University of Wisconsin Law School

University of Wisconsin
Law School
975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706

Law School Pro Bono Programs

Contact Information

Laura C. Smythe, M.A., M.A., J.D.
Director, Pro Bono Program

Category Type

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

Description of Programs

The Pro Bono Program provides students with opportunities to deliver legal services to underrepresented community members. Students are assisted and supported by Pro Bono Program staff with placements in private and nonprofit law firms, legal aid groups, in-house programs and other organizations, where their pro bono work is performed under appropriate supervision. In keeping with the law school's law-in-action tradition, students develop legal and professional skills, gain practical, hands-on experience in real work environments and explore their ethical responsibility to provide pro bono service. Students who complete a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono service work are eligible for induction into the Pro Bono Society and may receive pro bono distinction at graduation.

Pro Bono Partner Sites

Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups (CWAG) Elder Law Center
The mission of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups is "To improve the quality of life for people of all ages through: inter-generational understanding and leadership development, public education, legal and legislative advocacy, and public development." This mission is supported through the several ongoing services and programs such as the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Helpline and the Elderly Benefit Specialist Program. Student pro bono efforts will be performed under the supervision of CWAG staff attorneys, and specific projects can be tailored to suit a student's experiences and interests. Students can assist with document preparation, legal research and writing, community education, client intake, and client counseling.

Wisconsin Wills for Heroes Program
Through the Wisconsin Wills for Heroes Program, volunteer lawyers, students and support personnel participate in clinics scheduled for first responder organizations around the state. At these events, volunteer lawyers and students prepare wills and other estate planning documents free of charge for eligible first responders and their spouses or domestic partners. Wills for Heroes in Wisconsin is sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin's Pro Bono Program, with the generous support of Foley and Lardner LLP, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, LexisNexis and the State Bar Young Lawyers Division.

Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS)
The mission of DAIS is to empower those affected by domestic violence and advocate for social change through support, education, and outreach. Through the DAIS Legal Program, domestic violence survivors are assisted in understanding the court system, filing restraining orders, navigating legal procedures, and obtaining legal representation. In collaboration with volunteer attorneys, law students provide valuable services to victims of domestic abuse.

Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW)
Disability Rights helps people across Wisconsin gain access to services and opportunity through its advocacy and legal expertise. Through the Medicare Part D Hotline Project, student volunteers will provide one-on-one telephone assistance to people age 60 and under with a disability. Students will assist callers with choosing a prescription drug plan and advocate on behalf of callers to resolve Medicare part D problems. Students will work with a volunteer coordinator and under the direction of a supervising attorney to provide client counseling, engage in oral advocacy and perform community outreach and education.

Dane County Foreclosure Mediation Program
The Dane County Foreclosure Prevention Task Force is a coalition of public agencies, non-profit service providers and other community partners working together to develop sustainable alternatives to foreclosure in Dane County. The organization's mission is to develop and implement a coordinated response to the current foreclosure problem in Dane County. Through this opportunity, law students will help homeowners prepare for their foreclosure mediations by telephone. Students will answer general questions about the mediation process, explain the necessary steps to follow before mediation occurs and review with homeowners the necessary paperwork. Interested students will be provided with the opportunity to observe mediation conferences.

In addition to these sites, the Pro Bono Program staff is continuously seeking new partnerships with area attorneys, law firms, and non-profit organizations. Occasionally, students can serve on individual pro bono cases with local law firms such as Foley & Lardner, LLP and Godfrey & Kahn, SC. Students can also assist attorneys working through Legal Action of Wisconsin's Volunteer Lawyers Project.

Location of Programs

The Pro Bono Program is housed in the Economic Justice Institute, the University of Wisconsin Law School's civil legal clinic that addresses economic inequality and poverty.


The Pro Bono Program staff consists of Director, Laura C. Smythe, and a full-time AmeriCorps VISTA service member. The program is also supported with the faculty oversight of clinical professors Marsha Mansfield and Ben Kempinen. Several programs are coordinated with the assistance of student organization leaders or student volunteers.


