Chicago-Kent College of Law
Law School Pro Bono Programs
Public Interest Center
Formal Voluntary Pro Bono Program Characterized by a Referral System with a Coordinator
Description of Programs
As a way of encouraging and promoting community service and pro bono legal work, the Public Interest Center (PIC) was created to help connect students interested in volunteer or career opportunities with public interest groups or agencies in need of their services. Primarily, the Center acts as a clearinghouse for short and long-term public service law opportunities as well as non-law related projects, with the realization that many students cannot fully commit themselves to a career in public interest upon graduation. Therefore, enabling students to benefit from doing pro bono work while in law school is a Center priority.
Location of Programs
The Public Interest Center in housed in the Career Services Office.
PIC is staffed by the Director, Michelle Vodenik, and supported by Assistant Director Tobias Rodriguez, as well as three student assistants.
PIC is funded by the law school.
Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects
Several student groups run pro bono projects:
Kent Justice Foundation (KJF) - KJF sponsors opportunities for students to get involved in volunteer activities and learn about public interest opportunities. Volunteer events have included charity walks and runs, food and clothing drives, as well as fundraising and volunteer work with various non-profit organizations throughout Chicago. Even if your future plans do not include public service, KJF will allow you to volunteer and make a difference. Speaker events regarding public interest law are also sponsored by KJF.
National Lawyers Guild (NLG) - The National Lawyers Guild is an association dedicated to the need for basic change in the structure of our political and economic system. They seek to unite the lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers of America in an organization that shall function as an effective political and social force in the service of the people, to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests. The NLG student group at Chicago-Kent is active in training students to be legal observers when there are protests or controversial trials taking place in the Chicago area. The Chicago-Kent NLG Chapter is also working on ways to get involved in representing persons after they are detained or arrested by police, but before they are assigned an attorney.
Self-Help Web Center (SHWC) - The Self-Help Web Center (SHWC) is a help desk located on the 6th floor of the Daley Center Courthouse. The SHWC is designed to serve as a starting point for litigants who must navigate an unfamiliar and complex court system on their own. The SHWC has three internet enabled computer workstations that provide individuals of all technical skill levels access to user friendly web-based tools and legal resources created by Illinois Legal Aid Online. Illinois Legal Aid Online's resources provide visitors with a better understanding of their legal issue and the court's procedural requirements. In addition, students from Chicago-Kent College of Law are available to help visitors utilize the wealth of online legal information available.
Access to Justice Student Editorial Board- is a student-staffed initiative aimed at researching and supporting access to justice projects, including the A2J Author project and other internet related projects.
Student Hurricane Network– Law students from across the country formed the Student Hurricane Network (SHN), a national association dedicated to providing assistance to communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The legal questions and problems facing the individuals and communities throughout the Gulf Coast region are monumental in scale, and will remain for years to come. The Chicago-Kent Student Hurricane Network organization was created to support and organize Chicago-Kent students who are interested in providing free assistance to legal agencies involved in hurricane-related projects. The organization works with students at Chicago-Kent to coordinate travel and fund-raising efforts for service trips (during winter and spring breaks) to the areas affected by the hurricanes. The organization also helps match students interested in performing remote research with organizations that are seeking assistance. Finally, SHN promotes summer internship opportunities for Chicago-Kent Students in New Orleans.
Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono
Chicago-Kent College of Law hosts an annual reception during which the "Chicago-Kent Certificate of Service" is awarded to students who complete at least 50 hours of volunteer service during their time at Chicago-Kent. The "Dean's Distinguished Public Service Award" is given to students who complete at least 250 hours of volunteer service. These students' names are engraved on name plates and mounted on a plaque which is displayed in the building.
Chicago-Kent also acknowledges all students who receive the Chicago-Kent Certificate of Service (50 hours of volunteer service), as well as students who receive the Dean's Distinguished Public Service Award (250 hours of volunteer service), in the bulletin at graduation.
