The Access to Justice Institute prepares students for a lifetime in law in furtherance of social justice. We believe that the best way to develop lawyering skills, understand community needs, connect classroom learning to real-world problems, and meet practicing attorneys is to get hands-on experience doing social justice work.
Through ATJI, you can find ways to get involved not only within the walls of Sullivan Hall, such as ATJI Partnership Projects and Student-Initiated Pro Bono Projects, but also in the larger equal justice community as well.
What is Pro Bono?
This term, which comes from the Latin pro bono publico, literally meaning "for the public good," typically refers to activities performed voluntarily and free of charge to help people of limited means. Common examples include:
- Volunteering as an intern at a legal services organization or government agency
- Working with a private attorney on a case that they have taken on for free
- Helping a volunteer attorney advise a nonprofit organization
- Staffing a drop-in clinic with a bar association or student organization
- Conducting know-your-rights presentations at an area community center
Why Do Pro Bono?
Students share many reasons to do pro bono work:
- Gaining practical, real-life experience with clients, court, and legal processes
- Learning more about substantive legal issues
- Getting out of the classroom to connect learning with real-world experience
- Helping meet critical legal needs and gaining satisfaction by giving back to the community
- Developing leadership skills
- Networking with attorneys and the legal community
- Building your resume and making yourself more employable
So a harder question might be: Why NOT do pro bono?
To hear from attorneys from across sectors, including large firms and public interest organizations, discuss their commitment to pro bono activity and how it has helped their legal careers, watch this video: Pledge Pro Bono Kickoff: Helping Others while Enhancing Your Career.
- First things first - Take the Pro Bono Pledge and aim for 100 hours of pro bono and volunteer work before you graduate. There is no commitment to start volunteering right away. Take the Pledge, then get started whenever you're ready!
- Visit ATJI's Programs, Events, & Trainings Page for information about two fundamental trainings that can help prepare you for your first client experiences. We strongly recommend that students starting out both view our online Professional Responsibility for Legal Volunteers module and attend our once-per-semester "Pro Bono Prep" training, offering suggestions for finding and making the most of pro bono opportunities as well as tools for client communication.
Finding a Pro Bono Opportunity
When you're ready to look for a pro bono opportunity, the choices can be overwhelming! ATJI offers several resources to help you find opportunities for real-world experience:
Visit ATJI's Pro Bono Portal
ATJI's Pro Bono Portal is updated frequently with featured volunteer opportunities, paid and unpaid internships, and related events and resources.
Talk to ATJI
Check out ATJI’s Link e-newsletter
The Link is an electronic newsletter that provides easy-to-reference information about public interest and social justice events, resources,x9793 and opportunities for law students. View a sample Link newsletter.
Access Other Resources
Common Ways to Get Involved
Clinics, externships, internships, volunteer projects, Partnership Projects... The terminology can be confusing but the goals are the same. These are all opportunities to expand your learning beyond the classroom and work directly with community members in need of assistance. Here are a few common ways to engage:
ATJI Partnership Projects
ATJI houses several Partnership Projects where you can volunteer alongside SU law students at community organizations with support from ATJI. Projects include:
External Internships and Volunteer Projects
Volunteer directly with legal aid organizations, public sector agencies, or other community organizations. The ATJI Pro Bono Portal is a great resource to find public interest and social opportunities - volunteer and paid!
Student-Initiated Pro Bono Organizations
Several law school student organizations, such as the Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy Project (IMAP), the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IMAP), and Street Youth Law Advocates of Washington (SYLAW-SU), provide legal information and assistance in the community.
Through the Externship Department you can earn academic credit for some supervised legal work. Through the Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic you can represent underrepresented or marginalized clients under faculty supervision for credit working at the law school's 'law firm'. ATJI offers two practicums: the Moderate Means Program and the Mortgage Mediation Practicum. Practicums are a hybrid between a seminar, a law clinic, and an externship.
Finding a Good Fit
If you're not sure what type of opportunity is right for you, here are some questions to consider:
- What legal issues, causes, or communities are you most passionate about?
- What time can you commit to this opportunity?
- What do you hope to gain from the opportunity? Think about what you have already accomplished and learned, and what skills and experiences you would like to add to your toolbox.
I only have a few hours.
You can almost always find a pro bono opportunity that fits around your scheduling needs. If you are strapped for time, consider a research and writing opportunity that you can do on your own time, or start with a 1-day opportunity or an occasional shift at a community legal clinic. Search the Pro Bono Portal by "Time Commitment" to find something that works for you!
I am looking for a good first pro bono opportunity where I can work with real clients.
Try an experience that lets you conduct "intakes" or client interviews so that you increase your comfort level in communicating with clients, be exposed to a range of legal issues, develop your issue spotting skills, and meet attorneys. ATJI's Moderate Means Program is a great example, as are community legal clinics where you might conduct initial client interviews and meet with clients under the supervision of an attorney. The Pro Bono Portal regularly highlights legal clinic opportunities, such as the King County Bar Association's Neighborhood Legal Clinics or Q-Law‘s LGBTQ Clinic.
I am ready to dig deep and have regular time to commit.
Consider a long-term placement like a summer or term-time internship (not for credit) or a for-credit externship or clinic. If you can commit at least 5-10 hours per week you will find many opportunities to work closely with a supervising attorney on your own cases or projects.
I want to expand my leadership capacity and network.
Student-Initiated Pro Bono Projects are a great way to learn about specific legal issues while working and making decisions alongside peers and maintaining an organization. Or, consider joining a Bar Association or Access to Justice Board Committee. These organizations are welcoming of student members and provide great leadership and networking opportunities
I am interested in public sector or policy work.
CPD provides links to many resources that can help you explore what type of venue is right for you, including work in government agencies, policy advocacy organizations, and the political sphere.
I want to do public interest work but can't afford to work for free!
Many law firms have a deep commitment to pro bono work. CPD provides resources to help you learn more about these firms. There are also many opportunities to find public interest stipends or funded positions.