Winter break pro bono projects, developed in conjunction with the staff of the Pro Bono Program, offer the opportunity to volunteer for concentrated number of hours over the first two weeks in January. Winter break pro bono provides the opportunity to serve clients in need while further developing your legal skills. Volunteers enhance their resumes, gain real world experience, meet potential summer employers, and develop professional networks and mentors.
With assistance from the Pro Bono Program, volunteers create their own individualized pro bono experience. Winter break projects are an excellent option for students unable to participate in pro bono during the academic year or for those who need additional hours to qualify for a PILA grant. In 2020, 135 students participated in winter break pro bono projects, volunteering over 6,000 hours at 98 organizations across the country including nonprofits, legal services providers and governmental agencies.
Participate in Winter Break Pro Bono
*Students who have not participated previously are encouraged to watch the Winter Break Pro Bono Orientation Video
1. Decide where to volunteer
A limited number of winter break projects are posted on GoodWorks and interested students are encouraged to apply. However, most winter break volunteers arrange projects in their hometowns or other places where they can live cheaply or for free. The following list of past projects provides a sense of the wide variety of host organizations and locations for winter break volunteers.
Another excellent way to search for winter break organizations is to create an account on PSJD. PSJD is a searchable database of more than 12,000 public service and nonprofit organizations from around the world. PSJD allows students to access information and contacts for thousands of organizations. In addition, the database can be used to search for organizations geographically or by particular substantive area of law. Students can register for a free account at psjd.org.
2. Determine how many hours to volunteer
Most organizations prefer winter break volunteers who can offer 40-80 hours of service during the first weeks of January. Be sure to consider your other winter break activities such as travel, job interviews, or a J-Term course before committing to a pro bono project.
3. Figure out what type of pro bono work interests you
Qualifying pro bono projects can be with nonprofit organizations, legal services, or state/local governmental agencies, including prosecutors and public defenders. Winter break pro bono projects with federal governmental agencies can be difficult to arrange due to lengthy background checks. Volunteering for a federal, state, or local judge does not qualify as pro bono (FAQ 7).
4. Contact possible host organizations
Unless you have a personal connection, we suggest that you initially contact potential host organizations via email. Here is a sample script to use as a model. You should attach a copy of your updated resume to your email.
If you do not receive a response from the organization within several business days, send a follow-up email. It may be more effective to contact the organization by phone to inquire if they have received your email. If you do not know the name of a specific contact, ask to speak to the volunteer or intern coordinator. It is best to contact one organization at a time beginning with your top choice and moving down your list. Most students secure a winter break placement after sending just one or two emails.
If you would like public service alumni or other contacts at a specific organization, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Log your pro bono hours
To qualify for the Pro Bono Challenge or to be used for a PILA grant application, winter break pro bono hours must be logged in GoodWorks. To log your hours in GoodWorks, your supervising attorney will need to submit a pro bono project form, here. Ask your supervisor to enter your name as the student volunteer.
Alternative Spring Break Pro Bono (ASB)
*Due to the elimination of a dedicated Spring Break week in 2021, Alternative Spring Break trips have been suspended. Instead, PILA will offer a program over the winter break.
Coordinated by the Public Interest Law Association (PILA), the Alternative Spring Break program (ASB) offers a number of pro bono trips during the Law School’s spring break in March. These trips provide students with the opportunity to volunteer for projects with legal services providers, nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies across the country often in rural or inner city locations. Past trips have included: Richmond, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Bronx, NY; Charlotte, Durham, and Greensboro, North Carolina; Whitesburg, KY; and New Orleans, Louisiana. More Information sessions for interested students are offered during the fall semester with applications due in January.