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.
Through service and pro bono initiatives sponsored by the Public Service Program (PSP), students have the opportunity to apply practical lawyering skills almost immediately after joining Southwestern. As part of the legal profession’s responsibility to ensure equal access to justice for all communities, students have opportunities to engage in direct services, litigation, and policy advocacy as well as community education in a wide variety of settings while providing 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, unmet legal needs across communities continue to increase in complexity as well as scope. Legal services organizations and community-based organizations, already unable to meet high demand for no-cost services, are more challenged than ever to protect the legal rights of indigent clients.
Established in 2009, and in recognition of the overwhelming need for legal assistance throughout California, Southwestern’s Public Service Program 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 and perform 75-hours of service by the April deadline in their final year of study. Graduating students meeting their 75-hour pledge will be recognized at commencement ceremonies and a notation of Public Service Program distinction will be placed on their academic transcripts. 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
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.