Winter break pro bono is an opportunity to volunteer for a week or two in early January. These projects allow you to serve clients in need, develop critical legal skills, enhance your resume, and gain real world experience. Winter break pro bono is also an excellent option for students who are unable to participate in pro bono during the academic year or for those who need additional hours to qualify for a Public Service Summer grant. In 2022, 194 students participated in winter break pro bono projects, volunteering over 6,500 hours at 101 organizations across the country including nonprofits, legal services providers and governmental agencies.
Participate in Winter Break Pro Bono
With assistance from the Pro Bono Program, and by following these simple steps, students can craft their own winter break pro bono projects.
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 volunteers arrange projects in their hometowns or other places where they can live cheaply or for free. This list of past projects shows the wide variety of host organizations and locations available for winter break pro bono.
Another easy way to search for winter break host organizations is by using PSJD. PSJD is a 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 and to search by location or substantive area of law. Students can register for their free account at psjd.org.
2. Determine how many hours to volunteer
Most organizations prefer volunteers who can offer at least 40 hours of service during the first weeks of January. Schedule your other activities such as travel, job interviews, or J-Term courses before committing to a winter break pro bono project.
3. Consider what type of pro bono
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 the necessity of background checks. Volunteering for a federal, state, or local judge does not qualify as pro bono (FAQ 7).
In addition to the type of organization, give thought to what kinds of projects would interest you. For example, do you like research and writing? Do you want to try policy advocacy? How important is regular client contact? Are you seeking a project that provides a courtroom experience?
4. Contact possible host organizations
Unless you have a personal connection, it is best to contact potential host organizations via email. Here is a sample script to use as a model. Include an updated copy of your resume with your initial email. If you do not receive a response within several business days, send another email or follow up with the organization by phone. Ask to speak to the volunteer or intern coordinator.
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. Public service alumni or other contacts at specific organizations are available by emailing us at email@example.com.
5. Log your pro bono hours
To qualify for the Pro Bono Challenge or to be used for a Public Service Summer 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
The Alternative Spring Break program (ASB), coordinated by the Public Interest Law Association (PILA), sponsors pro bono trips during the Law School’s spring break in March.
ASB volunteers are hosted by a variety of legal services providers, nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies located across the country in both rural and urban areas. In recent years, ASB volunteers have traveled to Richmond, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Bronx, NY; Charlotte, Durham, and Greensboro, North Carolina; Whitesburg, KY; and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Information sessions for interested students are offered during the fall semester with applications due in January.