About the Pro Bono Program

What is Pro Bono?

The term Pro Bono comes from the Latin "Pro Bono Publico," which means "for the public good."

The Pro Bono Program provides students with opportunities to deliver law-related services to community members of limited financial means.  Students are assisted and supported by Pro Bono Program staff with placements in private and nonprofit law firms, legal aid groups, in-house programs and other organizations, where their pro bono work is performed under appropriate supervision. In keeping with the law school's law-in-action tradition, students develop legal and professional skills, gain practical, hands-on experience in real work environments and explore their ethical responsibility to provide pro bono service. 

Students who graduate in 2014 or later and complete a minimum of fifty hours of pro bono services will be inducted into the Pro Bono Society and graduate with pro bono distinction.  


The mission of the Pro Bono Program is to provide students and faculty with opportunities to deliver pro bono services to underrepresented community members of limited financial means.


The goals of the Pro Bono Program include: providing desperately-needed services to the Dane County community, instilling in students a sense of professional responsibility that includes a lasting commitment to providing pro bono services, helping students learn about representing the underrepresented, providing students with practical experiences and the opportunity to interact with representatives from public interest organizations and law firms, and building a positive identity that strengthens UW Law School's community ties.

Project Guidelines

  1. Law-related: To receive recognition for their pro bono work, students at the University of Wisconsin Law School must perform work that is law-related.
  2. Uncompensated: Students must work in a volunteer capacity and may not receive any compensation, including stipends, for pro bono work counted towards the Pro Bono Program benchmarks.  
  3. No Academic Credit: Any work performed to fulfill requirements of a clinic or directed study project, or to otherwise obtain academic credit will not be counted towards recognized pro bono hours
  4. Supervision/Training: Students must be trained and supervised by an attorney, law school faculty or staff member, or other licensed professional. 
  5. Eligible Clients: To receive credit towards the Pro Bono Program service requirements, the work must serve:
    • People of limited financial means or
    • Charitable or not-for-profit organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited financial means. 

These guidelines are adapted from ABA Model Rule 6.1.


The Pro Bono Program (formerly the University of Wisconsin Law School Pro Bono Partnership Project) began as a pilot project in 2007. Its basic structure involved pairing law students with local Dane County attorneys to provide legal assistance in civil matters to persons otherwise unable to secure legal representation.

Today, our students participate in 25 different projects and can also create their own project subject to approval by the Pro Bono Program Director. Attorney Laura Smythe is the Director. We also have a Pro Bono Program Coordinator and a Veterans Law Center Administrator. 


  • In the fall of 2017, our students served 595 clients through 18 different Pro Bono Projects--and they served 1,225 pro bono hours.
  • In the spring of 2018, our students served 1,107 clients through 22 different Pro Bono Projects--and they served 1,448 pro bono hours.
  • During their time at UW Law, the spring and summer Class of 2018 served 3,580 pro bono hours.

Commitment to Excellence

The UW Law School is committed to excellence in legal education, which involves offering substantial opportunities for student participation in pro bono activities. Students who participate in the Pro Bono Program are provided with hands-on opportunities to develop professional skills under the supervision of practicing lawyers, law faculty members, and other licensed professionals while exploring the ABA's ethical standards, which state that lawyers should aspire to provide 50 hours per year of pro bono legal services to people of limited means or nonprofit organizations that serve the poor.

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