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Widener University Commonwealth Law School

Widener University Commonwealth Law School
3800 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Law School Pro Bono Programs

Contact Information


Category Type

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


Description of Programs

The Public Interest Resource Center (PIRC) in Wilmington and the Public Interest Initiative (PII) in Harrisburg are dedicated to connecting students with public interest information and volunteer opportunities. PIRC and PII locate volunteer placements throughout PA, DE, and NJ. They also monitor student and placement satisfaction, and track hours of service in order to administer the pro bono distinction graduation recognition program. Information regarding our our pro bono programs may be found at


Location of Programs

On the Wilmington campus, the Public Interest Resource Center is a stand-alone program. It works cooperatively with other offices and departments such as career development, the clinics, and the externship program, but it is an independent entity with its own director.

On the Harrisburg Campus, the Public Interest Initiative is housed in the Career Development Office and is directed by Karen Durkin, Director of Career Development.





The Public Interest Resource Center is funded both by the school and by private donations. The school pays most salaries and operating expenses. Private donations fund stipends for public interest student work, as well as costs associated with a few specific projects.


Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects

Chadwick Fellows - Each year, several students on the Wilmington campus are selected to teach principles of constitutional law to area high school students.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) - In the spring semester, large groups of students on both campuses provide income tax assistance to low income individuals.


Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono

Similar to our student policy, rather than require faculty pro bono service, we encourage and reward it. Our school has adopted a formal voluntary recognition policy for faculty pro bono service. Faculty members who report at least 30 hours of pro bono service for the academic year are distinguished with a red cord at graduation. In its first year, the 2005-2006 academic year, 18 faculty members received this distinction for performing a total of over 2500 hours of pro bono service.



In the spring, there is a student awards ceremony on each law school campus that serves to recognize students for service and academic achievement. At this ceremony, students who have earned pro bono distinction receive certificates. In addition, students who have won summer public interest fellowships are recognized. Several awards/scholarships for a demonstrated commitment to public interest are also given. In Harrisburg, a Dean of Students Pro Bono Award is given. Students, their families, faculty, and donors are all invited to this event. A reception follows the ceremony.

At graduation, students who have earned pro bono distinction are noted in the graduation program and wear an honorary red cord.


Community Service

The Student Bar Association requires that each and every student organization engage in at least one community service project per year. Therefore, each year our student groups perform a wide-range of community services such as collecting food, clothing, and/or school supplies for the needy; fundraising for local charities; collecting text books for law schools in Africa; and providing service to groups that advocate for children and victims of domestic violence.


Law School Public Interest Programs

Contact Information

Professor Nathaniel Nichols
Director, Clinical Programs
P.O. Box 7474
4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803
302.477.2269 (phone)
[email protected]


Certificate/Curriculum Programs

Although no formal certificate is offered, a sequence of courses is recommended for students interested in public interest law. These courses include: Disability Law; Employment Discrimination; Equal Protection Law; HIV, AIDS & the Law; and Immigration and Naturalization.


Public Interest Centers

The Public Interest Initiative - The Public Interest Initiative(PII) on the Harrisburg campus serves as a centralized source of public interest information for students. PII keeps all students informed of public interest volunteer opportunities, offers information regarding the financing of public interest internships and careers, advises students regarding public interest coursework, and counsels students and alumni who seek public interest legal careers. PII also administers the pro bono recognition program for students on the Harrisburg campus.

The Public Interest Resource Center - The Public Interest Resource Center (PIRC) on the Wilmington campus serves as a centralized source of public interest information for students. PIRC keeps all students informed of public interest volunteer opportunities, offers information regarding the financing of public interest internships and careers, advises students regarding public interest coursework, and counsels students and alumni who seek public interest legal careers. PIRC also administers the pro bono recognition program for students on the Delaware campus, and for faculty on both campuses.

Law and Government Institute - Widener's Law and Government Institute is dedicated to improving law that defines the structure and operation of government and the rights and duties of citizens. It provides a formal concentration of study designed to produce lawyers who are experts in representing government branches and agencies as well as citizens in litigation with government. Its location in Harrisburg, the capital city of one of the most populous states, makes it ideal for these tasks.