Community service is encouraged through the Public Interest Resource Center (PIRC). PIRC was created to help connect students interested in volunteer or career opportunities with public interest groups or agencies in need of their services. Primarily, the Center acts as a clearinghouse for short and long-term public service law opportunities as well as non-law related projects, with the realization that many students cannot fully commit themselves to a career in public interest upon graduation. Therefore, enabling students to benefit from doing pro bono work while in law school is a Center priority.
In addition, at Orientation, first year law students are invited to participate in a community service day during which they participate in community service projects throughout the Chicago community.
Chicago-Kent is also working on creating a yearly service project in which students and alumni come together to serve the community for a day of service. The event also includes a keynote speaker with significant community service and/or pro bono work experience.
Law School Public Interest Programs
Michelle Mohr Vodenik
Director and Public Interest/Diversity Adviser
Career Services Office
Certificate in Public Interest Law
Chicago-Kent's Public Interest Law Program provides students with a balanced understanding of public interest law by allowing students to customize their public interest academic path while requiring students to complete a specified number of volunteer hours and to participate in a career planning session. The Certificate in Public Interest Law allows students to earn a credential that demonstrates their dedication to public interest law, making them more prepared for the competitive public interest employment field.
Public Interest Centers
The Center for Access to Justice & Technology (CAJT) works to make justice more accessible to the public by promoting the use of the Internet in the teaching, practice, and public access to the law. The Center conducts research, builds software tools, teaches classes and supports faculty, staff and student projects on access to justice and technology. Currently, CAJT manages and promotes the Access to Justice Author (A2J Author), leads the A2J Student Editorial Board (A2J-SEB), and directs the Self-Help Web Center (SHWC). In addition to these activities and initiatives, CAJT also administers the Certificate in Public Interest Law. For more information, please visit: https://www.kentlaw.iit.edu/institutes-centers/center-for-access-to-justice-and-technology
Institute for Science, Law & Technology - The mission of the Institute for Science, Law & Technology is to provide a forum to produce and disseminate knowledge on the implications and applications of science within societal and legal contexts. As part of its mission, the Institute sponsors long-term, multi-disciplinary research, public conferences, judicial training, symposia for journalists, and other programs. Public programming, scholarship and research, and student educational opportunities in the Institute focuses on biotechnology, information technology, environmental science, and cross cutting issues such as products liability, intellectual property, design of legal and market institutions, and use of technology in the courtroom. In addition, Institute staff and faculty draft laws and regulations and develop other programs that guide public policy decisions. For more information, please visit: https://www.kentlaw.iit.edu/institutes-centers/institute-for-science-law-and-technology
Public Interest Clinics
Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic - Students who intern in the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic provide free assistance to impoverished clients in connection with a wide variety of federal tax disputes. Students have primary responsibility for advising and representing taxpayers who are battling the Internal Revenue Service and in the midst of ongoing civil examinations, administrative appeals, and enforced collection actions. Students also work closely with the supervising professor to prepare and try cases before the U.S. Tax Court and the U.S. District Court. Typical issues include proving entitlement to the Earned Income Tax Credit, establishing status as an Innocent Spouse, substantiating business or personal deductions claimed on tax returns, seeking relief from various civil penalties, and stopping the IRS from seizing a client's wages or other assets.
Mediation and ADR Procedures Clinic - Students who intern in the Mediation and Other ADR Procedures Clinic engage in training and practice in mediation, arbitration, and other ADR techniques. They become certified as mediators and conduct a number of mediations over the course of the semester. Typical cases include juvenile court cases, criminal misdemeanor cases, employment discrimination cases, landlord-tenant disputes, and small claims court disputes. They also assist the clinical professors in arbitrating cases and drafting arbitration opinions.
Students who intern in the Employment Discrimination/Civil Rights Litigation with some General Practice Program work on employment discrimination disputes and civil rights cases in the federal and state courts and at administrative agencies; the work also includes some general civil practice. A unique feature of this Program and the Criminal Defense Litigation Program is their fee-generating practice which enables their student interns to receive their clinical practice experience in non-poverty as well as poverty cases and have the opportunity to work in a realistic practice environment.
