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University of San Diego School of Law

University of San Diego School of Law
Warren Hall
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110

Law School Pro Bono Programs

Contact Information

Kimberly Etchepare
Chair, PBLA (student)
[email protected]

Professor Laura Berend
[email protected]



Category Type

Formal Voluntary Pro Bono Program Characterized by Administrative Support for In-house and Collaborative Group Projects


Description of Programs

The University of San Diego School of Law Pro Bono Legal Advocates (PBLA) is a student-run organization that provides opportunities for law students to donate their time and talents to the community. The purpose of PBLA is to promote charity, selflessness, and justice in law students so that each may bring those qualities into the professional arena. PBLA achieves its goals each year by molding its programs to meet the changing needs of the student body.

PBLA is dedicated to giving legal assistance to the local community. Through each of its seven programs, PBLA helps bring legal help to those who would otherwise be lost in the legal system or who might not be able to afford competent counsel. In addition, PBLA provides programs that are not specifically law-oriented for those who want to help out in the local community. Current programs include AIDS home visits, guardianship, domestic violence prevention, juvenile law, mediation and a high school mentoring program.


Location of Programs

Stand-Alone Program



The University of San Diego School of Law Pro Bono Legal Advocates (PBLA)is a student-run organization. PBLA is assisted by a faculty advisor and receives support from the School of Law's administrative staff.




Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects

AIDS Clinic - Students work through the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Inc. (SDVLP). AIDS Legal Clinic Volunteers have a unique opportunity to gain legal experience and help the community. Every Monday night the clinic provides free legal services to anyone with HIV/AIDS.

Working through the SDVLP, AIDS Clinic Volunteers have a unique opportunity to gain legal experience and help the community. These services are vital to a community that may not otherwise have access to competent legal assistance. Students are given the opportunity to have a hands-on experience in the legal community and really make a difference in people's lives. Volunteers will work under the supervision of staff attorney, Kendra Rupe Esq., and will have the responsibilities of aiding local pro bono lawyers in interviewing clients on issues spanning from landlord/ tenant, MediCal/ MedicAid, wrongful termination, estate planning, debtor/creditor, disclosure, and social security issues. Student volunteers will devote 2 hours every week assisting either at the Monday Night Clinic in Hillcrest or at the downtown location.

Domestic Violence – The Domestic Violence Prevention Clinic is a part of SDVLP. SDVLP trains students to staff the Domestic Violence Restraining Order Clinic; this Clinic runs out of the Family Court in downtown San Diego. Students assist clients to obtain temporary restraining orders and complete related pleadings, explanation the legal system and provide referrals to social support agencies. In addition to assisting clients directly, students also have the opportunity to observe Family Court proceedings.

Elder Law – The Elder Law Clinic places USD law students with Elder Law and Advocacy, a non-profit legal organization assisting seniors. Students assist in areas such as general legal services, litigation, nursing home rights and health insurance law. General legal services include wills, power of attorney, landlord tenant, real estate and other issues affecting seniors. Students volunteering in the litigation area assist staff attorneys to draft court documents and trial preparation. All areas give students the opportunity to draft memoranda, prepare legal documents and interview clients.

Guardianship Clinic – Through SDVLP's Guardianship Clinic, students assist caretakers prepare the court filings necessary to obtain legal guardianship. In one afternoon, students fulfill an important role in creating the legal relationship that dramatically improves the life of a child who has been abused, neglected or abandoned by his/ her parent(s). The clinic is held biweekly in the SDVLP offices from 3:00 until 6:00pm. Minimum commitment is 1 session, every other week.

Mentoring Clinic – The Mentoring Clinic pairs USD law students with students from John Marshall Elementary School in east San Diego. USD volunteers spend 1 hour a week (minimum) serving as role models for these students, helping with homework and playing games.

