Law School Pro Bono Programs
Office of Public Interest
Formal Voluntary Program Characterized by a Referral System with Coordinator
Description of Programs
The WCL Pro Bono Honors Pledge program recognizes the voluntary, uncompensated work undertaken by WCL students while at the law school on behalf of low-income and underrepresented populations or for the public good. The program is designed to encourage students to continue engaging in pro bono service throughout their careers. Students who take the pledge commit to completing a minimum of 75 hours of pro bono and community service projects. At least 50 hours of the pro bono work completed must be with an organization engaged primarily in law-related or legal work. However, students may complete up to 25 of their 75 hours by doing non-legal community service work.
Location of Programs
The Pro Bono Honors Pledge Program is administered by the Assistant Director in the Office of Public Interest. The office of Public Interest is separate from, but works closely with, the Office of Career and Professional Development. See www.wcl.american.edu/publicinterest.
The full-time Assistant Director is compensated to run the pro bono program as part of overall duties. There is also paid administrative and volunteer support of students. The faculty Public Interest Committee also advises and supports the program.
The pro bono program is funded through law school operating funds. The budget is part of the overall budget for the Office of Public Interest and is not separately calculable.
Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects
WCL students also organize annual Alternative Winter and Spring Break trips that send students to domestic or international areas in need of legal and community service assistance. Prior trips have included New Orleans, Texas, and the Navaho Nation.
Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono
The tenure policy of American University, Washington College of Law encourages and recognizes faculty contributions to the community, including all pro bono work.
Faculty members serve as advisors to every student organization. The faculty Public Interest Committee also provides advice and support for the Pro Bono Honors Pledge program.
Faculty members direct the Marshall-Brennan program, the clinics, and our myriad human rights, women’s rights programs and centers and other initiatives at the law school..
The Annual Peter M. Cicchino Public Service Awards Dinner. This annual event is held in honor of beloved former WCL Professor Peter M. Cicchino, who passed away in 2000. Professor Cicchino was a brilliant scholar and teacher, and a brave and creative public interest lawyer, who among many other accomplishments founded the Lesbian and Gay Youth Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City.
The Cicchino Awards Dinner is the academy awards of student public interest and pro bono work. At the dinner, all students who completed the Pro Bono Honors Pledge are recognized. In addition, four students and alumni who have distinguished themselves with public service work are presented with special awards called the “Cicchino Awards.” The named awardees receive an engraved plaque and cash award. The purpose of the dinner is to recognize public interest students and alumni before their peers. Students who complete the pledge are also recognized at graduation.
Each fall the Public Interest/Public Service Scholars and the Office of Public Interest organize the IMBY (In My Back Yard) public service day. IMBY is a volunteer public service project designed to engage new law students in public service projects in the D.C. community and to provide an opportunity for WCL students, faculty, and staff to give back to the local community. The event is the official kick-off of WCL's new student orientation with over 200 participants turning out each year to provide critical services to underserved individuals and institutions.
WCL Student groups often plan community service activities (food and clothing drives, MLK days of service; etc.) as part of their annual activities.
Law School Public Interest Programs
Office of Public Interest
Summer Institutes: For over 20 years, American University Washington College of Law has been training upper-level students and practitioners in emerging legal fields. Participants can select from 50+ course offered by our nationally ranked programs and internationally recognized institutes. Students can choose course from the multiple practice areas listed below:
- Anti-Corruption Law
- Environmental Law
- Health Law and Policy
- Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
- International Criminal Law & Counterterrorism
- Law & Government
Summer Abroad Institutes: American University Washington College of Law offers world class summer programs that provide an interdisciplinary “crash course” of international and transnational issues and are open to students from any law school in the US. Current programs include:
- Geneva: Human Rights, Labor, International Law Commission
- Summer Law Program in The Hague: International Criminal Justice
Public Interest Centers
The law school’s groundbreaking initiatives and comprehensive programs make an American University Washington College of Law education a complete experience. Students, faculty, and alumni enrich their legal understanding, broaden their perspectives, specialize in cutting-edge legal fields, and serve others by participating in any one of the innovative programs available at the law school.