In addition to a highly regarded academic component, students are offered extensive opportunities to learn professional legal skills through symposia, seminars and lectures, publication and research opportunities, and service with government and professional associations. For example, the Institute sponsors numerous externships for students with various parts of state government and participants write articles for the Pennsylvania Bar Association Administrative Law Journal, a professional journal for the practicing bar. Institute faculty are active in publishing, lecturing and providing consulting services to state government and bar associations.

More information may be found at:


Public Interest Clinics

Bankruptcy Clinic - Students represent clients before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). Widener student attorneys help provide relief from sometimes crushing, disheartening debt for indigent clients in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Student attorneys conduct interviews and do research, develop strategies with Professor Nathaniel Nichols, negotiate with creditors and proceed in federal court with Chapter 7, Chapter 13 and related cases.

Delaware Civil Clinic - The Delaware Civil Clinic provides free legal services to indigent clients with civil legal problems and operates in conjunction with Delaware Volunteer Legal Services(DVLS), the pro bono arm of the Delaware State Bar Association. Third year students are admitted to the limited practice of law pursuant to Delaware Supreme Court Rule 56 and represent clients in Family Court.

Environmental Law Clinic - Widener students work with a regional public interest law firm in litigating violations of environmental laws. They interview clients and witnesses, investigate polluters, and research the applicable laws. They discuss and prepare case strategies with professors and other attorneys; draft pleadings, motions and agreements; and appear in courts throughout the Mid-Atlantic region on behalf of Clinic clients.

Harrisburg Civil Law Clinic - Students represent clients in a variety of matters. Students are assigned a caseload of between 5 and 10 cases. A student's caseload will typically contain a mix of case types, although virtually every student will represents at least one divorce client and at least one bankruptcy client. The students are responsible for maintaining the files, corresponding with clients, negotiating with opposing counsel, and representing clients in court. Students are given maximum independence in seeking decisions on how to handle their cases. The students interview clients, negotiate with opposing counsel, and when needed, try cases in court. Faculty members are always available to provide help when needed, but the students benefit from the direct involvement that only a clinic can provide.

Pennsylvania Civil Clinic - Students represent clients in family law matters often arising from financial problems leading to bankruptcy proceedings. Students practicing family law regularly appear before hearing masters and judges. Students handle matters such as custody, increase or reduction of child support orders, contempt petitions, and name change petitions.

Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Clinic - Students represent indigent persons accused of crimes in the Pennsylvania state courts of Chester County (West Chester). Widener student attorneys also regularly join Professor Judith Ritter in the post-conviction representation of defendants on death row, crafting briefs to be filed with the Supreme Court of the United States.

Veterans Assistance Program - Students represent disabled veterans and/or their dependents before the Department of Veterans Affairs and Article I and Article III Federal Courts that handle veteran matters.



CLINICAL EXTERNSHIPS: Every year Widener sends as many as 30 students who are enrolled in the Clinical Externship Program to government and public service law offices, where they spend the full year receiving academic credit while learning and working alongside attorneys carefully chosen for their skill, dedication and qualities as mentors. Student attorneys meet regularly in small groups with professors to discuss issues of legal doctrine and skills; of professional and personal ethics; and of the culture of a modern law office.

In Wilmington, students have been placed with a variety of offices/agencies that include the following:

Camden County (NJ)Prosecutor

Chester County (PA) District Attorney's Office

Delaware County (PA) Domestic Abuse Project

Delaware County (PA) District Attorney's Office

Delaware County (PA) Public Defender's Office

Federal Public Defender (Wilmington)

Internal Revenue Service - Office of Chief Counsel (Philadelphia)

Mercer County (NJ) Prosecutor

Montgomery County (PA) District Attorney's Office

New Castle County (DE)(various offices/civil law)

Office of Senator Joseph R. Biden (Delaware)

Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General - Consumer Protection

Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General - Torts Litigation

Philadelphia Municipal Court Mediation Program

Philadelphia Regional Port Authority

South Jersey Legal Services (Camden)

State of Delaware, Department of Justice

State of Delaware, Public Defender's Office

Supreme Court of Delaware, Office of Disciplinary Counsel

U.S. Department of Justice - Office of U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee

U.S. Department of the Navy - Counsel for the Naval Inventory Control Point (Phila.)

