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Posted March 18, 2010

Students Rack Up Record Pro Bono Hours Over Winter Break

Emery
Kimberly Carpenter Emery

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Contact: Rob Seal

Law School students volunteered more than 6,000 hours of pro bono work over winter break this year, an increase of more than 2,500 hours from last year.

The Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center helped 157 students find pro bono work over the break, and about 80 percent of those students had reported their time as of March 1. Student pro bono efforts over winter break have increased substantially in recent years: Last year’s total of about 3,500 hours was more than double the total from the previous year.

“We are just absolutely thrilled to see this uptick. It could of course be connected to the legal market, and students are realizing they need to get as much experience as possible, but the amount of hours that they put out there makes me think it’s beyond a strategic move,” said Kimberly Carpenter Emery, the assistant dean for pro bono and public interest. “I think there’s a lot of altruism involved. We had students volunteering over 100 hours during their break.”

The achievement is particularly impressive considering that to qualify, pro bono hours must be spent on legal work supervised by an attorney, Emery said.

“We’re very strict in what we count toward the Pro Bono Challenge. It’s only law work, no community service or fundraising,” she said.

First-year student Lindsey Brooker spent part of her winter break working for in the housing unit at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, where she logged almost 40 pro bono hours. Brooker, who said she is interested in criminal prosecution, worked on issues regarding sex offenders who apply for public housing.

“I’m a first year, so I had no legal experience at all coming into legal aid, and I loved it. It was really neat to see what my limited legal knowledge and the guidance of others would allow me to do,” she said. “I also got to see the real-world implications of people seeking legal services.”

First-year student David Perez logged 50 hours with the New York County District Attorney’s Office, where he conducted legal research on a self-defense case for a prosecutor about to go to trial.

Perez said he was also able to observe a prosecutor interview a witness, and said the experience gave him a deeper appreciation of the skills trial attorneys need to develop.

“One thing that I learned that I was a little surprised about was the necessity of interpersonal skills when it comes to dealing with people like victims and officers — especially if you are a prosecutor in a big city office,” Perez said. “A lot of it has to do with more than the law, and you don’t get to see a lot of that when you are in school and reading cases.”

Jessica Boluda completed about 60 hours of pro bono work in the legal department of the Young Women’s Christian Association in Annapolis, Md. Boluda helped the attorneys there work to get protective orders for victims of domestic violence.

The clients were typically women who had already received a preliminary protective order from a judge, but would have to go back to court within a week to attempt to secure a permanent one, said Boluda, who is also a first-year student. 

“I was able to see a lot of victims come in, we’d do the interview, and then we’d go to court,” she said. “I got to see the interview part and then kind of shadow the attorney in court and see them try to do a negotiation with the opposing party’s attorney.”

Pro bono work helps students get real-world experience in a short amount of time while working on important issues, Boluda said.

“I got to do client interviews, and the attorneys helped me figure out what are the right questions to ask somebody in a client interview, and identify the information needed to build a strong case,” she said.