Monarch Debate Clinic – The Monarch Debate Clinic is a partnership between USD and Monarch School, a school for San Diego indigent youth. Volunteers go to Monarch School for 1 hour a week for 2-3 months to meet with the youth, help them conduct research and teach them to formulate legal arguments. Volunteers also teach the youth oral advocacy skills. This clinic culminates with a formal debate in the USD courtroom.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance – VITA is an IRS-sponsored program that offers basic tax return preparation training for volunteers to assist people whose incomes are $36,000 or less. Volunteers are trained by the IRS and receive certification in the Link & Learn computer program and undergo 16 hours of computer training. Training occurs season in early January. Students are then asked to give a 3 hour a week commitment during from late January to April 15th. Students provide basic tax return preparation for San Diego residents throughout the county.


Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono



Student Pro Bono Legal Advocates holds a dinner and reception recognizing PBLA's membership and board. At the dinner, various awards are presented including awards for the student who has volunteered the most hours and for the outstanding student from each legal clinic.

Several public interest awards are presented at the law school's awards ceremony including an award by the Center for Public Interest Law for the most outstanding public interest advocate and by the Childrens' Advocacy Institute for the most outstanding child advocate. An Alec Cory Pro Bono Service award is also given. Students who have volunteered over 50 hours of pro bono service are identified by wearing honor cords at graduation.


Community Service

Mentoring- This program pairs an elementary school with law students. USD volunteers serve as role models for these students. By developing a relationship, the volunteers provide guidance and encouragement to seek higher goals.

Beach Clean-up - Students participate one semester in an area beach clean-up process.


Law School Public Interest Programs

Contact Information

Career Counselor
[email protected]
Career Services


Certificate/Curriculum Programs


Public Interest Centers

Center for Public Interest Law

Children's Advocacy Institute

Energy Policy Initiatives Center


Public Interest Clinics

Child Advocacy Clinic: Dependency I & Dependency II– Students participating in Students participating in the Dependency Clinic work with an assigned attorney from the San Diego Office of the Public Defender representing abused children in dependency court proceedings. Dependency Clinic interns meet as a group once a week to discuss their work and to review current issues in child advocacy.

Child Advocacy Clinic: Policy I & Policy II – Students participating in the Policy Section work with CAI staff on projects relating to state agency rulemaking, legislation, litigation, or other advocacy. Policy projects might include performing research and writing on the California Children's Budget or the Children's Regulatory Law Reporter. Interns may also be assigned to participate in policy research and analysis of current applications of law and regulations as they affect children.

Civil Clinic – Students participating in the Civil Clinic interview, counsel and represent clients in actual civil cases under the supervision of a clinical professor through the in-house clinic law office. Weekly group meetings are combined with individual case conferences to provide intensive personal training in problem solving and case management, and to provide exposure to practice and procedure.

Criminal Clinic I & II – The Criminal Clinic is a clinical course that places students with a prosecuting or defending agency in the criminal justice system. A two-hour per week classroom component provides simulations, lectures and discussions in the most common areas of criminal practice.

Entrepreneurship Clinic – Through hands-on opportunities, students in the Entrepreneurship Clinic provide pro bono legal services to low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs who want to start or expand their small businesses. The Entrepreneurship Clinic does not engage in litigation-related services; instead, it focuses on advising clients on legal matters relating to their business and assisting in drafting and filing necessary documents. Such work includes determining the appropriate choice of business entity; assistance in obtaining necessary permits and licenses; advising on employment and independent contractor issues; drafting and reviewing commercial contracts and leases; and assisting with the establishment of tax-exempt organizations.

Environmental Law Clinic I & II – This is a clinical course for students who wish to develop litigation skills in the context of environmental law. All work is performed under the direct supervision of the director of the Environmental Law Clinic. There is a two-hour per week classroom component, as well as a regular meeting with the director of the Environmental Law Clinic.

Immigration Clinic I & II – Students participating in the Immigration Clinic gain practical experience through interviewing, counseling, and representing clients with immigration-related problems. Weekly meetings are held with the clinic supervisor to discuss immigration law and practice and casework.

