Pro Bono Service at Stetson University College of Law
What is Pro Bono?
Pro bono is short for the Latin term pro bono publico, which roughly translates to “for the public good.” In the legal community, the designation is given to the free legal work done by an attorney for indigent clients, individuals caught in the justice gap, charitable organizations, and nonprofit entities. Stetson, like most institutions, believes that law students should begin this practice while still in school and continue this tradition throughout their legal careers.
Stetson was one of the first law schools in the nation to establish a pro bono service requirement for graduation. Countless Stetson Law students, faculty, alumni and staff members have been recognized for their pro bono commitments and contributions.
The American Bar Association requires that lawyers continue their pro bono work throughout their careers. The ABA Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 6.1) Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service describes the responsibilities of attorneys to engage in pro bono service.
Model Rule 6.1 states that lawyers should aspire to render, without fee, at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services per year, with an emphasis on services that are provided to people of limited means or to nonprofit organizations that serve the poor. The rule recognizes that only lawyers have the special skills and knowledge needed to secure access to justice for low-income people.
Stetson's Graduation Requirement:
Stetson University College of Law requires our students to perform a total of 60 hours of pro bono service during their law school careers. 30 of those hours must be law-related service, supervised by an attorney. The remaining 30 hours may be general community service, which is classified as volunteer work.
Both pro bono and volunteer work are often referred to as Stetson's Pro Bono Program. The pro bono requirement exists because law students can help close the justice gap for individuals and organizations who desperately need legal assistance.
- Students may start volunteering as soon as they feel comfortable, including during the first year of law school.
- We suggest that students complete at least 20 hours of pro bono service (10 hours of legal pro bono and 10 hours of non-legal pro bono) before the start of their second fall semester.
- It is preferred that students must complete all pro bono service hours before the beginning of their last semester of law school. For example, if you are scheduled to graduate in May, your pro bono hours must be worked, submitted, and approved by December of the previous semester.
- IMPORTANT: You will not graduate if you do not complete your pro bono hours. No exceptions.
For more information, please see Stetson's Pro Bono Requirement listed on the Policies page.
Legal Pro Bono:
Please remember, all legal pro bono work must be supervised by an attorney.
Legal pro bono hours may consist of assisting “authorized” public or non-profit organizations. For example, if you volunteer at a legal services office or the Community Law Program and perform client intake, assist staff attorneys, write memoranda for a judge, or work with staff counsel at a local government, you are engaging in legal pro bono work.
Legal pro bono can also include work for a private attorney who is doing pro bono work. In this scenario, the supervising attorney must provide legal services at no cost, and with no expectation of payment.
Other examples of legal pro bono work include legal research for a faculty member that cannot be done by a paid Research Assistant, or work with a governmental or non-governmental organization.
If you hope to perform pro bono with a private firm, organization, or attorney, you must submit a letter from the supervising attorney that (1) describes the case, (2) certifies that the attorney will not be compensated for the case, and (3) states that the attorney will be supervising your work directly and thoroughly.
Community Service Volunteer Work:
Volunteering means community service. Examples include mentoring work at area schools, serving as a Big Brother or Big Sister, working for Habitat for Humanity, and volunteering at a church, synagogue, temple or mosque. volunteer opportunities are virtually endless, and make a real difference in our communities.
Why do we have a Pro Bono Requirement at Stetson Law?
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is,
'What are you doing for others?” MLK
Professor Judith Scully
Pro bono service is an integral part of a lawyer's responsibility and has been for centuries. All citizens have legal rights, but not everyone knows those rights or how to access them. The inability of the poor to obtain legal assistance can result in devastating consequences.
What is the Justice Gap?
Many middle and low-income citizens are often unable to obtain affordable legal assistance. In civil proceedings, the number of people appearing in court without attorneys has soared. Public defense attorneys are overwhelmed. This crisis has been referred to as the justice gap.
As a Stetson Law student, you have the ability to help close the justice gap by providing pro bono services.
By providing pro bono services, you will change the lives of those you serve and you will develop a better understanding of how the law impacts your community. Your pro bono service will also expand your professional network, improve your lawyering skills, enhance your research abilities, and provide you with a wide variety of opportunities to develop your professional identity. Students who have worked diligently at their assignments may earn letters of reference from their pro bono supervisors for future employment. Your integrity, reliability, and competency will also grow. Ultimately, pro bono service will enrich you intellectually, personally, and professionally.
Stetson Law has a long history of students who step up to the challenge of making a difference with their legal education. Accept the challenge, continue that legacy, and help close the justice gap.
There is nothing like hands-on legal experience to reinforce a legal education. Some students work with legal clinics, others donate their time to help seniors and veterans with their taxes, and some help in the court system.
Regardless of how or where you volunteer, pro bono work will give you a chance to apply your new skills and to experience first-hand legal work.