Students enrolled in the Health & Disability Law Clinic will have the opportunity to work on a variety of compelling disability and health related cases/issues. The clinic represents adults and children with various medical impairments, including diabetes and autism, in cases that typically involve issues such as: disability discrimination in schools; discrimination in employment; vaccine-related injuries; Social Security disability benefits; and benefit denials by private insurance companies. Students will experience what it's like to use their legal skills, intelligence and passion to advocate for disadvantaged individuals against government bureaucracies and corporate interests.
Second & third-year students are able to participate in the Externship Program, a four credit hour program that allows them to gain practical legal experience working at a public interest or government agency. Many students participate in this program every semester, including summer term, and receive valuable legal training that provides them with the experience they will need to obtain a public sector or private legal job. The large majority of the externships are in the public interest sector. The program consists of both fieldwork and classroom component.
Some of Chicago-Kent's legal specialty area externship opportunities include:
The Environmental and Energy Law Externship Program provides students in the Environmental Law Certificate Program with the opportunity to extern for one credit on a pass/low pass/fail basis at environmental governmental agencies and public interest groups, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency Regional Office, the Illinois Attorney General's Office (Environmental Office), the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Chicago Law Department (Environmental Unit), the City of Chicago Housing Authority (Environmental Unit), the Illinois Pollution Control Board, Citizens for a Better Environment, the Chicago Legal Clinic, and the Lake Michigan Federation. The program consists of both fieldwork and classroom component.
The Labor/Employment Law Externship Program is offered (there is an unnecessary space here) through the Labor/Employment Law Certificate Program. The externship is available to students enrolled in the Labor/Employment Law Certificate Program during their last year of law school and is used to satisfy the experiential learning requirement of that certificate program. The educational objective of the externship is to provide the student externs with a well-supervised lawyering experience in labor or employment law by enabling each of them to extern with a law school approved placement. Student externs are placed with a law firm, corporation, union, or governmental agency.
Justice Web Collaboratory Externship. This externship provides students the opportunity to explore access to justice issues, including the use of technology in legal services, alternative legal services delivery models, e-lawyering, and pro se litigant assistance.
The Judicial Externship Program is a 4-credit hour program open to second and third-year law students who want to do legal research for a federal appellate, district or magistrate judges or a designated Illinois appellate or circuit court judge. Externs work directly with the judge and the judge's law clerks researching, writing memoranda of law, drafting opinions, and generally observing and participating in the day-to-day operation of the court. An accompanying classroom discussion component meets once a week during the course of the externship. Externs are selected by the individual judge(s) through an application procedure conducted by the law school. Judicial Externships are offered fall, winter and summer semesters.
Classes with a Public Service Component
- Public Interest Law and Policy (3 credit hours)
- Legal Writing IV - Public Interest Law (3 credit hours)
- Over 40 other courses with a public interest component
- Legal externships with public interest and government agencies
Public Interest Journals
The A2J Student Editorial Board is a student-run initiative directed at training students in the use of A2J Author®, creating A2J Guided Interviews® and conducting research to increase access to justice. The A2J Student Editorial Board is comprised of a Chief Editor, Executive Editor, Senior Editors and Associate Editors.
PI Career Support Center
The Career Services Office has 2 dedicated staff people who work with students in the development of their careers in the public interest and government employment sector. Opportunities offered to students include: individual counseling for a career in public interest law; programs on opportunities in government and public interest law; access to PSLAWNET, a source to find public interest and fellowship information; participation in the Midwest Public Interest Law Career Conference, where employers interview students seeking positions in public interest law; Fellowship application assistance; the opportunity to participate in the annual Equal Justice Works Career Fair held in Washington D.C. as Chicago-Kent College of Law is a member school; various public interest receptions and networking events throughout the year; and Alumni Networking Resources.
In addition, students who enroll in the Public Interest Certificate, are required to develop a Public Interest Career Plan to assess their interests, as well as the skills necessary to achieve their career goals.
Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)
Chicago-Kent Loan Repayment Assistance Program
Human rights, civil rights and liberties, social justice, access to justice, domestic violence, and anti-discrimination: these are several of the many areas addressed by public interest law. Chicago-Kent is committed to making such options available to its graduates. One challenge to a public interest career is high educational debt. Chicago-Kent has responded through the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). The Mission of the LRAP is 1) help alumni in low-paying public interest jobs manage their student loan debt for the year, so they can stay in their public interest jobs and 2) encourage current students to consider a public interest career.
In order to ensure that alumni in public interest and government positions with the greatest need receive funds from the LRAP, applicants must meet employment, debt and income requirements.
Questions about the Loan Repayment Assistance Program should be directed to:
Michelle Mohr Vodenik
Director & Public Interest/Diversity Advisor
Career Services Office
The Chicago Bar Foundation also has a loan repayment assistance program and Chicago-Kent College of Law students are eligible to apply. See http://chicagobarfoundation.org
Law School Funded:
A grant of $3500 is given to two or three Chicago-Kent alums working in public interest law every year.
The Institute for Science, Law and Technology, as well as the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future, both have fellows.
Graduate Student Funded:
Other Funding Sources:
Term Time Fellowships/Scholarships
Law School Funded:
In 2004-2005, the Illinois Technology Center for Law and the Public Interest employed a number of students with grant funds, gifts from individuals, firms or corporations. The predecessor of the Center for Access to Justice and Technology, then called the Justice Web Collaboratory, employed students using the same sources.
Graduate Student Funded
Other Funding Sources:
Chicago-Kent offers the following public interest/ public service law-related scholarships:
The Richard A. Matasar Public Interest Law Scholarship provides tuition assistance to students planning to pursue careers in public interest law. The Law School Association, Board of Overseers and Chicago-Kent friends and alumnae established the scholarship with the goal of making public interest law an accessible career option for Chicago-Kent students.
The Ogilvie Scholarship fund was established by family, friends, and colleagues in memory of Governor Richard B. Ogilvie, a 1949 graduate of Chicago-Kent. The fund provides financial aid to Chicago-Kent College of Law students who have superior academic records, demonstrated leadership ability, and an interest in entering public service.
The Marovitz scholarship, awarded once every three years, is a full scholarship that is tied to community service.
Law School Funded:
Graduate Student Funded:
Other Funding Sources:
Kent Justice Foundation Approximately 20 students receive grants from the student-run Kent Justice Foundation, ranging up to $5,000 for ten weeks of public interest work in the summer. This fundraising is supported through a student-run spring auction, a fall wine event and various other fundraising efforts throughout the year, as well as additional support from the Faculty, the Student Bar Association, and the Dean.
Society of Women in Law This student group provides a summer fellowship to one or more students engaged in public interest work every summer.
Every year the Environmental Law Society (a student organization focused on enhancing Chicago-Kent's profile as one of the nation's top-rated environmental law schools) gives away at least one fellowship to a member to supplement their unpaid summer work in environmental law. ELS works all year to raise funds for the fellowship so that ELS can give as much help to the student(s) as possible. Students who are interested in the fellowship must be a member of ELS, with dues paid. The fellowship is given through an application process in the spring semester.
The Public Interest Law Initiative, a nonprofit agency in Chicago that awards funding to students working in public interest positions in Chicago, offers a number of term-time stipends to students from the law schools located in Chicago. Students at Chicago-Kent College of Law have received these stipends on various occasions. The amount of the stipend is $4,500 in the summer.
Equal Justice America awards students up to $3,500 for summer public interest work. Chicago-Kent students can receive this funding.
Equal Justice Works offers $1000 summer grants to students involved in public interest work over the summer. As a member of Equal Justice Works, Chicago-Kent students can receive this funding.
Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs
Harry Morris Lecture in International & Comparative Law - This annual lecture features a speaker in International & Comparative Law. Lectures have included: "The Uncertain Self-Identity of International Criminal Courts" and "Decision making in the WTO."