- Academy on Human Rights & Humanitarian Law
- Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law
- Criminal Justice Practice and Policy Institute
- Defending the AU Dream Initiative
- Economic Justice Program
- End Silence: The Project on Addressing Prison Rape
- Environmental and Energy Law Program
- Law and Government Program
- Lawyering Peace Program
- Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project
- National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project
- Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property
- Program on International Organizations, Law and Development
- Syrian Initiative
- War Crimes Research Office
- Women and the Law Program
Public Interest Clinics
The AUWCL Clinical Program has long been recognized as a leader in the field of clinical education. Through its 11 in-house clinics, the Clinical Program provides a transformative experience for students making the transition from law school to law practice. Our students represent low-income and under-represented clients or groups in litigation, administrative, transactional, and policy matters. Though they receive faculty guidance and extensive feedback, student attorneys are responsible for managing litigation, carrying out transactional work, and engaging in issue-based advocacy. By learning the criteria for good lawyering and practicing regular self-evaluation, student attorneys develop reflective habits that encourage continuous professional growth.
Civil Advocacy Clinic
Student Attorneys in the Civil Advocacy Clinic (CAC) help low-income clients achieve access to justice through advocacy in a variety of legal contexts. With a particular focus on economic justice, students help their clients solve legal problems and provide representation in civil matters in the courts and administrative agencies of the District of Columbia and Maryland.
Community Economic and Equity Development Clinic
(formerly Community and Economic Development Law Clinic)
Community Economic and Equity Development (CEED) student attorneys assist small businesses, workers' cooperatives, housing cooperatives, and nonprofit organizations in the District of Columbia and Maryland. We apply extensive knowledge in corporate, commercial, and transactional law to assist clients that may otherwise lack the resources to acquire legal assistance. Our goal is to assist our clients in promoting equitable economic development.
Criminal Justice Clinic
The Criminal Justice Clinic (CJC) is designed to teach student attorneys about the theory and practice of advocacy in the criminal and juvenile justice systems with the knowledge that these skills apply to lawyering in many other settings. The clinic practices in Maryland and offers opportunities for second and third year students to participate in either defense or prosecution.
Disability Rights Law Clinic
The DRLC is a two-semester clinic in which law students represent clients and their families in a variety of matters related to disability law and people with disabilities (both mental and physical). A significant focus of the DRLC is on examining circumstances in which clients with disabilities are wrongly assumed to lack physical or mental capacity to participate in society to the same extent as people without disabilities. The Disability Rights Law Clinic (DRLC) began operation in Fall 2005. Professor Robert Dinerstein founded the clinic and directs it.
Entrepreneurship Law Clinic
The Entrepreneurship Law Clinic will provide students with an immersive experience in general transactional practice, with an emphasis on serving social enterprises, early stage entrepreneurs, and small businesses in greater Washington, D.C. Enrolled students will advise and counsel clients on corporate structuring, taxation, financing, as well as growth and succession planning. Additionally, students will negotiate and draft contracts and organizational documents like Founders' Agreements, Shareholder Subscription Agreements, Operating Agreements, and Non-Disclosure Agreements.
Gender Justice Clinic
Student attorneys in the Gender Justice Clinic (formerly Women and the Law Clinic) represent clients in a wide range of cases including family law, immigration, public benefits, domestic violence, employment, housing, education, wills/advance directives/probate, and student debt, with a focus on how clients’ gender, race, nationality, disability, and economic status affect their experiences in the legal system and within the lawyer-client relationship.
Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic
The clinic concentrates on live client representation that helps student attorneys better understand the concept of the public interest in copyright, patent, trademark, and allied fields. Student attorneys in the clinic will participate in both individual client matters and policy matters advocating change in the law. Individual matters will involve advising creative artists, non-profit organizations, small inventors and entrepreneurs, scholars, traditional communities, and others who otherwise would not have access to high-quality intellectual property law services, as well as representing them before various agencies (Copyright Office, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, World Intellectual Property Organization, etc.). Policy projects will be designed to promote intellectual property law reform, and may include filing amicus briefs in high-profile legal cases and administrative proceedings, preparing reports on current issues, and conducting legislative advocacy.