The Pro Bono Program has benefited significantly from external sources of funding including a Wisconsin State Bar Pro Bono Initiative grant to fund a pilot project for our program and an AmeriCorps VISTA grant from Wisconsin Campus Compact. The University of Wisconsin Law School has supported the program by providing matching funds toward the AmeriCorps VISTA position and salary for a part-time Director position. In addition to contributing to staff funding, the law school supports the program by covering a number of overhead costs such as space in the law school's Economic Justice Institute.

Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects

Unemployment Appeals Clinic
The Unemployment Appeals Clinic is a volunteer organization staffed by Law School students and supervising attorneys. The purpose of the clinic is to help provide representation to the unemployed in the local community, most of whom cannot find legal help elsewhere.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA)
The mission of the VITA program is to provide free tax preparation to low to moderate income individuals and families. Students will completely prepare and file the tax return of each client.

Student Hurricane Network (SHN)
The Student Hurricane Network is a law student organization dedicated to providing legal assistance to low-income and indigent victims of major natural disasters. As least once a year, students travel to a location in the United States that has recently suffered from a major natural disaster. During this trip, students clerk full-time for local non-profits assisting direct and indirect victims of the disaster with legal issues arising out of the disaster, including access to public benefits, employment, housing, patient dumping, and discharge of pre-disaster financial obligations.

National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) Detention Facility Trips
Undocumented individuals from around the country are apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and detained at the Dodge County Detention Facility, where they await a hearing on their deportation. The UW Latino Law Students Association (LLSA) coordinates a group of student volunteers to visit the Dodge County facility to spend four hours conducting intake interviews with detainees. Each student conducts one-on-one interviews with several detainees, gaining exposure to a variety of immigration-related issues and the removal process. Student volunteers provide a valuable service to these detainees and NIJC by screening them for possible relief from deportation, and also contribute to NIJC's program for tracking facility conditions and detainee treatment.

Community Immigration Law Clinic
CILC provides legal information regarding immigration to individuals and groups who might otherwise not have access to the legal system. CILC does this through walk-in legal clinics, know-your-rights presentations, and other community education and outreach activities. The UW Latino Law Students Association coordinates student volunteering at CILC twice per month. At CILC, students conduct intakes on behalf of CILC attorneys with walk-in immigrant clients. Students also have the opportunity to observe attorney-client meetings following the intake.

Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono

Several faculty members are committed to pro bono activities, both in their professional capacity as faculty members and on their own time. The Pro Bono Program is supported by two permanent faculty advisors, and a number of other faculty members have offered their support to various pro bono initiatives at the law school.


The Pro Bono Society was formed in September 2011 to recognize the outstanding efforts of law students engaged in pro bono during their tenure at UW Law School. Students who graduate in 2014 or later and complete a minimum of fifty hours of pro bono services will be inducted into the Pro Bono Society and graduate with pro bono distinction.

Community Service

Community Outreach Day
All incoming students participate in a day-long community service project serving the Madison community as part of the fall orientation program. On this day, students are introduced to the variety of community service and pro bono opportunities available at the law school.

Student-led Community Service Initiatives
The Student Bar Association and several other student groups on campus support community service efforts. Students give back to the Madison community in a variety of ways such as: coordinating a middle school Mock Trial competition, hosting a holiday toy drive, holding blood drives, and participating in direct service at non-profit organizations throughout Madison.

Law School Public Interest Programs

Contact Information

Trisha Fillbach
Interim Assistant Dean, Office of Career Services

Certificate/Curriculum Programs

Wisconsin's Curriculum Guide to Public Interest Law:

Public Interest Centers

Center for Patient Partnerships, Martha (Meg) Gaines, Director
Frank J. Remington Center, Meredith Ross, Director
Economic Justice Institute, Marsha Mansfield, Director

Public Interest Clinics

Center for Patient Partnerships
The Center for Patient Partnerships is an interdisciplinary healthcare advocacy center and a national resource for strengthening the consumer perspective in health care. Graduate students from across campus come to the Center to work directly with individuals living with a serious illness. Students provide support and information related to a wide variety of substantive issues including internal insurance appeals, public benefit programs and health policy. A thirty hour orientation and weekly seminar on current issues provide additional learning opportunities. Second and third-year students can participate during the fall, spring or summer semesters. The Center offers a Consumer Health Advocacy Certificate for 12 credits.

