Pro bono service is a great way to build your resume, gain experience and network with attorneys in many different fields. Further, you will be able to use your knowledge and skills to deliver much-needed legal services to residents of our community, who are otherwise unable to get legal help. Finally, the ABA Model Rules state that attorneys have a professional responsibility to deliver legal services to those who cannot afford legal representation. As a law student, you are encouraged to do the same.
• Can 1Ls participate in the Pro Bono Program?
Yes. Each placement on our Current Opportunities page specifies requirements for involvement, including class year, and several opportunities are open to all law students.
• How can I get involved?
- Meet with the Pro Bono Program Coordinator, to discuss pro bono opportunities, find an opportunity that interests you on our Current Opportunities page, or come up with your own idea for a pro bono partnership in the community.
- Select and contact your preferred organizations to inquire about their current need for assistance and arrange to meet with organization to discuss providing pro bono services.
- If you are initiating an individual pro bono project, fill out and submit a Student Project Proposal to ensure that your project conforms to Pro Bono Program guidelines. Student Project Proposals will be reviewed for approval by Pro Bono Program staff.
- You are required to complete the mandatory Ethics Course prior to commencing any pro bono work or training. Failure to do so will result in your hours being ineligible for admission into the Pro Bono Society.
- The student and the organization then arrange for training and discharge of the student’s pro bono work with the organization.
- Keep careful track of pro bono time (including up to 6 hours of training) on your online Student Time Log.
- Once you have entered all your hours for the semester, the Pro Bono Program Staff will review your time log for approval. Only approved hours are eligible for admission into the Pro Bono Society.
• Can I start my own pro bono project?
Yes. Students are encouraged to create their own pro bono opportunities based on existing partnerships in the community or potential community needs. All placements should be approved prior to participation. Read more here or contact the Pro Bono Program staff for additional information.
• Am I required to have any specific training for my pro bono project?
Yes, you must complete the mandatory Ethics Course prior to any site specific training or work. Failure to do so will result in your hours being ineligible for admission into the Pro Bono Society. Further, all pro bono projects must include sufficient cite-specific training for student volunteers. Training must be conducted by an attorney, law faculty member, or other licensed professional with sufficient expertise in the subject area.
Pro Bono Society Recognition
The Pro Bono Society was formed in September 2011 to recognize the outstanding efforts of law students engaged in pro bono service during their tenure at UW Law School. Students who complete a minimum number of approved pro bono service hours will be inducted into the Pro Bono Society and will graduate with pro bono distinction. Hours may be completed through Pro Bono Program opportunities or approved individual projects.
• Where can I obtain forms for logging my pro bono hours?
Hours should be logged and submitted using our online time keeping form, which is located here.
• When should I submit my Student Log Time?
You may either submit your hours after each time you volunteer or you may choose to submit all your hours at the end of the semester. If your project lasts longer than one semester, please submit a separate Student Time Log for each semester that you participate..
• Can I log travel time to my pro bono placement?
No. The Pro Bono Society was established to recognize the hours of direct service students provide, not the time spent traveling to and from placements.
• Can I log training time?
Each student may log up to six hours of training time toward their total number of pro bono hours. This means that if you complete 4 hours of training for one opportunity and 3 hours of training for another opportunity, you can only count 2 hours of training for your second opportunity, not the full 3. This is because the Pro Bono Society was established to recognize the hours of direct service students provide, not the time spent training.
• Can pro bono hours completed while attending another law school count towards induction into the Pro Bono Society?
Yes, as long as they meet our guidelines as detailed here.
• Does Pro Bono work done before becoming a law student count towards Pro Bono Society Induction?
No. In order for your hours to count toward Pro Bono Society induction, you must have done your pro bono work during law school.
Yes. Students are encouraged to contact the Pro Bono Program staff for assistance in finding placements in their home cities over the summer or during breaks. Commuter students may also be able to find placements near their home cities during the regular semester. Additionally, students may participate in pro bono spring, summer and winter break trips. Check the current opportunities page for current pro bono opportunities focused on providing services outside of Dane County.
• Does work done over the summer qualify?
It depends. If your work is being appropriately supervised, and your work meets the Pro Bono Program project guidelines, you most likely can count your hours toward pro bono recognition. However, you should contact the Pro Bono Program staff prior to starting your placement to be certain.
• I am receiving a stipend from my supervising organization. Does this count as pro bono service?
No. Work for which a student is compensated, either with pay or academic credit, is not eligible for recognition through the Pro Bono Program.
