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Cornell Law School

Cornell Law School
Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853

Law School Pro Bono Programs

Contact Information

Karen Comstock
Assistant Dean for Public Service

Category Type

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

Description of Programs

The Assistant Dean for Public Service has the responsibility, as part of her job description, for connecting law students with pro bono opportunities. Here are examples:

  1. Promotion of the Law Students in Action Project (LSAP). LSAP collaborates with local legal service providers and Cornell Law School to create a broad array of projects designed to expand the delivery of legal services to low-income and underserved communities. For example, students from the Public Interest Law Union became part of the Volunteer Research Assistance Team and compiled a comprehensive list of adoption and child support law from various states. The Spanish Translation and Interpretation Assistance Team helps public interest attorneys communicate with their Spanish-Speaking clients.
  2. Advising and assisting the student group, Cornell Advocates for Human Rights. The Assistant Dean connected students with alumni working for human rights, civil rights and other public interest organizations. As a result, students worked on several legal research projects for these attorneys.
  3. Ongoing support of a spring break service trip. Students travel to locations such as New Orleans and Miami to volunteer with legal services and community organizations that provide legal and other services for underrepresented communities

Location of Programs

None listed


Pro Bono projects are referred to the law school community through the Assistant Dean for Public Service.


None listed

Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects

Public Interest Law Union
Spring Break Service Trip
Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project

Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono

Faculty who are members of the New York State Bar provide free legal advice to guests at Loaves and Fishes, the local soup kitchen.


Cornell Law School Exemplary Public Service Awards and Celebration, held at the Cornell Club in New York City:

Freeman Award for Civil-Human Rights - Awarded annually to the law student or students who have made the greatest contributions during his or her law school career to civil-human rights.

Stanley E. Gould Prize for Public Interest Law - Awarded annually to a third year student or students who have shown outstanding dedication to serving public interest law and public interest groups.

Seymour Herzog Memorial Prize - Awarded annually to a student or students who demonstrate excellence in the law and commitment to public interest law, combined with a love of sports.

Harold Oaklander Public Interest Prize – Awarded to a student who excelled in the Harold Oaklander Public Interest Summer Fellowship Program to Advance Justice and Public Policy Against Persistent Unemployment

Community Service

Sample projects: 

Women's Law Coalition: Organized a school supply drive, collecting notebooks, pens, highlighters, markers and other supplies which were then donated to the Counseling for School Success Program, a school for emotionally disturbed elementary through high school students in Ithaca.

Phi Alphi Phi: Organized a law school blood drive.

LAMBDA law students: Distributed free Safer Sex Valentines on February 14 (included condoms).

Cornell Law School Veterans Society and Phi Alpha Delta: Collected donations for care packages that were sent to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Law School Relay for Life Team: Several law students participated in this 24 hour non-stop walking relay that raised funds for the American Cancer Society.

Law School Public Interest Programs

Contact Information

Karen Comstock
Assistant Dean for Public Service
P: (607) 255-3597

Certificate/Curriculum Programs

Third-year students may concentrate in a particular field of law. To encourage such focus, the school grants certificates to students who complete the requirements of one of four concentrations. Two of these concentrations are public interest in nature: Advocacy and Public Law. Each concentration program requires the completion, before graduation, of 14 credit hours, including a writing course in the designated area.

Public Interest Centers

Office of Public Service - Charged with implementing programs and policies that promote the law school's public service programs.

Cornell Legal Information Institute - The Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (LII) is known internationally as a leading "law-not-com" provider of public legal information. It offers all opinions of the United States Supreme Court handed down since 1992, together with over 600 earlier decisions selected for their historic importance, over a decade of opinions of the New York Court of Appeals, and the full United States Code. LII also publishes important secondary sources: libraries in two important areas (legal ethics and social security) and a series of topical pages that serve as concise explanatory guides and Internet resource listings for roughly 100 areas of law. The Institute is a non-profit activity of Cornell Law School supported by grants, the consulting work of its co-directors, and gifts. No subscription fee limits access to LII services.

Public Interest Clinics

Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic

Capital Punishment Clinic: Post-Conviction Litigation

Capital Trial Clinic I and II

Child Advocacy Clinic

Criminal Defense Trial Clinic

Farmworker Legal Assistance

Global Gender Justice Clinic

Human Rights Advocacy at Home and Abroad

International Human Rights Clinic

Labor Law Clinic

LGBT Clinic

New York State Attorney General Clinic

Prosecution Trial Clinic

Regulation Room

Securities Law Clinic


Many students are interested in externships that provide the opportunity to work in a law setting outside the law school. The externship courses, provided through the Legal Aid Clinic, place students in a variety of work places that meet their particular educational goals. Students can enroll in local, part-time externships, or immerse themselves in a practice setting by enrolling in a semester long, full time externship in various cities in the US or, occasionally, abroad.

Full-Term Externship

Judicial Externship

Law Guardian Externship

Legislative Externship

Neighborhood Legal Services Externship

Classes with a Public Service Component

Our course offerings are listed here:

Public Interest Journals

Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy:

Volume 14 Number 1, Fall 2004

Volume 14 Number 2, Summer 2005

Volume 14 Number 3, Summer 2005

Cornell Law Review:

Volume 90 Number 1, November 2004

Volume 90 Number 2, January 2005

Volume 90 Number 3, March 2005

Cornell International Law Journal:

Volume 37 Issue 1

Volume 37 Issue 3

Volume 38 Issue 1

PI Career Support Center

Karen Comstock, Assistant Dean for Public Service, is housed in the law school Career Office. She provides individual and group counseling to students on all aspects of the public interest and government job search, and sponsors informational programs and alumni speakers on a wide variety of topics. Typical programs on the following topics are presented each year: advice on conducting a public interest or government job search, interviewing for public interest and government jobs, applying for post-graduate fellowships and other funding sources, and applying for summer public interest grants and other funding sources. Alumni speakers sponsored by the Career Office provide insight and advice regarding their law practice areas, including public defense, prosecution, civil rights work, international human rights, civil legal services, federal and state government work, and public policy work. Each year prominent alumni are featured as part of our Public Interest Speaker Series.