Immigrant Justice Clinic
The Immigrant Justice Clinic (IJC) provides representation on a broad range of cases and projects involving individual immigrants and migrants, and their communities, both in the D.C. metropolitan area and overseas. Student attorneys in the IJC regularly appear in Immigration Court, and may also appear before federal district court, the courts of Maryland and D.C., and before federal and state agencies. Since migration has a transnational dimension, the IJC occasionally advocates before regional and international bodies. The matters handled by the IJC allow students to develop core lawyering skills, such as interviewing, counseling, negotiation, and trial advocacy, while cultivating complementary skills in the areas of policy and legislative advocacy, community organizing, and working with the media.
International Human Rights Law Clinic
The International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) offers student attorneys the opportunity to represent non-U.S. citizens and organizations working to defend the human rights of non-U.S. citizens in a broad range of settings, including regional and international bodies, U.S. federal and state courts, and immigration court.
Through the combination of individual client and project-based work, with an additional classroom component of weekly clinic seminar, IHRLC students learn the responsibilities and skills of human rights lawyering while also integrating theory with practice. In doing so, IHRLC trains the next generation of human rights advocates while offering students the opportunity to make an impact on current, critical human rights issues facing marginalized communities domestically and abroad.
Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic
In the Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic, student attorneys represent low income individuals who are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. Students are often surprised to learn that low income individuals have tax problems, or that their tax returns are audited to any significant extent. In reality, thousands of low income returns are audited each year. Our clients, who frequently face barriers such as lack of language proficiency, accounting skills, education, cultural familiarity, and sophistication, often come to us terrified about what they may be about to face.
The Re-Entry Clinic serves people who are struggling as a result of their contact with the criminal system. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 2016 nearly 2.2 million adults were held in our prisons and jails. In addition to this stark number, over 4.5 million were under community supervision, better known as probation or parole. Contributing to the community supervision figure are the approximately 636,000 people released from prison every year.
Rising for Justice
Rising for Justice (RFJ), formerly known as D.C. Law Students in Court, is an independent nonprofit legal services program in which students from AUWCL and other area law schools participate as student attorneys. RFJ students and staff make over one thousand appearances in court each year. AUWCL students participating in RFJ represent clients in D.C. Superior Court, primarily in the Landlord and Tenant and Small Claims Branches. Other cases may be in the Civil Division and before D.C. administrative agencies. The program works to fight the consequences of poverty, to prevent homelessness and to alleviate inequalities in the justice system while teaching law students to become effective advocates.
The WCL Externship Program provides second- and third-year law students with exciting and varied learning opportunities in the work world through law-related field work. Students are placed with government agencies, courts (state, local, and federal), non-profit organizations, and private law offices engaged in pro bono activities. Students may also receive credit for paid and unpaid corporate externships under pilot programs. Students work under the supervision of a practicing attorney and receive academic credit for their unpaid legal work.
In addition to the field placement, students participate in an externship seminar which draws upon their work experience and enriches their understanding of the law, legal institutions, and the work of a lawyer. ( https://www.wcl.american.edu/academics/experientialedu/externships)The annual Spring Externship Fair hosts employers from over 150 organizations who are seeking WCL students for internships and externships. This is an amazing opportunity created for all students to network, apply for internships and externships, informally interview with employers, and explore a tremendous variety of organizations and practice areas. This event, held each year in late January, is exclusive to WCL and many of the organizations in attendance are represented by WCL alumni.
