Law School Pro Bono Programs
Office of Public Interest
P: (202) -274-.4099
Formal Voluntary Program Characterized by a Referral System with Coordinator
Description of Programs
Under this Program, students are encouraged to conduct at least 75 hours of pro bono work during law school. Up to 25 of the 75 hours may be non-legal community service work. The remaining 50 hours must be: legal in nature with an attorney supervisor; for the benefit of an underserved population or a judicial/government placement; and not for pay and not for academic credit. The Office of Public Interest distributes a weekly newsletter via the Public Interest Listserv that contains information about public interest events, pro bono opportunities, student opportunities, postgraduate jobs and more. In addition, there are numerous ways students can engage in pro bono activities through programs housed as the law school.
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.
The full-time Assistant Director is compensated to run the pro bono program as part of overall duties, and it is estimated to comprise one-fifth to one quarter of his time. 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 organizations receive significant support through the school's Office of Public Interest, Office of Student Services, and the SBA, which receives significant funding from the law school's operating budget. In addition, student organizations share a large common space with computers, filing cabinets, supplies and more.
Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects
Action for Human Rights - Organizes several experiential learning projects throughout the year, as well as the annual Alternative Winter and Spring Break trips in which students spend a week providing pro bono services to underserved populations outside of the DC area.
Clinical Program Translators - Students provide translation services to clients of WCL's clinical programs and help explain the legal concepts involved in each client's case.
Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project - Marshall-Brennan Fellows, named in honor of the late United States Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and William J. Brennan, are selected in a process that seeks to identify second- and third-year students who have excelled in constitutional law and have a passion for teaching young people. These Fellows teach a course on constitutional rights and responsibilities in Washington, D.C. public high schools. The course is called "We the Students" and is based on a casebook authored by WCL Professor, Jamin Raskin, entitled We the Students: Supreme Court Cases For and About America's Students. The course focuses on Supreme Court cases that directly affect the lives of high school students and includes a special curriculum about the history of voting rights with an intensive focus on problems of political representation for citizens living in D.C.
Students United for Youth Justice– In addition to hosting various events to raise awareness about local and national juvenile justice issues, students provide one-on-one support to incarcerated youth at New Beginnings Youth Development Center. Such support includes mentoring, advocating on the youth's behalf during administrative meetings, assisting in transition planning, and following the youth after they have been discharged from the juvenile facility to encourage a successful transition into the community and reduce the risk for recidivism. Students are supervised by Mentoring Today, a non-profit organization developed by former WCL students.
UNCAT Participation - Selected students conduct legal research, draft documents and accompany Dean Claudio Grossman to participate in and attend meetings of the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva each fall.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) - Students help area Washington residents with their tax forms on a walk-in basis. An initial training is conducted in the school's library by local area practitioners. Advice is given at a downtown library convenient to those who need the service. Members of the law school's clinical and non-clinical faculty provide supervision for the students. About 75 students participate each year.
WCL Family Court Self-Help Center Pro Bono Project – Launched in spring 2013 by the Office of Public Interest in conjunction with a WCL alumna, students volunteer at the Family Court Self Help Center ("SHC") located in in DC Superior Court, Moultrie Courthouse, throughout the academic year to assist with daily tasks at the center under the supervision of an attorney. The SHC is a free, walk-in clinic, which provides general legal information in family law matters such as divorce, custody, visitation, and child support. At the SHC, volunteers help customers determine which family law forms are the most appropriate for their case, how to complete the forms, and how to navigate the process. When appropriate, volunteers also refer litigants to legal and/or social service organizations for further assistance.
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.
The Marshall-Brennan program, the clinics, and our myriad human rights, women's rights programs and centers and other initiatives at the law school are all directed by faculty members. Though many have academic components, much of the work done through these offices and programs is pro bono and has significant faculty involvement.
The 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 and the Public Interest Entrepreneur Award. The named awardees receive an engraved plaque and cash award. The purpose of the dinner is to recognize public interest students and alumni at a sumptuous dinner before their peers, faculty and staff for a variety of awards and accomplishments. In addition to being recognized at the Awards dinner, students who complete the pledge are also recognized at graduation. Visit the Awards webpage.
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 180 participants turning out each year to provide critical services to underserved individuals and institutions.
WCL students also organize an annual MLK Day of Service and Alternative Winter and Spring Break trips that send students to domestic or international areas in need of legal and community service assistance.
Law School Public Interest Programs
Office of Public Interest
P: (202) 274-4099
Office of Career and Professional Development
Judicial Clerkship Coordinator
Office of Career and Professional Development
P: (202) 274-4251
Assistant Director, Public Service Careers
Office of Career and Professional Development
P: (202) 274-4098
American University Washington College of Law has a host of public interest focused academic programs and degree offerings that focus on emerging issues in various public interest sectors.