Land Use Clinic I & II – The Land Use Clinic provides students with the opportunity to become involved in land use and land development issues. Students may be placed with a government agency, such as the San Diego City Attorney's Office, or elect to work with private clients. Students represent private clients by assisting property owners through the permitting process and at discretionary review hearings. Students also meet with local community planning groups and negotiate with the city or other governmental agencies. Students represent private clients under the supervision of the Land Use Clinic director. The weekly two hour classroom component covers the basic statutory and regulatory framework of land use law and procedures.

Mental Health Clinic – The Mental Health Clinic is a fast-paced, hands-on course supervised by the director of the Patient Advocacy Program. Students develop their interviewing, negotiation, investigation and critical thinking skills in the context of statutorily mandated administrative hearings in psychiatric facilities and resolving patient rights complaints. Students may attend meetings regarding the administrative/regulatory aspects of behavioral health care. The weekly 1-1/2 hour class component includes lectures, guest speakers, case review and discussion.

Patient Advocacy Program – The Patient Advocacy Program provides statutorily mandated advocacy services to mental health consumers in a variety of 24 hour facilities throughout San Diego County. Patient advocates provide patient representation at administrative hearings conducted to review involuntary psychiatric holds. They also investigate complaints of alleged abuse and denial of rights in various treatment settings.

The program provides education and outreach to consumers, providers and the community regarding the laws and regulations that govern mental health treatment and patient rights.

Perspectives in Criminal Justice – Students participating in the Perspectives in Criminal Justice course serve as pre-arraignment representatives for the Department of the Public Defender by going into the San Diego County Jail and identifying recent arrestees who have not made bail. Students conduct initial interviews to provide advice regarding an arrestee's constitutional and statutory rights, address an arrestee's concerns arising from his incarceration, and obtain and investigate information relevant to the issue of bail, such as the arrestee's length of residence, his current employment status, and ties to the local community.

Students assist the deputy public defender in the felony arraignment department by counseling and arraigning defendants charged with felony offenses and arguing for a bail reduction or release. Students also interview persons convicted of a criminal offense who have been identified by the Department of the Public Defender as eligible for an expungement of their convictions in order to compile and prepare the documentation required for the appropriate motion. Students may argue any motions that they have prepared that are set for a court hearing.

Public Interest Law Clinic – Students who enjoy Public Interest Law and Practice frequently go on to take Public Interest Law Clinic, in which they may design their own writing or advocacy project related to regulatory or public interest law. In the past, these projects have included written critiques of agencies or agency programs; petitioning an agency to adopt regulations; drafting model legislation; participating in litigation to enforce the state's "sunshine statutes"; or submitting amicus curiae briefs on public interest issues pending appeal. Student critiques of publishable quality may satisfy USD's written work requirement.

Small Claims Clinic I & II – The Small Claims Clinic offers students the opportunity to develop interviewing and counseling skills as well as trial preparation skills in the Small Claims Court context. Students assist low-income families in preparing their cases for trial at Small Claims Court and can represent clients in the appeals process in Superior Court.

Special Education Clinic I & II – Students receive practical training and experience in client intake, interviewing and counseling, and representation of clients at meetings with school district personnel. Some cases proceed to formal mediation and hearing. Weekly group meetings are combined with individual case conferences to provide intensive personal training in case management. The classroom component also includes an overview of statutes and cases in this growing area of civil law.

Tax Clinic – The Tax Clinic is a hands-on class that provides students with practical tax controversy experience while assisting low income taxpayers with IRS problems. An emphasis is placed upon client interviewing skills, as well as learning how to negotiate with the IRS, and how to effectively resolve a client's federal tax dispute. Also, students provide outreach programs to the local community, advising citizens of their rights as taxpayers, as well as their tax obligations.




