Frequently Asked Questions
What are law-related services?
Attorneys are asked to provide legal services to fulfill their pro bono obligations. However, law students are not yet lawyers and therefore cannot directly perform legal services for clients, except under appropriate supervision. Law-related services is a term designed to encompass all the ways that law students can assist in legal matters while stopping short of directly performing unsupervised legal services for a client. This term can include:
- Work for clients that is law-related, but not the direct provision of legal services such as helping someone to fill out forms such as tax forms, forms to obtain a government benefit or other forms related to a legal process or legal requirement.
- Work to assist an attorney in client representation including legal research, document drafting, and trial preparation.
- Helping an organization by doing legislative analysis.
- Preparing materials to teach high school students about an area of the law.
- Work to improve the legal system through a change in the law.
These are only a few examples of the meaning of law-related that are designed to indicate the breadth of the term. The term does not include clerical services, charitable efforts including collecting food and clothing for those in need, and public service projects such as home building, food service, and other worthy projects.
When can I begin my pro bono service?
After you have completed one semester of law school.
When do I have to complete my pro bono service?
You must complete your service 75 days prior to graduation. For students graduating in May, this date will fall approximately at the beginning of March during your last semester of law school.
Is there a limit on the number of placements I can participate in to total 20 hours?
The limit is 3 placements. The limit on the number of placements is based on the fact that students who perform only a few hours of pro bono service at a large number of placements are not likely to obtain all of the benefits intended by the pro bono requirement. A larger number of hours at fewer placements are more likely to provide the student with significant experience as well as maximize the utility of the student’s effort to those the student is serving. It is expected that many students will serve all of the 20 hours at a single placement, but this is not necessary to satisfy the requirement.
I will be away from Springfield this summer doing work that I believe should qualify for pro bono credit. Is there any geographic limitation on where I can fulfill my pro bono requirement?
No, there is no geographic restriction. The only requirement is that the placement be pre-approved by the Office of Career Services. Make sure to make your pre-approval request as early as possible so that the placement is pre-approved prior to the time you begin your work.
What if I fail to get approval prior to starting to perform pro bono services. Does this mean I can’t get any credit for those services?
If you fail to get pre-approval, you can’t get any credit for hours served prior to approval. However, if you continue to work at the same placement after receiving approval, you can get credit for work done at that placement once you get pre-approval. The fact that you did’t get approval prior to the beginning of working at the placement does not disqualify all future service at that placement.
What kind of employers can I work for and receive pro bono credit?
The critical question is the nature of the work you perform. While you can receive credit in certain circumstances for work performed at a private law firm, a government agency, a legislative office, a nonprofit organization, a legal service organization, and other types of placements, you can only qualify for pro bono credit if the nature of the service you provide falls within the definition of law-related pro bono service.
I have an internship this summer working at the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. I am not receiving a salary or credit for this internship. Will this fulfill my pro bono requirement?
Government service can fulfill the pro bono requirement if the objectives of the service fall within the definition of pro bono. In addition, since you are not receiving a salary or credit for your work, you have satisfied those two requirements for pro bono service. However, as with all pro bono placements, you will need to obtain pre-approval from the Office of Career Services. It is likely that you will receive such approval since you are working in the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau. The work of this Bureau will probably fall within the category of a governmental organization seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights.
I have a public interest externship. I am expected to work 15 hours per week at my placement. If I work 3 extra hours each week, can I count these hours toward the pro bono requirement?
No. You cannot serve your pro bono hours during the same time period as you are serving hours for credit. However, if the externship is at a placement that satisfies the definition of pro bono service, you may be able to receive pro bono credit for additional hours you work after the end of your externship. This would require the pre-approval of the Office of Career Services as well as the permission of both your faculty supervisor and your externship supervisor.
When can I get pro bono credit for working for a private attorney?
If you receive a salary or academic credit you cannot receive pro bono credit no matter what kind of work you are doing. If you are not receiving a salary or credit, it depends on the kind of work you are doing. If the attorney is handling a case pro bono for a client of limited means and you are also working on that case, the hours you work on the client’s case can be counted for pro bono credit. However, if the work is for a fee-paying client or a client who does not have limited means, you cannot receive credit. Fee paying means the payment of the attorney for the attorney’s time. It can still be pro bono service if the client pays costs such as court filing fees, but does not compensate the attorney for his or her time.
I have an unpaid/noncredit internship working for a judge. Can this work qualify for pro bono credit?
No. Assisting a judge with cases assigned to the judge (doing research and writing draft opinions) does not fall within the definition of pro bono service. If the judge is working on a law reform project, however, hours devoted to work on the law reform project could fall within the definition of pro bono service. Such work could fall within category (5) of the definition of pro bono service because it is an “activity for improving access to the law, improving the legal system or improving the legal profession.” As with all other pro bono service, pre-approval from the Office of Career Services will be necessary.
I have an unpaid/noncredit internship working for a District Attorney. Can this work qualify for pro bono credit?
No. Volunteering in a prosecutor’s office does not fall within the definition of pro bono service. There may be situations where a prosecutor is working on a specific project that falls within the definition of pro bono service. The Office of Career Services is happy to discuss whether a particular project qualifies for pro bono credit.