On the Harrisburg campus, students are presented with an endless array of options located in the state capitol of Pennsylvania, including placements such as:

Dauphin County District Attorney and Public Defender

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Administration Offices

Pennsylvania Department of State - Office of Chief Counsel

Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General

Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission

Pennsylvania House of Representatives

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

York Immigration Court

Clean Air Counsel

Lewisburg Prison Project

City of Harrisburg - Solicitor

JUDICIAL EXTERNSHIPS: Widener students receive academic credit while spending a full year serving as law clerks, working closely with judges who have graciously agreed to serve as mentors. The judges help the externs with objectives for their placements and for their careers, provide challenging research assignments, help externs hone their legal writing, and offer a unique perspective on the work of the courts. These placements often result in contacts and references for future employment. Widener Students have been placed with state and federal courts throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. Through the prestigious Wolcott Fellowship, four students on Widener's Wilmington campus are annually placed with the Justices of the Delaware Supreme Court.


Classes with a Public Service Component


Public Interest Journals


PI Career Support Center

The Public Interest Resource Center (PIRC) in Wilmington and the Public Interest Initiative (PII) in Harrisburg work with the Career Development Office (CDO) to provide specialized counseling to students seeking public interest careers. Our offices collectively offer the following services:

  • resume review


  • mock interviews


  • fellowship/scholarship information


  • assistance with the competitive fellowship application process


  • information regarding opportunities for public interest work


  • preparation for public interest job fairs


  • workshops regarding interviewing, resume-writing, and networking.


Each office maintains active communication with students via email in order to keep students informed about public interest opportunities. In addition, PIRC and PII engage in continuous outreach with public interest agencies throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey in order to promote the Widener student workforce and to develop new opportunities for students to engage in public interest work.

In collaboration with our five neighboring law schools, Widener Law coordinates a Public Interest Public Service Job Fair each February. Approximately 40-50 employers from our tri-state area and beyond participate.


Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)


Post-Graduate Fellowships/Awards

Law School Funded:


Graduate Student Funded:


Other Funding Sources:

Several public interest awards are given to graduating students who demonstrate a commitment to public interest law. These are funded by private donors, including area corporations, law firms, and alumni.


Term Time Fellowships/Scholarships

Law School Funded:

Students who qualify for work study may be paid throughout the school year for working in public interest externships, as long as they are not receiving academic credit.


Graduate Student Funded


Other Funding Sources:


Summer Fellowships

Law School Funded:


Graduate Student Funded:


Other Funding Sources:

The Public Interest Law Alliance, a student group, raises funds for summer public interest stipends through an annual silent auction.

DuPont Public Interest Summer Fellowships, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin Public Service Summer Fellowship, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor LLP Public Service Summer Fellowship, MBNA Financial Literacy Education Fellowships


Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs

Harrisburg Public Interest Reception - The Harrisburg campus held a reception for the recipient of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Pro Bono Award to celebrate the accomplishment and to inspire the student attendees.

Grand Opening Reception for the Public Interest Resource Center - Held in January of 2005 at Widener Law's Wilmington Campus, this reception featured a keynote address from former FBI Director and Widener Law Adjunct Professor Louis J. Freeh, celebrated the significance of public service to the Widener Law community, and introduced PIRC as an office that would play a critical role in expanding Widener's public interest programs.

Domestic Violence Symposium - This all-day symposium was held in the spring of 2005 by Widener Law's Wilmington Campus and its Women's Law Caucus for the law school, for the local and regional bar, and for the community-at-large. It featured distinguished speakers whose presentations covered all aspects of domestic violence.

PILA Auction - Each year in the spring semester the Public Interest Law Alliance holds a silent auction to raise funds to pay students who will work in the public interest during the summer.

Annual Public Interest Reception - Each year, the Public Interest Resource Center hosts a public interest reception. This reception is held near the time that first year students are permitted to begin their summer job search. It features a public interest speaker, and typically launches an innovative public interest program for the academic year. Students and public interest professionals are invited. The event enables PIRC to thank the attorneys who work with student interns. It also serves as a networking opportunity for students to meet and mingle with public interest attorneys who may be hiring interns for the summer.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Address - A keynote address from a prominent speaker honors the memory and commitment to service of Dr. King.

Diversity in the Profession Week - The Student Bar Association and several student groups co-sponsor a week-long series of events dedicated to promoting diversity in the legal profession. Throughout the week, speakers participate in panel discussions, debates, and social events.


Student Public Interest Groups

All Student Organizations

The Public Interest Law Alliance

Women's Law Caucus