Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Pro Bono Pledge?
In furtherance of the law school's mission and aligned with the American Bar Association's and Washington State Bar Association's goals for professional attorneys, the Pro Bono Pledge Program is designed to encourage law students to build their legal and leadership skills in service to the community. All law students are invited to pledge to complete at least 100 hours of legal pro bono and community volunteer work before they graduate. Part-time students may pledge 50 hours. The majority of your hours (75 out of 100, or about 75% of your overall pledge goal) must come from 'legal pro bono,' or law-related activity.
Where and how do I pledge?
Is the Pro Bono Pledge Program mandatory for Seattle University School of Law students?
No, though all students are encouraged to participate in the Pro Bono Pledge Program to help offset the needs faced by underrepresented individuals and communities and to help further their own professional development.
What happens if I sign the Pledge but do not meet my goal?
There are no penalties if you pledge but then later do not meet your pledge goals. However, if you start volunteering but then do not fulfill your commitment, this can create challenges for the host organization, potential clients, and the School of Law, who works closely with many community partners. It is critical for all involved that students fulfill all professional commitments and responsibilities. If you are struggling to meet the obligations of your volunteer or pro bono placement, we encourage you to talk to your supervisors and/or to an ATJI staff member. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to make an appointment at ATJI.
How many hours do I need to record to meet my Pledge goal?
Full-time students are asked to complete a minimum of 100 hours of activity; part-time students may complete 50 hours. To receive "Outstanding Service" recognition, students must complete at least 250 hours (125 for part-time students). Please note that all reported activity may also be subject to verification by a supervisor.
How many hours can be non-legal work?
Most of your hours (75 out of 100, or 75%) need to come from legal pro bono (law-related) work, such as staffing a legal information clinic, interning at a legal services organization or public defender's office, or conducting a know-your-rights presentation, However, because non-legal volunteer work can also provide great benefit to the community and to the volunteer, and because it is often challenging for students to identify appropriate law-related placements in their 1L year, your remaining hours can come from a broader range of community volunteer activity, like volunteering at a soup kitchen, serving on a nonprofit board, or tutoring.
Can I use all 3 years to meet the Pledge?
Yes. We recommend students target 20 hours during their 1L year, 40 hours during their 2L year, and 40 hours during their 3L years. Part-time students are asked to pledge half of those totals. Students who meet those yearly targets will be eligible for recognition at the end of each year and will stay on track to meet their graduation goal.
What happens if I meet my Pledge goal?
Congratulations! Please make sure all of your activity is reported through ATJI's online reporting system, as only reported time can count toward recognition. You may choose to opt out of public recognition, but if you meet your overall Pledge goal by April 15 of your graduating year (November 1 for December graduates) you will be recognized at graduation as a "Pro Bono Pledge Award" recipient in the commencement program. Students who complete and report 250 or more hours of eligible activity prior to graduation will receive an "Outstanding Service" designation in the graduation program.
In addition, if you met your yearly Pledge goal (20 hours for 1Ls; 40 hours for 2Ls and 3Ls) by March 31 you will be eligible to be recognized at the end of the year by ATJI and the law school. Past recognition activities have included a letter from the Dean, posters with participant names at ATJI and in the showcase by the Sidebar, and participation in ATJI's Celebration of Social Justice.
What is "legal pro bono" work?
Most hours (75 out of 100) that count toward your Pledge should be law-related, or "legal pro bono" (legal work provided voluntarily and free of charge). For the purposes of the Pledge Program, we define legal pro bono work as:
1. Work that is done under the auspices of a charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, educational organization; Seattle University student group; or other organized effort that provides services at no fee or at a substantially reduced fee; AND
2. Work that:
a.) Provides legal services to individuals or communities that are underserved or of limited means; OR
b.) Provides legal services to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational organizations on matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; OR
c.) Provides legal services to groups or organizations that work to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights; OR
d.) Provides legal services to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes; OR
e.) Is part of a group or organization works to further the law system, the legal profession, or student access to public interest or social justice activities.
