant Dean for Public Interest
(615) 875-9860

Erin Parr-Carranza
Public Interest Program Coordinator
(615) 322-1435

[email protected]


Category Type

Formal Voluntary Pro Bono Program Characterized by a Referral System with a Coordinator


Description of Programs

Vanderbilt Law School provides students a diverse array of opportunities for engagement in pro bono service. Students may engage in community legal education through one of the student Legal Aid Society’s pro bono projects, or they may participate in legal clinics hosted by the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. For information about current pro bono opportunities for students, contact the Public Interest Program Coordinator.

In addition, the Vanderbilt Law School Pro Bono Pledge is a voluntary program through which students make a commitment to dedicate a portion of their time to pro bono legal work and community service during their law school careers. The purpose of the Pledge is to recognize all students who engage in pro bono, public interest and community service activities while enrolled at Vanderbilt Law School and to encourage greater student participation in such work. Students may elect to sign the pledge at any point during their law school career but must complete 75 hours of community service work throughout their three years school. Two-thirds of this time must be served in law-related activities and ten hours of the Pledge must be performed in the Nashville metropolitan area. Various student groups offer opportunities that count towards completion of the Pledge and students are additionally free to set up their own opportunities outside of those formally offered at the law school.


Location of Programs



Volunteer students run the program with a faculty advisor.




Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects

Amnesty International – AI is an international human rights organization that seeks the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, fair trials for all properly charged with legitimate criminal offenses, and the complete abolition of torture, disappearance, and state-sanctioned killing world wide. The Law School chapter takes up cases of individual prisoners on a regular basis, using letter-writing campaigns and telex-petition drives. The chapter also sponsors educational forums on major international human rights treaties and campaigns for their U.S. ratification.

Animal Law Society – This group of students focus on the nexus between animals and the law. Some of the organization's goals and activities include: conducting a Holiday Pet Food Drive to benefit a local Humane Society; sponsoring an Animal Law Lunchtime Discussion Series; participating in Nashville Cares PAWS, an organization which helps HIV+ individuals care for their pets; assisting a local county in establishing an animal control organization; and building a resource center that students and faculty can use to learn about the current state of animal laws on a local, national, and global level.

Ayuda Legal Independiente A Nashville (ALIANza) – Through this project, students assist public defenders with cases involving Spanish-speaking clients. ALIANza was created to provide Vanderbilt students with the opportunity to help serve the needs of Nashville's quite large Hispanic population.

The Rutherford Institute – The Rutherford Institute at Vanderbilt Law School is a student organization dedicated to the protection of First Amendment rights and the preservation of religious liberty in this country and abroad. In addition to sponsoring educational and social events, the Institute gives student members the opportunity to acquire hands-on legal experience by providing legal research for First Amendment cases tried by the national Rutherford Institute. The group has a faculty sponsor.


Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono



At the end of each school year, a reception is held to recognize those students who completed the VLS Pro Bono Pledge.

The Junius Allison Legal Aid Award and the Carl Rutkowski Clinic Award are announced at graduation.


Community Service

We have an annual Community Service project as part of our orientation for 1L students, in which groups of 5-8 students go to a number of community agencies for 3 hours and work together on a project. The Vanderbilt Bar Association (VBA) has organized a Habitat for Humanity project for the entire law school community over the past two years. The Women's Law Student Association (WLSA) sponsors a law school team for the Komen Race for the Cure funding breast cancer research. The Black Law Students Association (BLSA) usually has a monthly community service program.


Law School Public Interest Programs

Contact Information

Spring Miller
Assistant Dean for Public Interest
(615) 875-9860

Erin Parr-Carranza
Public Interest Program Coordinator
(615) 322-1435

[email protected]


Certificate/Curriculum Programs


Public Interest Centers


Public Interest Clinics

Criminal Practice Clinic: Students enrolled in Criminal Practice Clinic represent adults charged with criminal offenses and children charged with criminal offenses and delinquency.

