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 experiential for-credit public interest-related externship or legal clinic work. Students who complete 25 hours of pro bono public service in an academic 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.
NOTE: Students sign up for pro bono opportunities at the annual Public Service Day.
"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 Dym Cohen, Director of the Street Law Clinic and Public Service Programs
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 the Small Claims Court Clinic or with law-related education and legal diversity pipeline programs, such as Southwestern's Hoover Mock Trial, and Teen 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.
Students can obtain a list of suggested opportunities that qualify under the policy through Southwestern Public Service Program TWEN or by visiting the Legal Clinic or reaching out to Michelle Takagishi-Almeida, Director of Public Service Programs. Information about public interest 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.