3. In addition, legal pro bono work:
a.) Must be supervised by a licensed attorney or law faculty member, except for certain exceptions that can be granted by the ATJI Pledge program administrator (such as work done under the supervision of another professional like a CPA supervising low-income tax assistance) or work done as part of a recognized student organization.
b.) Must be uncompensated and not for academic credit (with the exception of certain work as outlined below).
Examples of typically eligible work include drafting a research memo for a legal services attorney, interning at a legal services organization or law-related government agency, staffing a bar association's drop-in clinic, or, as outlined below, in some cases clinic or externship time.
What is "community volunteer" work?
For the purposes of the Pledge Program, community volunteer work is not legal in nature but it still must be work done:
1. Under the auspices of a charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, educational organization; Seattle University student group; or other organized effort that provides services at no fee or at a substantially reduced fee;
2. On behalf of:
a.)Individuals who are underserved or of limited means OR
b.)Charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational groups or organizations that serve those who are underserved or of limited means OR
c.)Groups or organizations that work to secure, protect, or advance civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights;
3. That is uncompensated and not for academic credit (with certain exceptions as outlined below).
Examples of community volunteer work including tutoring through the Seattle University Youth Initiative, building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or participating in the SBA Day of Service.
How will I know whether my activity is eligible?
ATJI reviews all submissions to determine whether activities are eligible. If there are any questions or changes regarding your submission we will notify you within 30 days of your submission.
What types of organizations count? In other words, what is an eligible "group or organization"?
There are not general restrictions on the type of organization or group you volunteer with, provided that you are not getting paid and your work is otherwise eligible. Your work must, however, be able to be verified in some way by your supervisor or host entity.
What types of activity should be included when I am counting or reporting my completed hours?
Any hours that you are actively volunteering can be included - research, client meetings, meetings with your team or supervisor, planning events, etc. However, training time and travel time to and from activities is not eligible.
I participated in a training to volunteer with a student organization this semester- would that training time count?
No. Unfortunately training time, whether it is for a student organization or external entity, is not eligible.
Does travel time count?
No. Unfortunately, time spent traveling to and from placements cannot count toward your pledge.
What are some examples of eligible or ineligible student organization activity?
1. Time spent leading a student organization that directly engages in pro bono or volunteer work is eligible. This includes planning and leadership meeting time (e.g. board meetings).
2. Time spent volunteering in the community with a student organization is eligible (know-your-rights presentations, legal information and referral clinics, supervised representation of clients, service projects, etc.).
3. Time spent conducting activities for an organization like the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), which increases student participation in public interest and social justice activities, would be considered eligible.
4. Your activities must provide a benefit to individuals or the community outside of your members. Therefore, general participation in a membership organization, social meeting time, general membership meeting time, or any other activities that are for the benefit just of your organization's members would not be eligible.
My student organization often hosts panel events to raise awareness about certain legal issues. Would time organizing that event or participating in that event be eligible?
The event would only be eligible if it is either entirely or primarily for the benefit of the external community outside of SU. Examples include conducting a mediation training for the general public or hosting a CLE for practicing attorneys. Also, as a general rule, organizing or speaking at an eligible event would count but just generally participating as an audience member/attendee would not be eligible.
Does participation in co-curricular activity, like a journal, Moot Court or Dispute Resolution count?
Yes, but only if the activity provides a benefit to the external community, and co-curricular activities are also subject to restrictions for-credit/compensated activities, as outlined below (only up to 15 hours of each type of credited/compensated activities are eligible).
Examples of eligible co-curricular activity include:
1. Writing or editing articles for publication, if the subject matter pertains to individuals or communities that are underserved or of limited means or the protection or furtherance of civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights; or
2. Public education and community outreach activities, such as hosting a mediation training for the general public or conducting mock trials with at-risk youth. Activities that primarily benefit members, such as student competitions, would not be eligible.
Does participation in the SBA count?