Stanton Foundation First Amendment Clinic: The Stanton Foundation First Amendment Clinic will introduce students to civil litigation implicating First Amendment rights of persons and organizations otherwise unable to afford counsel for those matters. Casework will focus on free speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. Through, and in preparation for, the representation of their clients, students will learn the foundational principles of current First Amendment doctrine, including prior restraint, time/place/manner restrictions, content and viewpoint discrimination, and the intersection of the rights protected by the Amendment. New in 2019, this clinic is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

Immigration Practice Clinic: Students in the Immigration Practice Clinic represent vulnerable low-income immigrants from all over the world before the immigration agencies, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) and federal courts in humanitarian immigration cases.

Turner Family Community Enterprise Clinic: The Turner Family Community Enterprise Clinic allows students to represent small businesses and nonprofit organizations in a range of transactional matters, including entity formation, governance, tax, contracts, employment, intellectual property, and risk management. Projects may include creating a new business, drafting a lease or other agreement, or applying for tax-exempt status.

Youth Opportunity Clinic: Students enrolled in the Youth Opportunity Clinic represent young people (aged 16-25) who are at risk for criminal legal involvement by providing civil legal representation that will help them access opportunities in the areas of education, secure housing, and employment. Clinic students will learn about the school-to-prison pipeline and the collateral effects of the criminalization of youth through representing clients in proceedings such as school disciplinary hearings, housing evictions, and record sealing and expungement.



Vanderbilt Law School offers many opportunities for students to pursue externships that provide valuable professional experience while gaining academic credit.

Students may engage in externships in Nashville during the school year or during the summer. Also during the summer, students may engage in externships anywhere in the U.S. or the world. The Externship Program allows students to choose and design placements tailored to their individual goals and interests, typically by working with federal or state judges, prosecutors, defenders, or agencies; state attorneys general or legislative offices; corporate legal departments; or legal aid or other non-profit or non-governmental organizations.

Externship placements and proposals are approved by the Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs. Students may not receive course credit for any work for which they are paid. A limited number of students may engage in a full semester externship outside Nashville. These students spend the entire semester at the externship site. Students who do not engage in full semester externships may count a maximum of 6 externship credits toward graduation requirements. Students who engage in full semester externships receive 8 credits for their externship, and may count no additional externship credits toward graduation requirements.


Classes with a Public Service Component

Social Security Law & Practice - Students assist a legal aid attorney with cases.


Public Interest Journals


PI Career Support Center

Vanderbilt offers students seeking public interest careers – whether in government service, indigent defense, legal aid offices, advocacy organizations, or their own brand of social justice entrepreneurship – expert advice. The assistant dean for public interest works closely with the Career Services Office to support students who aspire to public service work during and after law school.

Students may attend the Equal Justice Works Annual Conference and Career Fair, the largest public interest job fair in the country, with support from Vanderbilt. The school also hosts an annual Government and Public Interest Day where students meet representatives from dozens of public sector agencies, learn about the work they perform, and make connections leading to internship opportunities. We also have regularly host government and public interest employers for on-campus job interviews.


Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)

To help ease the burden for graduates who take public interest employment, Vanderbilt Law offers a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) that pays from 20 to 50 percent of your annual loan repayment obligation for up to ten years. The amount of loan assistance for which you are eligible is based on your salary.


Post-Graduate Fellowships/Awards

Law School Funded:

The Barrett Social Justice Fellowship honors the legacy of renowned Nashville civil rights attorney George Barrett ’57 by enabling a Vanderbilt Law graduate to carry out a one-year public interest project under the supervision and sponsorship of a host organization. The Law School will provide funding to enable the Fellow to receive a $40,000 salary and health insurance from the host organization.

Vanderbilt also participates in Gideon’s Promise Law School Partnership Program.


Graduate Student Funded:


Other Funding Sources:


Term Time Fellowships/Scholarships

Law School Funded:


Graduate Student Funded


Other Funding Sources:


Summer Fellowships

Law School Funded:

Each summer, Vanderbilt Law students receive stipend awards to help defray their living expenses while they engage in summer pro bono work as interns in judicial chambers, U.S. Attorney offices, governmental agencies and federal public defender offices and with NGOs and nonprofit legal aid organizations.