The Externship Program also hosts several "Mini Externship Fairs" in the Fall exclusively for upper-level students (2Ls, 3Ls, 4Ls, and LLMs). Because of the more intimate setting, these Fairs provide upper-level students with an opportunity to sit down, have a conversation, and establish a personal connection with employers. The Mini Externship Fairs are generally broken down into Business, Finance, Tax, Health, Intellectual Property, and Communications and Media Law; Criminal Law: Prosecution & Defense; and Labor, Employment, Immigration, Family, Gender, and Education Law.
Classes with a Public Service Component
Aside from the numerous opportunities to study abroad and participate in summer institutes at the Washington College of law each year, WCL offers a wide range of classes with a public interest component in various areas of the law including human rights, immigration, civil rights, constitutional law, critical race theory, movement lawyering and criminal justice, just to name a few. To learn more about these course offerings, please refer to the course catalogue.
Public Interest Journals
American University Washington College of Law has numerous journals and publications; all that welcome submissions and host symposia that include a public interest focus. Below are just some examples, please see here for all publications at the law school
Human Rights Brief: AUWCL’s Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law established the student-run Human Rights Brief as part of its long-standing commitment to human rights education and excellence in legal analysis and writing. For nearly 30 years, the Center has worked with students, faculty, and the international legal community to provide and to support concise, cutting-edge legal analysis of human rights issues. The Human Rights Brief continues to enjoy great success contributing articles, editing pieces, representing the Center at human rights events around Washington, D.C., and working with practitioners around the world to further scholarship and examine emerging issues in the disciplines of human rights and humanitarian law.
The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, founded in 1992, provides a forum for those interested in gender issues and feminist legal studies. In 1998, the Journal expanded its mission to include social policy as well as gender issues. Our current approach reflects our intent to fill a void in legal scholarship by providing an opportunity for academic discussion that is otherwise overlooked by traditional journals. By focusing on gender and social policy issues, we are committed to creating a dialogue among disparate social, economic, and gender groups in order to find our common humanity under the law.
The Modern American is American University Washington College of Law's scholarly publication dedicated to diversity and the law. TMA is a student-run publication founded in 2004. The Modern American is a name that conveys the nation's evolution as an increasingly diverse and complex place that is experiencing tremendous change, both exciting and frightening, in the era of twenty-first century politics.
The Oversight Project: This blog is being developed in connection with a seminar being taught at American University Washington College of Law that will explore and analyze the work of the Inspectors General, Office of Government Ethics, Office of Special Counsel, Government Accountability Office, and the Office of Management and Budget, among other constituent elements of the “oversight and accountability community.” In connection with the course, students will participate in developing and implementing this new online publication. Students working on the blog will publish updates on newsworthy developments from the oversight and accountability community as well as more extensive analytical essays about their work. Practitioners and representatives of those agencies will contribute posts as well. Students will monitor new developments on relevant websites, draft and publish to the blog, and work on development of the blog platform itself. This publication is in the developmental stage, so the class will be deciding what kinds of developments should be considered newsworthy and how they should be reported.
The Sustainable Development Law & Policy Brief (SDLP) is a student-run initiative at AUWCL. Because our publication focuses on reconciling the tensions found within our ecosystem, it spans a broad range of environmental issues such as sustainable development; trade; renewable energy; human rights; air, water, and noise regulation; climate change; land use, conservation, and property rights; resource use and regulation; and animal protection.
PI Career Support Center
The Office of Career & Professional Development offers several counselors with specialized knowledge of public interest career paths that provide interested students with a variety of resources. In addition to individual counseling sessions and workshops for those pursuing internships and post-graduate positions, our career-related programs include a variety of educational programs such as: What is Public Interest Lawyering Panel; Fellowships 101; Alumni Fellows Panel; Funding a 1L Public Interest Summer; Preparing for your Summer Internship; Financial Aspects of a Public Interest Career; Pro Bono Pledge Program; Preparing for the Equal Justice Works Career Fair; Preparing for the Washington, DC/Baltimore Public Service Career Fair; Refresh of Skillsets for Public Interest Lawyers; Why Clerkships Matter for Public Interest Lawyers.