Yes -- but only if your time is spent on behalf of individuals or communities that are underserved or of limited means, on behalf of organizations that serve those individuals or communities, or on behalf of organizations that are advancing civil rights, civil liberties or public rights; to further the law system or legal profession, or to further student access to public interest activities. One example would be participating in or organizing the SBA Day of Service. General participation or membership meeting time would not be eligible.
Can otherwise eligible work count if it is compensated or for credit?
In part. Up to 15 hours each year of each of the following types of activities can be included, if otherwise eligible:
Type of Eligible Activity
PAID: Case/client/project work with a nonprofit organization, government agency, other entity, or attorney doing pro-bono work. Examples: Assisting an attorney with a pro bono case while working at a law firm or receiving a stipend to intern at a legal aid organization.
CLINIC: Case/client/project work with the Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic
EXTERNSHIP: SU School of Law public interest externship placement
CURRICULAR: Service-learning, experiential, or research component of an SU School of Law class, provided that the activity/project was for the benefit of an external public interest organization or agency, or community. This includes time spent during Practicum courses.
CO-CURRICULAR: Work on a journal, Moot Court, or Dispute Resolution, provided that the activity/project was for the benefit of an external organization, agency, or community
Please note that the 15 hour limit is a total, per category, per year. So, if as a 2L you completed one clinic, two externships, and a summer position funded by a PILF public interest grant from summer 2011 to present, you could count 15 total clinic hours, 15 externship hours, and 15 2L summer hours, for a total of 45 hours of your 100 'lifetime' total. If you joined a second clinic or took on a paid position in your 3L year, you could count 15 hours of those positions as well.
Please note that you cannot complete your individual Pledge goals (either yearly targets or by graduation) entirely with paid or for-credit activity. You must include some purely legal pro bono work included in your overall time (or community volunteer work if you are a 1L).
The firm at which I'm working requires its interns to perform pro bono work. Can I count those hours toward my recognition even though it's required?
Yes - you may still count up to 15 hours of pro bono work completed during a paid position at a law firm, as long as the work is otherwise eligible.
Yes - in part. An internship supported by a PILF (or other) stipend would be considered a compensated position. Therefore you can count up to 15 hours (total lifetime) of eligible activity while working in that type of position. In addition time spent outside of the requirements of your stipend (or course, in the case of activities like an externship) can be included in full. For example, if you received a stipend for a 10 week internship but worked for 12 weeks, those additional 2 weeks could be fully counted.
I volunteer for a private attorney. Can those hours count toward recognition?
Maybe! Your hours would be eligible if the attorney provides his or her services for free or at a substantially reduced cost to assist a client of limited means (a 'low bono' project). Your cases/projects would also have to meet other eligibility requirements, as outlined above. And, if you are getting paid for your time, you may only submit 15 hours, as outlined above.
I am clerking for a judge - does this count?
Not usually. However, if you are working on certain projects that benefit those who are underserved or of limited means, such as an access to justice initiative, or other work that meets the definitions above, that time would be eligible. Also note that only 15 hours per year would be eligible if you are getting credit or compensation.
Does work for a faculty member qualify?
Maybe. Research or editing for a casebook would not generally be eligible, but projects that assist populations who are underserved or of limited means or that support organizations that work to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights would be eligible. Also note that only 15 hours per year would be eligible if you are getting credit or compensation.
I haven't volunteered around here before. How can I find an opportunity?
The Access to Justice Institute's Pro Bono Portal highlights many local public interest and social justice volunteer opportunities, internships, and fellowships.
PSJD.org is a national database of paid and unpaid public interest internships, fellowships, and jobs.
The Seattle University Youth Initiative is a university-wide initiative addressing the needs of youth living in the surrounding community.
United Way of King County provides a database of Seattle-area volunteer projects and resources.
Seattle Works offers a database of volunteer and nonprofit leadership listings targeted toward 20 and 30-somethings.
Volunteer Match posts volunteer opportunities nationally, searchable by location.
