Public Service Policy Encourages Students to Help Those in Need
Very few experiences match the gratification that comes from making a difference in the lives of people in need, and Southwestern students have many avenues through which they can make that kind of connection to the community while developing their legal skills. Since its founding, Southwestern has held public interest as a central component of its curriculum and philosophy and encourages public service through a wide spectrum of programs, courses, activities and individual pursuits.
Recently, the Southwestern faculty strengthened and expanded that commitment by adopting a Public Service Policy that establishes an aspirational level of pro bono work to be completed by students. Beginning this Fall, students are encouraged to perform at least 25 hours of pro bono public service each academic year, in addition to any public interest-related externship or clinic work. Students who complete 25 hours of pro bono public service in a year will receive a formal letter of recognition from the Dean. Students who perform at least 75 hours of pro bono public service cumulatively during their law school experience will receive a notation on their transcript and recognition at graduation. To qualify, work must be performed under the supervision of a licensed attorney or faculty member, and students may not receive compensation or academic credit. The law school at the same time approved a faculty policy that encourages faculty to perform 50 hours of pro bono public service each year. Together the policies place Southwestern at the vanguard of law schools that have recently reaffirmed their long-standing commitment to public interest work and giving back to the local community.
For the purposes of this initiative, public service is defined liberally. Public service includes the provision of direct legal services to the traditionally underrepresented, and other related work on issues furthering the interests of groups and individuals who cannot afford adequate legal representation. Public service also includes all kinds of community legal service, including volunteering with law-related education and legal diversity pipeline programs, such as the Hoover Mock Trial program and the Teen Court program. It likewise includes participation in research and activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession, as well as activities that relate to the development of lawyering skills (such as translation services, interviewing, and guidance or counseling in law related work).
According to Vice Dean Austen Parrish, Southwestern's expanded commitment to public interest and community service is just one step in Southwestern's efforts to better integrate the teaching of professionalism and professional skills throughout the law school curriculum. "Doing public interest work during law school is not only a rewarding way for our students to make a difference in the community," he said. "It is a key way for students to cultivate and learn lawyering skills that will be valuable in any career."
Students seeking pro bono opportunities can obtain more information from Professor Laura Cohen, Director of the Street Law Clinic and Community Outreach. Information can also be found about public service opportunities in the Career Services and Externship offices. A list of suggested opportunities with public interest organizations and on campus student programs that qualify under the policy will be available for students interested in volunteering, and other public service work will be considered on a case by case basis.
"The policy shows our commitment to public service and encourages, assists and recognizes students who perform volunteer work," Professor Cohen said. "The program benefits everyone involved including our students as well as individuals and agencies in our community. We are providing an opportunity to enhance our students' educational experience while developing a sense of responsibility and understanding of their role in society as a future lawyer."