• I received a Summer Public Service Fellowship from the law school for my experience. Does this count as pro bono service?
No. Work for which a student is compensated, either with pay or academic credit, is not eligible for recognition through Pro Bono Program.
• I am volunteering for a partisan political group or individual, or an individual political candidate. Does this count as pro bono service?
No. The Pro Bono Program does not count the following placements for recognition in the Pro Bono Society: work for any partisan group or individual; work for a non-partisan political activity that is associated with a candidate or contending faction in an election for public office; or work to be performed for an elected official, other than as part of the regular administration of federal, state or local government. Prior approval of your work from the Pro Bono Program is required.
• I am involved with a student public service organization. Does this count as pro bono service?
It depends. Work with a student public service organization that is unsupervised and/or not law-related such as tutoring, fund-raising, donation collection, or mentoring does not qualify for Pro Bono Society recognition. Board membership on a student public service organization also does not qualify. Appropriately supervised law-related work performed in conjunction with a student organization will most likely qualify. Check with Pro Bono Program staff to be certain.
• I am participating in a law school clinic, but I am not receiving academic credit or have exceeded the number of hours necessary for credit. Does this count as pro bono service?
Possibly. If a student continues work on a case after their time with the clinic has ended or they have exceeded the number of hours needed for credit and that student does not receive academic credit or pay for the work, this work may be eligible for Pro Bono Society recognition. In such instances students must contact the Pro Bono Program staff to discuss the specific circumstances. Law school clinical programs include:
- Center for Patient Partnerships
- Consumer Law Clinic
- Criminal Appeals Project
- Family Court Clinic
- Family Law Project
- Government and Legislative Law Clinic
- Immigrant Justice Clinic
- Innocence Project
- Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic
- Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons (LAIP)
- Mediation Clinic
- Neighborhood Law Clinic
- Oxford Federal Project
- Prosecution and Public Defender Projects
- Restorative Justice Project
• I am participating in an internship/externship through the law school. Does this count as pro bono service?
Typically no. Any work performed in conjunction with an existing in-house internship or externship will not qualify for recognition through the Pro Bono Program if the student is receiving academic credit or pay for the placement. In the event that a student is not receiving either credit or pay, the hours may be eligible for Pro Bono Society recognition. However, the student must contact the Pro Bono Program staff to discuss the specific circumstances. In-house internships and externships include:
- Hayes Police-Prosecution Project
- Judicial Internship Program
- Labor Law Externship
- Department of Justice Clinical Externship Project
- Midwest Environmental Advocates Externship
- Disability Rights Wisconsin Externship
- Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence Externship
• I am volunteering for a private attorney. Does this count as pro bono service?
It depends. If your supervising attorney is not being compensated for the work OR taking on State Public Defender cases and your work meets the Pro Bono Program project guidelines, you most likely can count your hours toward pro bono recognition. Please contact the Pro Bono Program staff to be certain.
• The firm at which I am working requires interns to perform pro bono work. Does this count as pro bono service?
It depends. If your work is being appropriately supervised, and your work meets the Pro Bono Program project guidelines, you most likely can count your hours toward pro bono recognition. Please contact the Pro Bono Program staff to be certain.
• I am completing a full-time unpaid summer internship. Does this count as pro bono service?
For Attorneys and Partner Organizations
- Contact Pro Bono Program Staff to discuss pro bono cases or project ideas.
- Obtain a Pro Bono Program Project Application for Attorneys & Host Sites. Find the application here.
- Turn in the application to the Pro Bono Program Staff for approval. Information in the submitted application is made available to UW law students once the project has been approved. Interested students may apply directly to the attorney, host organization or firm, or the Pro Bono Program Staff can assist with student placements.
- The student and the attorney or organization then arrange for training and discharge of the student’s pro bono work with the organization.
- Upon project completion, supervisors will be required to submit an evaluation of the experience.
• What are the responsibilities of project supervisors when working with Pro Bono Program student volunteers?
Project supervisors must be willing to provide adequate training, supervision, and guidance for student volunteers. In addition, supervisors may be contacted periodically to inquire about student performance and project outcomes. The Pro Bono Program also encourages project supervisors to communicate if a student is demonstrating a lack of commitment to the project or performing at an exemplary level.
For the General Public
No. The University of Wisconsin Law School’s Pro Bono Program does not provide legal services to members of the general public. Law students may not offer legal advice unless they are working under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney, and the Pro Bono Program does not have supervising attorneys on staff. To access legal assistance and learn more about available resources, please visit the State Bar of Wisconsin's website.