Idealist.org is a national resource listing volunteer projects, internships, paid public interest positions, and other resources.
Student Organizations offer rewarding opportunities for community engagement
Or, come talk to ATJI! To make an appointment with an Access to Justice Institute staff member, please email email@example.com.
May I find my own activity?
Yes. Students are encouraged to seek their own projects based upon their specific interests.
I already volunteer at a local nonprofit. Does my activity or the organization I volunteer with have to be approved in advance before I can report my activity?
No. While your activity must be for a nonprofit organization, government agency, firm providing pro bono services, or Seattle University student group or other organized effort, you do not have to have your placement or project approved in advance. If you have any question about whether your activity or organization is eligible, please contact Jennifer Werdell, ATJI Associate Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Am I required to have a supervisor for legal work?
Yes - all legal pro bono work must be supervised in some way by an attorney or law faculty member with some exceptions, such as providing low-income tax assistance under the supervision of a certified tax professional. If you are volunteering with a student organization we strongly encourage the organization to work under the guidance of a legal supervisor or advisor, but for reporting purposes you can include the student organization leader as your supervisor.
Do I need a supervisor for non-legal work?
You must conduct your volunteer activity as part of an organization or organized effort, and need be able to identify someone at your host organization/entity who can verify your participation if asked. In addition, supervision, guidance, and mentorship are always best practices to help you make the most of your experience!
I haven't taken Professional Responsibility yet, and I haven't ever worked with clients. How do I prepare myself for pro bono service? Where do I even begin?
Given the time constraints and pressures of the first year of law school, we encourage all first year students to be thoughtful about taking on additional responsibilities and identifying placements that do not necessarily require advanced research, writing, or client skills. Some suggestions:
ATJI hosts trainings each semester that can help 1Ls and others who are new to client experiences learn the fundamental skills needed for successful pro bono projects and internships. Visit our Programs, Events, & Trainings page for the latest!
Consider opportunities that will expose you to a broad range of issues or skill sets to help you build your experience - and confidence. Staffing a community legal clinic with a volunteer attorney or conducting intake and client interviews through projects like the Moderate Means Program can often offer great initial exposure to working with clients. Searching through 1-Time and Short-Term/Flexible Projects tabs on ATJI's Pro Bono Portal is a great way to start!
Though you may not be getting paid, volunteer positions should be treated with the same level of professionalism and preparedness that you would bring to a job. A good place to start is to learn about the organization you are working for and about the clients or communities you may be working on behalf of.
Take advantage of - the volunteer and pro bono resources that are available at your host entity and at the law school.
Read the relevant rules of professional responsibility.
Through its Pro Bono Portal and Medialaw page, ATJI posts many relevant trainings and resources on things like how to effectively interview clients and working with interpreters. Other resources that may be relevant:
Washington State Bar Association's Advocate Resource Center
King County Bar Association's guidelines for professional courtesy
How do I find an opportunity that's right for me?
Some important questions to ask when you are considering a new opportunity are:
What do you hope to gain from the opportunity?
What are you most passionate about?
What time can you commit to this opportunity?
Maybe you want to practice a new skill, like interviewing clients. Or perhaps you want to learn more about a specific area of law. Regardless, the clearer sense you have about what you want to get out of the experience, the more likely you are to find something that is a good fit for you.
On ATJI's Pro Bono Portal you can search by interest area, location, time commitment (like one-time vs. 11-20 hours per week), and the type of skill you want to develop (like client interviewing or research). Here are a few common scenarios that come up for students:
I only have a few hours here and there.
Consider a research and writing opportunity that you can do on your own time, or look for a 1-time opportunity.
I've never worked with a client before and need practice.
Legal clinics (like the King County Bar Association's Neighborhood Legal Clinics or Q-Law's LGBTQ Clinic) often pair law students and attorneys who meet briefly with clients, issue spot, and provide brief assistance or advice. Conducting intake through projects like the Moderate Means Program also helps develop those initial interviewing skills.