Public Interest Centers
Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law - website
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law - website
Health Law Project - website
Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project - website
National Institute of Corrections |End Silence: The Project on Addressing Prison Rape - website
National Institute of Corrections| Investigating Allegations of Staff Sexual Misconduct with Inmates
Program on Intellectual Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP) - wwebsite
Program on International and Comparative Environmental Law
United Nations Committee Against Torture Project - website
War Crimes Research Office - wwebsite
Women and the Law Program - website
The National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project - website
State Burial Laws Project - website
Impact Litigation Project - website
Afghanistan Documentation Project
WCL Clinical Program - website
Public Interest Clinics
General Practice Clinic (GPC) is a one-semester clinic in which student attorneys represent low-income clients in such areas as consumer protection, employment, family law, health, housing, public benefits and bankruptcy. Visit our website.
Community and Economic Development Law Clinic (CEDLC) provides transactional legal services for client groups engaged in neighborhood-based community development. CEDLC represents and helps organize small non-profits, businesses, and tenants' associations, all of which share the goal of developing resources for greatly underserved urban communities. Visit our website
Criminal Justice Clinic The Criminal Justice Clinic has been in existence for over twenty-five years, making it the law school's oldest clinic. Students have the option of spending one semester defending juvenile and criminal cases in Montgomery County, Maryland or one semester prosecuting cases in Maryland. Visit our website.
DC Law Students in Court Clinic offers an opportunity to obtain litigation experience in landlord-tenant and small claims cases in the D.C. Superior Court. Visit our website.
Disability Rights Law Clinic The DRLC is a full year clinic in which law students, under faculty supervision, represent clients in a variety of substantive areas and venues related to disability law and people with disabilities (both mental and physical). Visit our website.
Domestic Violence Clinic Student attorneys represent victim/survivors of domestic violence seeking civil protection orders and/or petitioning to change their immigration status. The opportunity to gain experience in family and immigration arenas allows student attorneys to evaluate the benefits and limits of these interventions into the complex problem of domestic violence in this two-semester clinic. Visit our website.
Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic is a full year clinic that prepares students to be effective and thoughtful practitioners through direct experience in arapidly evolving area. Through its activities, the Clinic strives to promote the public interest in copyright, patent, trademark and related fields. Visit our website.
Immigrant Justice Clinic 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. Students 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. visit our website.
International Human Rights Law Clinic offers students the opportunity to represent individuals, families or organizations alleging violations of recognized or developing human rights norms before international and domestic judicial bodies. Visit our website.
Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic teaches students the skills involved in representing low income clients who have commercial/business controversies. The clinic also seeks to provide legal assistance to a class of individuals caught up in a complex administrative and judicial system who otherwise would be unrepresented. Visit our website.
Women and the Law Clinic students provide representation in the District of Columbia in domestic violence, child neglect, and support cases, as well as any legal matters that assist the client in addressing the underlying problems that brought her into the legal system. Visit our website.
UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic propounds a philosophy focused on providing great autonomy to WCL's student attorneys in proposing and preparing new cases, determining litigation strategy, drafting motions, arguing in court, and traveling internationally, if necessary, to support their clients and cases. The UNROW Clinic has exceptional experience with federal court and international litigation that involves multiple plaintiffs and factual complexities.
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 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.
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, and criminal law, just to name a few. To learn more about these course offerings, please refer to the course catalogue and the course schedule, which can be located on WCL's main website under the "Academics" tab.
Public Interest Journals
The American University International Law Review is produced by law students and publishes six issues per year, focusing on issues such as: Arms Control; Labor; Environmental Justice; Gender; Human Rights; Immigration; Ethics; International Crime; and more.
The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law was founded in 1992 to provide 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.
The Human Rights Brief is a publication of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the Washington College of Law. The Human Rights Brief reports about developments in international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as provides concise legal analysis of current human rights issues.
Sustainable Development Law and Policy is a student-run initiative at American University, Washington College of Law that focuses on reconciling the tensions between environmental sustainability, economic development, and human welfare. The SDLP journal embraces an interdisciplinary approach to provide a fuller view of current legal, political, and social developments. Our mission is to serve as a valuable resource for practitioners, policy makers, and concerned citizens promoting sustainable development throughout the world.
National Security Law Brief is the nation's first student-run law school publication to focus on the rapidly evolving field of national security law. The publication is a biannual print publication, with a complementary online component, devoted to examining the legal dimensions of United States national security law and policy. In addition to analyzing traditional security issues such as counterterrorism, intelligence collection, and nuclear proliferation, the Brief also examines legal matters related to soft power and cybersecurity.