Frank J. Remington Center
The Frank J. Remington Center is a law-in-action program of the Law School made up of clinical projects dedicated to teaching, service, and research. The Center provides law students with the opportunity to develop the substantive knowledge, professional skills, and judgment necessary to excel as attorneys; provides high-quality service in individual cases; and engages in empirical research necessary to bring about systemic improvements. Students receive course credit for their clinical work. The Center's many clinical projects are listed below.

Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons (LAIP)
The Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons Project, known as LAIP, is the largest of the Remington Center's clinical projects. In LAIP, students work under the direct supervision of clinical faculty to provide legal assistance to state and federal prison inmates throughout Wisconsin.

Criminal Appeals Project
The Criminal Appeals Project gives students an opportunity to be directly involved in the appellate process. Under the direct supervision of clinical faculty, students work in pairs on the appeal of two criminal convictions. The clinical, which is available to second- and third-year law students, requires a two-semester (fall-spring) commitment.

Family Law Project - Restorative Justice Project
The Family Law Project is a civil law project serving incarcerated clients. Students in the Family Law Project, like those in the Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons Project, work under the direct supervision of clinical faculty to provide legal assistance to state and federal prison inmates throughout Wisconsin. The clinical, which is available to second- and third-year law students, requires a two-semester commitment.

The Restorative Justice Project gives students the opportunity to practice mediation skills and assess the effectiveness of an alternative dispute resolution process by providing mediation between the victims of crime and the criminal offenders. The project is open to students who have completed their first year of Law School.

Innocence Project
In the Innocence Project, UW law students, under the direct supervision of clinical faculty, investigate and litigate claims of innocence in cases involving inmates in state and federal prisons in Wisconsin and elsewhere. The Innocence Project is available to students who are accepted into the program in the summer after their first or second year of law school and requires a one year commitment (Summer full time, Fall 7 credits, Spring 2 credits).

Reentry Project
The Reentry Project provides a wide range of legal assistance to clients who are on community supervision through the Wisconsin Department of Corrections' Division of Community Corrections. The clinic emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to legal representation and provides assistance to clients with civil, criminal, and administrative matters. Specific areas of assistance include housing law, employment discrimination, child support, disability law, correction of credit reports, revocation hearings, alternatives to revocation, early release from supervision, and disposition of criminal matters.

Economic Justice Institute
The Economic Justice Institute offers opportunities for students to work on various aspects of civil law addressing economic inequality and poverty, including alternative dispute resolution, consumer, employment, housing, family, and immigration law. EJI students have extensive client contact. The clinics housed in the Economic Justice Institute are listed below.

Consumer Law Clinic
The Consumer Law Clinic represents low- and moderate-income consumers in individual and class action lawsuits in federal and state courts. The Clinic operates year-round and is open to students who have completed their first year of law school. The Consumer Law Clinic trains students in all aspects of civil litigation.

Domestic Violence Immigration Clinic
The Domestic Violence Immigration Clinic assists immigrant survivors of domestic violence or victims of violent crimes as identified in the U-Visa statute. Students prepare immigration petitions for submission to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services through the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act.

Family Court Clinic
The Family Court Clinic is a clinical program designed to help make the legal system more accessible to low-income, unrepresented people with divorce, post-divorce, paternity, and restraining order matters. Students do not serve as advocates, but rather as facilitators/mediators, working with the parties to prepare cases for decision. Students undergo in-depth skills training in interviewing, counseling, and negotiations, and learn the nuts and bolts of family law.

Mediation Clinic
The mission of the Mediation Clinic is to train law students to provide a vital service to the community, helping members resolve pressing personal and legal conflicts. Of the many cases that are referred to the Mediation Clinic, a majority result in agreement between the parties.

Neighborhood Law Clinic
The Neighborhood Law Clinic provides a broad range of legal services designed to improve the economic well-being of low income clients, primarily in housing, employment and government benefits cases. The Neighborhood Law Clinic is open to students who have completed their first year of law school. The project is a full-year commitment, and includes a regular seminar in addition to the clinical work.

Government and Legislative Law Clinic
The Government and Legislative Law Clinic (GLLC) provides students with the unique opportunity to observe and participate in the many facets of governmental law, policy and the legislative process.

Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic
The Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic is a two-semester transactional course providing students the opportunity to work with startup businesses and entrepreneurial clients. Legal issues include creating and maintaining the corporate entity, providing basic legal advice on contracts, intellectual property, employer-employee matters, tax, and other issues facing the startup business. Experienced business law and corporate attorneys provide guidance and supervision.


Hayes Police-Prosecution Project
The Hayes Police-Prosecution Project includes a ten-week summer externship that allows law students to work with police and prosecutors on real-world public safety problems. Hayes externs have worked on such public-safety problems such as youth gangs, sexual assault, domestic violence, habitual offending, child abuse, robbery, abandoned houses, drug abuse and trafficking, and alcohol-related crime and disorder.

Prosecution Project (Remington Center)
This program provides an opportunity for second-year students to work as summer interns in district attorneys' offices throughout Wisconsin. The student's summer experience is sandwiched between a spring classroom component and a fall reflective seminar.

Public Defender Project (Remington Center)
The Public Defender Project gives second-year students the opportunity to work as summer interns in State Public Defender trial offices throughout Wisconsin. The students' summer experience is sandwiched between a spring classroom component and a fall reflective seminar.

Judicial Internship Program
The Judicial Internship Program places students with trial and appellate judges throughout Wisconsin, including placements with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Student work varies but always emphasizes research and writing. A classroom component accompanies the placement.

Labor Law Externship
The Labor Law Externship provides placements for students in a labor law setting. Students spend two days a week working under the supervision of attorneys of the National Labor Relations Board in Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in Madison, or in other similar agencies. They attend hearings, write draft opinions, research issues, write memos, and in general are exposed to the broad range of work done by the agency. A weekly seminar on current issues provides additional learning opportunities.

Department of Justice Clinical Externship Program
Students work in various civil units of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, at the Department of Natural Resources, or 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin. The program offers law students a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in public advocacy and litigation. Externs practice trial, appellate and administrative law with some of the state's most well-respected litigators, working on matters statewide importance. A weekly seminar accompanies the placement.

Midwest Environmental Advocates Externship
Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) is Wisconsin's only non-profit environmental law firm. Student externs earn 7 semester credits working 21 hours a week at MEA. Students work with MEA lawyers on litigation, both administrative and judicial, rule making and policy development at the state and local level. MEA's mission includes helping citizens to organize and participate in solutions to environmental protection and environmental justice issues, giving students the opportunity to work with citizens at the grass roots level.

Disability Rights Wisconsin
Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW) is the state's protection and advocacy agency for people with all types of serious disabilities. It provides a wide variety of legal and advocacy services for people who have been traditionally under served by the legal profession. Student activities can include investigation of client complaints, filing grievances and requests for hearings, informal negotiations, and preparation for litigation and/or administrative hearings. Students may also be involved with legislative and administrative issues.

Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence Clinical Program
The UW-Madison Law School offers an externship program (clinical) for students at the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WCADV). Students assist with legal inquiries and research regarding domestic violence issues.

Classes with a Public Service Component

Wisconsin's Curriculum Guide to Public Interest Law:

Public Interest Journals

Wisconsin Law Review
The Wisconsin Law Review is a student-run journal of legal analysis and commentary that is used by professors, judges, practitioners, and others researching contemporary legal topics. The Law Review, which is published six times each year, includes professional and student articles, with content spanning local, state, national, and international topics. In addition to publishing the journal, the Law Review sponsors an annual symposium at which leading scholars debate a significant issue in contemporary law. Students earn membership on the Law Review through a writing competition at the end of their first year.

The Wisconsin International Law Journal
The Wisconsin International Law Journal established in 1982, is written by both professionals in the field and by law students. The Journal offers articles of scholarly and practical interest in various areas of international law. Student members of the Journal edit articles of interest in various areas of international law and draft articles for submission and possible publication. Each spring, the student members coordinate a conference on recent topics of interest in international law.

Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society
The Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society is a student-edited journal with a national scope. The Journal, which was established in 1985, publishes contributions from faculty, students, and practitioners on a wide-range of legal topics. Its focus is on scholarship that examines the intersection of law and gender with issues of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. The Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society is open to all students.

