Southwestern's Public Service Policy is designed to encourage students to perform at least 25 hours of pro bono public service each academic year, in addition to any public interest-related externship or legal clinic work. Students who complete 25 hours of pro bono public service in a year 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 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 policy shows our commitment to public service and encourages,assists and recognizes students who perform volunteer work. 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."- Professor Laura Cohen, Director of the
Street Law Clinic and Community Outreach
For the purposes of this initiative, public service is defined liberally. It 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 types of community legal service, including volunteering with law-related education and legal diversity pipeline programs, such as Southwestern's Hoover Mock Trial, Teen Court and Small Claims Court programs. In addition, many student organizations provide community service opportunities that qualify for hours including the Homelessness Prevention Law Project and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) 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. Southwestern also encourages students to volunteer outside of the Los Angeles community, such as participating in the annual Justice Bus™ spring break trip, where a group of law students volunteer in collaboration with OneJustice to serve a rural California community to help close the justice gap.
OneJustice featured student Lauren Plunkett as an example of how "It Takes a Network" to achieve access to justice for Californians in need. Click here to read more about her path from undergrad to the Colorado Governor's Office of Information Technology to Southwestern, where she's has participated in the Public Service Program, Public Interest Law Committee, and of course, OneJustice's Justice Bus Project.
Students can obtain a list of suggested opportunities that qualify under the policy from the Legal Clinic or from Professor Laura Cohen, Director of the Street Law Clinic and Community Outreach. Information about public service opportunities can also be found in the Career Services and Externship offices. Other public service work will be considered on a case by case basis.
Click here to read more about the Southwestern students and graduates who assisted underserved rural residents through the Justice Bus Project in the California Bar Journal.