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. ( http://www.wcl.american.edu/modernamerican/)
The Legislation and Policy Brief was founded in 2008 as the Legislation and Policy Roundtable by Tiana Butcher, Lauren Gilius, and Elizabeth Chernow. The goal of the Roundtable was to provide a legal analysis of current legislative initiatives and policies through an entirely electronic publication and to encourage meaningful debate through the "Roundtable Live" panel series. Initial articles had a specific theme, the first of which was on Election Law. That issue was accompanied by a panel focusing on disenfranchisement and fraud in the 2008 Elections. The Legislation and Policy Brief took its current name in 2009. It has continued the legacy of the Roundtable by publishing an issue once a semester, and by hosting a forum at least once a semester. ( http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/lpb/about.html)
The Labor and Employment Law Forum was founded in 2010 to provide a specific and neutral forum for students, scholars, practitioners, and organizations to explore the complex developments of the law governing the workplace. It serves as a medium that highlights emerging developments in labor and employment law and explores the legal issues that arise under this area of law. The forum is edited and published on a quarterly basis by its staff at the American University Washington College of Law. ( http://aulaborlawforum.org/about/)
American University Intellectual Property Brief ("IP Brief") provides an opportunity for law students, professors, practitioners, and anyone interested in intellectual property law to discuss and learn about substantive IP issues. The IP Brief features daily blog posts from a team of student writers; frequent student-written columns about recent IP-related issues, case updates, and events; and IP law articles from student writers and outside submissions on a semesterly publication cycle. ( http://www.ipbrief.net/about/)
Health Law & Policy Brief is a print and online publication run by law students at American University Washington College of Law. Founded in 2007, the Health Law & Policy Brief publishes articles on a wide array of cutting-edge topics in the area of health law. Such topics include health care compliance, fraud and abuse enforcement, health insurance payment and reimbursement issues, intellectual property issues, international human rights issues, FDA initiatives and policies, and a host of other matters. ( http://www.healthlawpolicy.org/)
The Criminal Law Brief, created in 2005, is a journal dedicated to the complex and constantly evolving world of the criminal justice system. Our audience includes judges and practicing attorneys, students with a strong interest in criminal law, and professors of varied criminal law disciplines. We are dedicated to an open and balanced dialogue on all aspects of criminal law representing all possible perspectives. The Brief is distributed to federal, state, and local government agencies, courts, law firms, and law schools throughout the country.
Administrative Law Review (ALR) is published four times annually by the students of the Washington College of Law in conjunction with the American Bar Association's Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice. The ALR strives to develop legal research and writing skills of students while publishing articles that serve both practitioners and academicians. Each issue is a nexus of theory and practice containing articles by practicing lawyers, judges, and academicians. The ALR contains student comments and casenotes on administrative law issues. In addition, the ALR regularly publishes symposia, conferences, and meetings on current topics in administrative law. ( http://www.wcl.american.edu/journal/alr/)
Public Interest Career Support Center
Office of Career and Professional Development
Dedicated public interest career support staff is available.
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: Fall and Spring Recruitment Programs, The World of Public Interest Fellowships; Financing Your Public Interest Career; Public Interest Roundtables; Public Interest Law Firm Panel; Politics and Public Interest Panel; Career Day for 1Ls; Preparing for your Summer Internship; Pro Bono Pledge Program; DOJ Information Session; Public Interest Speed Networking Event; D.C. Public Defender Information Session; Preparing for the Equal Justice Works Career Fair, Preparing for the Washington, DC/Baltimore Public Service Career Fair; How to Use the Government Honors Handbook; Working on Capitol Hill; Zubrow Fellowship Information Session, the Presidential Management Fellow Information Session; Nuts and Bolts of Judicial Clerkship Application Process; Judicial Clerkship Panel Discussion; Judicial Internship/Externship Panel; How to Secure a Judicial Clerkship for the Upcoming Term; and Conversations about Clerkships Luncheon Series.
Students also attend the Washington, DC/Baltimore Public Service Career Fair Consortium.
Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)
The Washington College of Law offers loan repayment assistance to graduates working in the public interest or as public servants through the American University Washington College of Law Public Interest Loan Repayment Assistance Program (PILRAP). Graduates whose salaries are less than $75,000 annually may participate in the program. For those with higher salaries, and indeed for all students and graduates, the Office of Financial Aid and the Office of Public Interest are available to provide information about federal loan repayment and forgiveness programs.
For a description of PILRAP see the website.
Law School Funded:
JD Distinguished Fellowship Program – This program funds legal work performed by recent graduates for either external employers or WCL centers and programs. These fellowships are awarded annually to the graduating class through an anonymous, selective process. For more information visit the website.