Insitute for Law & Humanities Lecture - The Institute for Law and the Humanities was created to facilitate, support and encourage symposia, lectures, scholarship, and faculty discussion on the relationship between law and other humanistic disciplines. It provides opportunities for faculty and students to integrate humanities-based studies with the study of law and to explore the increasingly rich and diverse scholarship in areas such as legal philosophy, legal history, law and literature, and law and religion.
Centennial Lecture - This is an annual lecture. Speakers have included: Jeremy Waldron, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Law and Philosophy, Columbia Law School discussing "Torture and Positive Law: Jurisprudefnce for the White House."
Section 1983 Civil Rights Litigation Conference - This annual conference features nationally prominent law professors and practitioners who offer instruction on both the fundamentals and more advanced aspects of Section 1983 practice and trial skills, and analyze the latest case decisions.
Annual Conference on Not-For-Profit Organizations - This annual one-day seminar features a comprehensive program on the most current developments in taxation, legislation and regulation on non-profits presented by leading experts in the area.
Student Public Interest Groups
Kent Justice Foundation (KJF) - Approximately 20 students receive grants from the student-run Kent Justice Foundation, ranging up to $5,000 for ten weeks of public interest work in the summer. This fundraising is supported through a student-run spring auction, a fall wine event and other fundraising efforts throughout the year, as well as additional support from the Faculty, the Student Bar Association, and the Dean. Through KJF students volunteer with the Self-Help Web Desk at the Daley Center/Circuit Court of Cook County. At the Daley Center students assist pro se litigants by helping them access legal resources so that they can effectively represent themselves in court. This project is coordinated through Chicago-Kent's Center for Access to Justice and Technology, with student organization support.
National Lawyers Guild (NLG) - The National Lawyers Guild is an association dedicated to the need for basic change in the structure of our political and economic system. They seek to unite the lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers of America in an organization that shall function as an effective political and social force in the service of the people, to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests. The NLG student group at Chicago-Kent is active in training students to be legal observers when there are protests or controversial trials taking place in the Chicago area.
Access to Justice Student Editorial Board- is a student-staffed initiative aimed at researching and supporting access to justice projects, including A2J Author projects and other internet related projects.
Asian Pacific American Law Student Association - Students participate in a monthly clinic opportunity at Asian Human Services.
Black Law Students Association - This law student group conducts one major and one minor community service activity every semester.
Chicago-Kent's Environmental Law Society (ELS) focuses on enhancing Chicago-Kent's profile as one of the top-rated environmental law schools. The group promotes sustainability within the law school and helps others do the same; raises eco-consciousness, and encourages personal sustainability throughout the student body. The group also supports students financially in their quest to serve the environment and contribute to the enhancement of the environmental law curriculum.
The International Law Student Association holds program on international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law. Chicago-Kent has an international nation-building project in Kosovo and Bosnia that students participate in though travel to those countries and assistance in nation-building there.
Student Bar Association (SBA) - the SBA participates in the Walk Against Breast Cancer and other volunteer fundraising initiatives every year.
Society of Women in Law (WIL) - WIL stages an annual production of the Vagina Monologues with contributions going to Rape Victims Advocates. They also provide law students with summer fellowship opportunities & mentors.
Student Hurricane Network – Law students from across the country formed the Student Hurricane Network (SHN), a national association dedicated to providing assistance to communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The legal questions and problems facing the individuals and communities throughout the Gulf Coast region are monumental in scale, and will remain for years to come. The Chicago-Kent Student Hurricane Network organization was created to support and organize Chicago-Kent students who are interested in providing assistance to legal agencies involved in hurricane-related projects. The organization works with students at Chicago-Kent and around the state of Illinois to coordinate travel and fund-raising efforts for service trips to the areas affected by the hurricanes. The organization also helps match students interested in performing remote research with organizations that are seeking assistance.
Student Animal Legal Defense Fund – The Chicago-Kent SALDF is dedicated to providing a forum for education, advocacy, and scholarship aimed at protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system and raising the profile of the field of animal law.