LAS Public Interest Stipend

Vanderbilt Legal Aid Society's Public Interest Stipends are available to students who pursue projects that support traditionally under-served populations. The stipends are awarded on a competitive basis. Students apply by submitting proposals detailing their projects, and recipients are selected based on the merits of their proposals.

VLS Summer Stipend

Vanderbilt Law School's Summer Stipends are available to students who work unpaid positions at either a non-profit or a governmental agency, including the judiciary. Positions may qualify whether they are in the U.S. or in other countries. Students apply by submitting applications to the Associate Dean for Experiential Education. Stipends will be awarded to those students who have accepted positions that most clearly reflect their educational, personal and/or career goals.

Amy and Frank M. Garrison Public Interest Fellowships

Each year, students receive fellowships to support a summer experience working in the public interest in unpaid positions at either a non-profit or governmental agency. Garrison Public Interest Fellows are selected by the Law School from among J.D. students applying for VLS Summer Stipends.

Environmental Fellowship

Vanderbilt Law School's Environmental Fellowship provides financial support to students who work in the summer for non-profit organizations dedicated to land conservation. Students apply by submitting either the PISF or VLS Summer Stipend application to the Associate Dean for Experiential Education.

Cheek Business Law Summer Fellowship

The Cheek Business Law Summer Fellowship program provides financial support to Vanderbilt Law students who work in the summer on transactional matters in the area of corporate and business law. Students are eligible for the fellowships if they are working for government agencies which regulate business issues or are working on corporate and transactional issues at not-for-profit corporations or businesses. Students apply by submitting either the PISF or VLS summer stipend application to the Associate Dean for Experiential Education.

George Barrett Social Justice Summer Stipend

The George Barrett Social Justice Summer Stipend provides financial support to students who seek to do social justice legal work during the summer. Students apply by submitting either the PISF or VLS Summer Stipend application to the Associate Dean for Experiential Education.

Koch Public Defender Summer Fellowship

The Koch Public Defender Summer Fellowship program provides financial support to Vanderbilt Law School students who work in the summer at state or federal public defender offices. Students apply by submitting either the PISF or VLS summer stipend application to the Associate Dean for Experiential Education.

Regulatory Fellowship

Vanderbilt Law School's Regulatory Fellowship provides funds for students who work in the summer for government or non-profit organizations that are involved in regulatory matters. Students apply by submitting either the PISF or VLS Summer Stipend application to the Associate Dean for Experiential Education.

Nichols Humanitarian Fund

The Nichols Humanitarian Fund enables law students to volunteer for domestic or international humanitarian service opportunities by making support available for educational, travel, and living expenses during their time of service. Nichols Humanitarian Fund Award recipients are selected by the Law School from among J.D. students applying for VLS Summer Stipends.


Graduate Student Funded:


Other Funding Sources:


Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs

The George Barrett Social Justice Program aims to promote a dynamic atmosphere within which issues of equality, access and service are openly and regularly explored by faculty and students inside and outside the classroom. Students can choose from a variety of courses and clinics addressing a diversity of topics, including non-litigation strategies for social change; race and the law; drug law and policy; domestic violence; labor and employment; poverty law; mental health law; bioethics; immigration; the death penalty; and wrongful conviction. The program also offers an innovative Social Justice Reading Group that allows students to explore a range of substantive issues addressed by public interest lawyers as well as the challenges and rewards of representing marginalized clients and communities.

Throughout the year, the Barrett Program sponsors guest speakers, conferences, workshops and a variety of activities for both students and faculty. In our annual flagship event the Social Justice Program recognizes a Social Justice Fellow, a distinguished member of the bar who has devoted his or her career to public interest law. During an on-campus residency, the Fellow gives a public lecture, presents to the faculty and offers individual student mentoring sessions.

The program also works to help connect students to public interest practice opportunities during law school and beyond.


Student Public Interest Groups

Criminal Law Association

Energy and Environmental Law Society

Immigration Law Society

If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice

Law Students for Social Justice

Legal Aid Society and Public Interest Stipend Fund