Graduate Student Funded:
Other Funding Sources:
In the past, American University, Washington College of Law students have been awarded Skadden Fellowships, Equal Justice Works 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/Public Service Scholars (PIPS) Program
In 2001, WCL created the merit-based Public Interest/Public Service scholarship program to provide financial and programmatic support to students with both strong academic credentials and a clearly demonstrable desire and commitment to pursue a career in public interest or public service upon graduation. Every year, WCL will offer up to 10 full-tuition scholarships to entering full-time students. These students will receive individualized academic and career counseling, faculty and alumni mentoring and other support to ensure their experience at WCL will equip them to pursue and obtain rewarding and meaningful careers in non-profits, government, or private public interest law firms. They will also have many opportunities to develop relationships with other PIPS scholars while at WCL, ultimately graduating into a global network of other like-minded lawyers whom they can call upon throughout their professional careers.
Eligibility = Both strong academic credentials and a clearly demonstrable desire and commitment to pursue a career in public interest or public service upon graduation.
Commitment = Attend monthly meetings, Maintain a 3.0 GPA, Organize the Public Service Day at WCL, Participate w/ Public Interest Roundtables, Participate in Pro Bono Honors Pledge, Produce a piece of written scholarship on a public interest issue, Complete three years of the first five years after graduation in full-time public interest or public service employment.
WCL Restricted Scholarships
The Washington College of Law offers a limited number of scholarships established through the generosity of friends and alumni. Selection criteria for these scholarships may vary, but generally awards are based on need and academic achievement. These scholarships are awarded during the academic year.
The Peter M. Cicchino Awards
The Peter M. Cicchino Awards for Outstanding Advocacy in the Public Interest are given annually to three persons during the Cicchino Public Service Awards Dinner: a current second or third-year WCL student, an alumnus or alumna whose work is primarily in the United States, and an alumnus or alumna whose work is primarily abroad or in international law. The Cicchino Awards recognize and honor those students and alumni whose devotion to and creative service in the public interest exemplify the highest ideals of the Washington College of Law.
Public Interest Entrepreneur Award
To encourage an entrepreneurial public service spirit among WCL students, the Public Interest Entrepreneur Award is given to a current WCL student or to a group of students who have developed an independent project that demonstrates a creative approach to a pressing social justice issue, addresses the identified issue, and fills a gap in the need for legal services. To qualify, the project must demonstrate potential for continued work in the target area, and although it can be housed in an existing legal organization, it must have been created and maintained by the WCL student or group. This award is not necessarily given every year. It is given under the discretion of the awards committee whose decision is based on the quality of nominations received.
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:
Equal Justice Foundation. Working closely with the law school faculty and administration, American University Washington College of Law's Equal Justice Foundation (EJF) awards fellowships of $4,000 each to students taking public interest employment in their first or second summers. The EJF raises money for these fellowships through an annual auction, and the law school matches a significant portion of the monies raised. Visit our website.
The Office of Public Interest maintains a Summer Funding page on their website to keep students up to date about the various summer funding opportunities available.
Graduate Student Funded:
Other Funding Sources:
Patton Boggs Public Policy Fellowship
Since 2011, the Patton Boggs 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.
Women's Bar Association Foundation of the District of Columbia Founders Fellowship
Approximately every six years, the Women's Bar Association Foundation of the District of Columbia (WBAF) selects the American University Washington College of Law (WCL) as the recipient of their Founders Fellowship. In 2013, WCL was selected to be the recipient of the Fellowship, which provides a stipend to allow a law student to work at a local non-profit organization dedicated to serving the legal and related needs of women and girls in the DC Metropolitan area. The amount of the fellowship is $7,500.
American University, Washington College of Law students are also eligible to apply for Equal Justice America fellowships and the Equal Justice Works Summer Corps Program.
Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs
Founders' Celebration - This is more than a celebration. It's five months that will change perceptions, spark new ideas, and lead the conversation in all areas of the law. Founders' Celebration is about championing what matters. It's a theme that began at WCL in 1898 with Founders Ellen Spencer Mussey and Emma Gillett and continues to gain momentum at the school today.
Throughout each spring semester, the institution welcomes students, alumni, judges, scholars, and members of the DC and international legal community to American University Washington College of Law for a series of events, seminars, panel discussions, expert forums, and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs. Visit the website.
In My Back Yard (IMBY) Public Service Day - IMBY is a volunteer public service project sponsored by the Office of Public Interest and the PIPS Scholars 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. Visit the wwebsite.
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. For a list of the current active student organizations at WCL visit the website
Updated: April 7, 2020