Students also attend the Equal Justice Works Conference & Career Fair and the Washington, DC/Baltimore Public Service Recruitment Fair.
Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)
Public Interest Loan Repayment Plan (PILRAP): Many of AUWCL's alumni enter into careers for the public interest; carrying forward the institution's long-standing commitment to use the law as a tool for positive change in our society. As a demonstration of ongoing commitment to supporting graduates who apply the law to the greater good, AUWCL implemented an invaluable assistance program, the Public Interest Loan Repayment Assistance Program (PILRAP). PILRAP helps offset the educational debt burden by providing loan repayment assistance to qualifying JD graduates who work full-time in certain non-profit or government positions.
Law School Funded:
Graduate Student Funded:
Other Funding Sources:
American University, Washington College of Law students have been awarded Skadden Fellowships, Equal Justice Works Fellowships, Gallogly Foundation Fellowships, Justice Catalyst Fellowships, Fulbright Grants, and Soros Fellowships, among others. The school works closely with fellowship applicants to enhance their chances to win these prestigious awards.
Term Time Fellowships/Scholarships
Law School Funded:
Public Interest Scholarship Program (PIPS): American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) is proud to invest in the next wave of public interest leaders by providing three-year, full-tuition, Public Interest/Service Scholarships (PIPS). AUWCL created the PIPS Program in 2001 to provide financial and programmatic support to students with strong academic credentials and the desire and potential to pursue a meaningful public interest or public service career upon graduation.
The Myers Law Scholarship: The Myers Law Scholarship is AUWCL’s most prestigious donor award and provides one-year scholarships to matriculated full-time JD students (one or two annually) who show academic promise and demonstrate financial need. Scholarships are funded up to 125 percent of tuition.
Restricted Scholarships: Through the generosity of AUWCL friends and alumni, dozens of named scholarships are awarded annually to registered students ranging in amounts from $1,000 to upwards of $20,000 depending on funding levels in a given year. Selection criteria for these scholarships vary. Most commonly awards are based on financial need and/or academic achievement.
Graduate Student Funded
The SBA, working with the administration, provides several stipends each year to students performing outstanding pro bono work.
Other Funding Sources:
Law School Funded:
Summer Federal Work Study Program (FWS)
: FWS during the summer term provides a limited number of stipends to qualifying continuing students working for an eligible off-campus public interest employers.
Graduate Student Funded:
Other Funding Sources:
Equal Justice Foundation: The WCL Equal Justice Foundation (EJF) is a student-run organization dedicated to closing the justice gap for most vulnerable members of our community. EJF raises funds to provide stipends to Washington College of Law students who take unpaid summer internships with public interest organizations in the United States and abroad. Since it was established in 1989, EJF has given out over 1,000 stipends, growing each year with the support of the WCL community. Through EJF our students are able to deliver critical services to underrepresented members of our community, while gaining valuable experiences in the public interest sector.
Squire Patton Boggs Public Policy Fellowship: Since 2011, the Foundation has been pleased to make available annually a Patton Boggs Public Policy Fellowship grant to the American University Washington College of Law for summer work. The grant provides a rising 2L, 3L or 4L with the essential funding to pursue a public policy position of their choosing. One grant of $5,000 is awarded to the recipient.
Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs
The WCL Office of Public Interest offers monthly roundtables on current topics in public interest lawyering. The vibrant student organizations also host numerous symposia and panels and sponsor public interest related events such as the annual “week against mass incarceration”, and more.
Student Public Interest Groups
American University has a host of student run public interest organizations that actively contributes to the thriving public interest law community. Students are constantly creating new organizations and implementing new ideas to keep the public interest spirit at WCL alive. Some examples include the Equal Justice Foundation, Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)(chapter), the Environmental Law Society, the National Lawyers Guild (Chapter); If-When-How Law Students for Reproductive Justice (Chapter); Juvenile Justice Society; and the Labor and Employment Law Society. For a list of the current active student organizations at WCL visit: https://www.wcl.american.edu/community/students/organizations/.