PI Career Support Center

The Office of Career Services supports students interested in public interest careers through one-on-one counseling, panel discussions on a variety of public interest careers and fellowships, and job postings and career fairs.

The Office of Career Services has created Public Interest Job Search Handbooks to give students general information about the public interest job search process.

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)

The University of Wisconsin Law School sponsors a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), which provides small grants to students who accept permanent public interest jobs after graduation. Since its inception in 2002, the LRAP has generally provided anywhere from two to six months of loan repayment in the form of a lump sum payment upon acceptance of a "qualifying position." "Qualifying position" means a legal position at a non-profit organization or government agency with a specified annual salary.

Post-Graduate Fellowships/Awards

Law School Funded:


Graduate Student Funded:


Other Funding Sources:


Term Time Fellowships/Scholarships

Law School Funded:


Graduate Student Funded


Other Funding Sources:


Summer Fellowships

Law School Funded:

University of Wisconsin Law School Summer Public Interest Fellowships (SPSF)
The SPSF program provides stipends to University of Wisconsin Law students who take full-time, unpaid or extremely low paid summer public service jobs. The amount of money awarded to a student will depend on the number of applicants and the amount of available funds at the law school.

Graduate Student Funded:


Other Funding Sources:

The Career Services office provides resources to support students applying for a number of national summer funding programs including:

ABA John J. Curtin, Jr. Justice Fund Summer Legal Internship Program
Arthur C. Helton Fellowship Program
Equal Justice America Legal Services Fellowships
Equal Justice Works Summer Corps Program
Everett Public Service Internship Program
Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowship for Social and Economic Justice
Peggy Browning Fund Summer Internship
Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) Summer Internships

Students can also receive funding from student organizations such as:
Public Interest Law Foundation
Children's Justice Project

Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs


Student Public Interest Groups

Wisconsin Public Interest Law Foundation (UW-PILF)
The University of Wisconsin Law School's Public Interest Law Foundation (UW-PILF) is a student-run organization committed to supporting law students who want to work in public interest law.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
The American Civil Liberties Union is a group whose primary goal is to protect our civil liberties, as set out in the constitution and the Bill of Rights. The ACLU was formed in 1920, and has been the party to more litigation in the protection of the people, rather than for their repression.

American Constitution Society
The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy is a national organization of law students, law professors, practicing lawyers and members of the community. We want to help revitalize and transform legal debate, from law school classrooms to federal courtrooms.

Children's Justice Project
The Children's Justice Project brings together people interested in promoting justice for children and juveniles, including the rights of children and juveniles in the legal, educational, health care, and social services systems. The Project does this through interdisciplinary advocacy and study.

Environmental Law Society (ELS)
The Environmental Law Society welcomes all students interested in the application of law to environmental issues at the state, national, and international levels. The Society studies all sides of the issues because it recognizes that environmental law applies to both those interested in classic environmental preservation, as well as persons whose activities create environmental impacts.

Health Law Students Association
The UW Health Law Student Association was founded in 2009. UW HLSA provides resources, networking opportunities, and a forum to discuss legal issues for students interested in health and public health law.

Legal Information Center (LIC)
Formerly known as the Community Law Office, LIC provides free legal assistance to University students and low income Madison residents in the areas of landlord-tenant, small claims, employment, consumer, divorce, residency, misdemeanor information, name change, contracts and traffic law. LIC is staffed primarily by law student volunteers. Students interested in volunteering can attend a training session in the beginning of the fall or spring semester.

National Lawyers Guild (University of Wisconsin Law School Chapter)
The Madison Chapterof the NLG is a community chapter with both lawyers and law student members. The National Lawyers Guild is a nationwide organization of lawyers and law students dedicated to working for social justice. Formed in 1937 as the first racially integrated bar association in the country, the Guild tries to bring together all those who recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of workers, women, farmers, and minority groups upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends; who actively seek to eliminate racism; who work to maintain and protect our civil rights and liberties; and who view the law as an instrument for the protection of the people, rather than their repression.

Unemployment Compensation Appeals Clinic
The Unemployment Compensation Appeals Clinic is staffed by volunteer student advocates who assist clients in obtaining unemployment compensation benefits. Student advocates work closely with supervising attorneys and gain litigation and case management experience while helping those in need of benefits who cannot afford representation.