Since its founding, Southwestern has inspired a commitment to public service through a rich selection of programs, courses, activities and individual pursuits. Being in the heart of Los Angeles' "Public Interest Corridor," Southwestern provides students with opportunities to serve the community that few law schools can match.
The Public Service Program (PSP) offers Southwestern students the opportunity to apply and further the development of practical lawyering skills almost immediately after joining the law school. Through PSP, and in partnership with public interest firms /civil legal aid and government agencies, students provide direct legal services, litigation and policy advocacy as well as community legal education in a wide-variety of settings and contexts as part of the legal profession’s responsibility to ensure equal access to justice for all communities. Whether by providing direct legal assistance or defending vulnerable populations through impact litigation, students can provide immediate and meaningful change in service to the public.
Public Service Program Policy
The provision of pro bono legal services is an integral component of a legal education and to the practice of law. Per the California Bar resolution and American Bar Association Model Rules, which calls for fifty hours of pro bono service annually, Southwestern encourages pro bono participation by all members of the Southwestern community in the collective effort to defend equal access to our judicial system and in advancing the public interest.
Pro Bono and Public Service Defined
Following economic, political and social events, such as the economic downturn of the late 2000s and recent natural disasters, unmet legal needs across communities have increased in complexity as well as scope. Public interest/civil legal aid organizations, already unable to meet high demand for legal services, are more challenged than ever to protect the legal rights of indigent clients.
In recognition of the overwhelming need for civil legal assistance in California, Southwestern encourages and recognizes the efforts of students who advance the public interest in addressing systemic and poverty-related needs through pro bono service. For PSP purposes, “public interest” is broadly defined to encompass interests underrepresented by the private sector, including the interests of the poor, ethnic minorities, and broad-ranging advocacy interests of public concern, such as the environment, animal welfare and the welfare of future generations.
Public service is law-related work in the broader category of the public sector, which does not otherwise meet the definition of pro bono.
PSP Pledge & Recognition
Southwestern students are asked to commit to 25-hours of service each year. To qualify for PSP recognition, a student’s pro bono or public service work:
- Must be performed under the supervision of a licensed attorney
- Must be performed without receiving any form of compensation
- Must be public interest / public service related
Those students meeting the 25-hour pledge in an academic year will receive a formal letter of recognition from the Dean.
Those students meeting their 75-hour pledge by the April submission deadline in their final year of study will be recognized at commencement ceremonies and a notation of Public Service Program distinction will be placed on their academic transcripts.
Examples of Pro Bono and Public Service
Direct Legal Services – under the supervision of an attorney, students providing direct legal assistance to an individual through interviewing individuals seeking legal assistance, conducting factual investigation, legal research and writing or legislative analysis and policy interpretation will count for PSP recognition.
Student-led Projects – working with Southwestern student organizations – such as Tax Law Society, Homelessness Prevention Law Project, National Lawyers Guild, Teen Court, etc. – through which the provision of legal assistance or facilitation of judicial process for under-represented groups will count for PSP recognition.
Legal Education – under the supervision of an attorney, staffing legal information hotlines, California Superior Court Self-Help Centers, assisting in the development of legal education materials and presentation of legal education workshops that contribute to the provision of legal assistance or facilitation of judicial process will count for PSP recognition.
Exceptions to Pro Bono and Public Service
Summer Law Clerk Programs – work performed in full-time summer law clerk programs work performed as a law clerk in full-time summer clerk programs with public interest / civil legal aid agencies or government agencies, up to 320-hours will not count for PSP recognition. However, if a student opts to volunteer beyond the 320-hours, up to 40 hours will be credited for PSP recognition.
Externship/Field Placements – students receiving academic credit for field placements with a public interest / civil legal aid or government agency does not count for PSP recognition. If a student opts to volunteer beyond their unit-to-hour requirement for externship/academic credit, only up to 40-hours will be credited for PSP recognition.
Clinics & Practicums – work performed in Southwestern’s faculty-led clinical programs and practicums in which students’ receive academic credit and units do not count for PSP recognition.
Community Service – community service work that does not feature the provision of legal assistance or facilitation of judicial process for underserved groups will not count for PSP recognition. Examples include volunteering for beach clean ups, serving meals in food pantry locations, etc. In addition, no more than 25-hours of community service work in primary or secondary education enrichment programs or law school recruitment programs will count for PSP recognition, such as elementary and high school mock trial programs, legal pipeline programs, etc.
Training – students who undertake training without the actual provision of legal assistance may not count training time for PSP recognition.