Cornell Law School students interview with public service employers both on campus and at national public interest career fairs and conferences, including the National Association for Public Interest Law Career Fair and Conference in October in Washington, D.C. and the Public Interest Public Service Legal Career Symposium in February in New York City. The Career Office library contains a myriad of resources for students seeking public sector work. The Career Office subscribes to a national public interest legal job search web site,, and purchases specialty public interest job search guides for interested students. Finally, the Career Office publishes information on Cornell-specific resources for students, including information about alumni public interest career mentors.

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)

Cornell's Public Interest Low Income Protection Plan provides generous grants to graduates who work in public interest and government jobs. These grants are used to assist with student loan payments.

Post-Graduate Fellowships/Awards

Law School Funded:

Frank H.T. Rhodes Public Interest Law Fellowship.

Purpose: The Frank H. T. Rhodes Public Interest Law Fellowship was established in 2010 to provide support to new Cornell Law School graduates who show exceptional commitment to the field of public interest law. The Fellowship is designed to provide opportunities to gain substantive experience in work that will improve the quality and delivery of legal services to the poor, the elderly, the homeless, and those deprived of their civil rights.

Projects Funded: Projects may be civil or criminal in focus. Projects in the area of indigent criminal defense focus on innovative services, and support or delivery mechanisms that are not adequately funded by the government or that are designed to impact broad criminal justice issues.Advocacy may entail a wide range of approaches, including, but not limited to, community legal education and training, organizing, direct services, litigation, transactional work and administrative efforts. Preference will be given to projects that are designed to impact a large number of people, create programs that can be replicated in other communities and create lasting institutions or programs.

Four Rhodes Fellowships have been awarded since the program's inception. Fellows' host organizations: U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Bronx Defenders, Conservation Law Foundation, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.

Graduate Student Funded:

None listed

Other Funding Sources:

The Sarah Betsy Fuller Social Justice Fund, created in the memory of a former law school professor and social justice activist, provides post-graduate loan repayment assistance grants to alumni doing social justice work.

Term Time Fellowships/Scholarships

Law School Funded:

None listed

Graduate Student Funded:

None listed

Other Funding Sources:

None listed

Summer Fellowships

Law School Funded:

Each summer 50-60 summer public interest grants are awarded to 1Ls and 2Ls. The grants are funded by a combination of student fundraising through our law student Public Interest Law Union, work-study grants and faculty and alumni contributions. The full-time grant for summer 2005 is anticipated to be $4,000 for 1Ls and $5,000 for 2Ls. The Assistant Dean for Public Service assists students with securing funding from a number of state and national public interest fellowship programs each year, including the New Jersey Public Interest Summer Legal Intern Program, Law Student Union Summer/AFL-CIO, Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI), and the Revson Public Interest Fellowship Program and the Peggy Browning Fund.

Graduate Student Funded:

None listed

Other Funding Sources:

Included in the "student raised funds" category is money raised from the PIF Cabaret and the Give-A-Day in the Public Interest events. Much of the money raised in the "Gifts from individuals, Firms or Corporations" comes in through our phone-a-thon and mail-a-thon, which are staffed by student volunteers, with support from our Development Office.

Fund By Gift Description:

A total of 67 summer Public Interest Fellowship (PIF) grants were awarded. Twenty grants of $5,000 went to 2Ls, and 47 grants of $4,000 whent to 1Ls. Every student who devoted at least 10 hours to fundraising activities received a grant if they took a qualifying unpaid summer job. Qualifying employers are nonprofit organizations, government agencies. Public interest law firms are considered on a case by case basis. Judicial internships are not included.

Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs

The Office of Public Service is pleased to host three major annual events. Our aim is to educate and inspire the Cornell community, which we hope encourages even greater student and alumni involvement in public service.

Cyrus Mehri Lecture Series
Since 1999, the Cyrus Mehri Public Interest Lecture Series has presented an annual major address to the law school community by a leading public interest law practitioner. This Lecture Series is made possible by a generous contribution from Cyrus Mehri '88, an accomplished social justice lawyer and dedicated supporter of public interest-minded Cornell Law students.

Public Interest Legal Career Symposium
Since 2008, our Public Interest Legal Career Symposium has brought together a critical mass of Cornell Law alumni practicing in a wide range of public sector arenas. Panels are organized by law practice settings and cutting-edge social justice topics.

Alumni Public Service Awards
This is the evening when Cornell Law School's public interest community gathers to celebrate itself. First held in 2007 at the Cornell Club, we now gather at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, to recognize extraordinary alumni (and students about to graduate) who have distinguished themselves with their dedication to public service. Whether working in public interest organizations, with government agencies or through law firm pro bono projects, we are proud to celebrate the Cornell Law public service spirit.

Student Public Interest Groups

American Constitution Society

Cornell Advocates for Human Rights

Cornell Law Second Amendment Club

Environmental Law Society

Federalist Society

Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project

Law Students for Reproductive Justice

National Lawyers Guild

National Security Law and Policy Society

Public Interest Law Union

Spring Break Service Trip

Student Animal Legal Defense Fund

August 6, 2018