The Agency Internship Program consists of a work component and a class component and allows students to earn academic credit (typically between one and three credits) for working in a law-related internship position. For the work component, students intern with an employer who is involved in the civil law field, either a government agency or a nonprofit organization. Students also participate in class sessions, primarily involving small group discussions. Students are required to keep a journal and complete a writing assignment.


The Judicial Internship Program allows students to earn academic credit (typically between four and six credits) for working with judges in state or federal trial or appellate courts. The primary purpose of these placements is to translate academic legal education into practical adjudicative decision making, thus helping students understand how the courts work and how attorneys, judges and litigants succeed and fail in the process. By virtue of the variety of work in their placements, judicial interns also improve their skills in research, writing, observation and oral communication.


Classes with a Public Service Component


Public Interest Journals

The law school's Children's Advocacy Institute (CAI) publications include:

  1. California Children's Budget 2004-05 (San Diego, CA; 2004)
  2. 2004 Children's Legislative Report Card (San Diego, CA; 2004)
  3. 2004 CAI Annual Report (San Diego, CA; 2005)
  4. Children's Regulatory Law Reporter, Vol. 5, No. 2 (San Diego, CA; 2005)

The law school's Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL) publishes the California Regulatory Law Reporter. The 2004-2005 issues of that journal are forthcoming.


PI Career Support Center

The University of San Diego School of Law Career Services Office offers a variety of services to support public interest student career opportunities. Internship, employment, fellowship, grant and scholarship opportunities are posted regularly on the online Student Job Listings site. Career Services staff are available to review student funding applications.

Knowing that public interest legal organizations and government agencies often lack resources to pay law students, the Career Services Office bi-annually facilitates the "Financing Your Public Interest Summer" workshop to educate students about funding opportunities and strategies. Workshop topics include the USD Community Service Grant, Off/On Campus Federal Work Study, Equal Justice Summer Corps, Summer Fellowship Resources and writing funding applications.

USD School of Law Career Services Office works with USD's Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) to raise funds to enable students to attend the annual EQUAL JUSTICE WORKS PUBLIC INTEREST CONFERENCE & CAREER FAIR --

The Equal Justice Works Public Interest Conference and Career Fair offers panels and workshops aimed at educating and equipping students for a public interest career. At the concurrent Career Fair, employers from throughout the nation conduct individual pre-scheduled interviews and informational interviews. Pre-scheduled interviews occur throughout Thursday and Friday.

Information about registered employers is available to students on the EJW website in the months prior to the conference. The database is updated as new employers register. Students are responsible for submitting their resumes and requested documents directly to the employer. Equal Justice Works strongly encourages students to submit applications by September 22. Employers are responsible for contacting applicants and arranging interview schedules.

Career Services coordinates student registration.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUBLIC INTEREST CAREER DAY - Public Interest Career Day is comprised of a number of different activities: Prescheduled, formal interviews for summer and/or postgraduate positions. A morning panel discussion, "Getting Started in a Public Interest Career," and an afternoon panel discussion, "Criminal Law: Prosecution and Defense." A series of informal lunchtime discussions, each focusing on a different substantive area of public interest practice. Informal "table-talk" with representatives of more than 90 of the participating organizations, agencies and firms.


Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)

For a description see:

Funding Description:

Two accounts primarily support the Loan Repayment Assistance Program:

  1. LRAP endowment account
  2. Account for non-endowment annual gifts to LRAP

An annual pledge drive organized by the Public Interest Law Foundation raises funds for the non-endowment.


Post-Graduate Fellowships/Awards

Law School Funded:


Graduate Student Funded:


Other Funding Sources:


Term Time Fellowships/Scholarships

Law School Funded:


Graduate Student Funded


Other Funding Sources:


Summer Fellowships

Law School Funded:


Graduate Student Funded:


Other Funding Sources:


Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs

LRAP Texas Hold'em Tournament

PBLA Public Interest Speaker Events


Student Public Interest Groups

Law Student Public Interest Law Foundation

Pro Bono Legal Advocates