I want to dig deep into a case with lots of supervision.
I want to explore a leadership position.
Student organizations are a great way to learn more about specific issues as well as how to work and decision-make alongside peers and keep an organization running strong. Bar Associations and the Access to Justice Board also provide leadership opportunities for students.
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 just want to know what organizations are out there doing the work that is interesting to me.
PSLawnet.org, which you can create an account for by using your seattleu.edu email address, allows you to pull up general information for opportunities and organizations by location and interest area.
I want to do public interest work but can't afford to work for free!
How do I report pro bono or volunteer activity?
You do so via the online form available on ATJI's website. You will be asked to submit basic info, including:
Start and end dates of activity
Total hours completed (training and travel time do not count)
Host organization and supervisor contact information
Type of activity completed and any feedback regarding the placement or activity
How long do I have to submit my activity?
You may only submit activity after it has been completed. Submit by March 25, 2016, to be recognized by ATJI at the end of the school year and by April 15 of your final year to be recognized at graduation.
You also may include future anticipated activity between the cut-offs listed above and the actual year-end recognition/Graduation date if the future activity is planned and regularly recurring (and you attest that you will in fact participate).
I just learned about the Pledge and I am a 3L. Can I include hours completed in earlier years to count toward my graduation pledge goal?
Yes! However, please submit separate entries for each pro bono year (for Pledge purposes this year began on May 1, 2015, or the day you started law school). For example, if you volunteered from October 2014 through September 2015, please complete one report for October 2014 - April 2015 and one from May 2015 through September 2015.
What if I complete additional activity for the year after I reach my goal?
Please keep reporting if you are interested and able to manage your personal, academic, and other responsibilities - the information is incredibly valuable to help us plan our services! You will also receive a special notation at graduation if you reach 250 hours or more.
What do I do if I can't remember whether I've submitted my hours already?
We encourage you to try and submit your hours at regular intervals and to save your email confirmations when you receive them after reporting your hours. If you are not sure whether certain hours have been submitted yet, please email email@example.com and we can provide you with an accounting of your activity.
Do I have to do anything beyond completing and reporting pro bono activity to get recognized at graduation?
Completing 100+ hours of activity and reporting activity through our online system are the two primary steps toward completing your Pro Bono Pledge goal and getting recognized at graduation. However, students matriculating in Summer 2015 or later are also asked to complete a training that prepares them to work with clients experiencing poverty prior to becoming eligible for graduation recognition. Students can complete this training requirement either by attending ATJI's twice-per-year "Pro Bono Prep" training (or viewing a recorded Pro Bono Prep training) or completing an SU externship or clinic class. Alternatively, students may email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief description of a nother relevant training that they have been completed, such as a training provided by a supervising attorney/organization. Your email must include the title of the training, the date completed, the name of the host and organization of the training, and 2-3 sentences on what was covered in the training.
I have completed my pledge goal - what happens now?
First - congratulations! Please make sure all of your activity has been submitted through ATJI's online reporting system and keep submitting any future activity as your schedule allows.
You should be notified by ATJI in early April of your eligibility for year-end recognition. If you are graduating and you've meet your overall Pledge goal, you will also be notified in early May about your eligibility to be recognized at graduation. If you have not been notified or have questions about next steps please contact Jennifer Werdell, ATJI Associate Director, at email@example.com or 206.398.4455.
What type of recognition will I receive? Can I put this on my resume?
ATJI and the School of Law recognize those students who have completed their yearly target goals (20 hours for 1Ls; 40 hours for 2Ls and 3Ls) as Pro Bono Pledge Program Participants. Past recognition activities have included a letter from the Dean, posters with participant names at ATJI and in the showcase by the Sidebar, and participation in ATJI's Celebration of Social Justice. Graduating students also receive recognition at graduation by being designated as "Pro Bono Pledge Award" recipients in the commencement program (those who reach 250 hours of eligible activity are designated as "Outstanding Service" pledge awardees). By all means include these distinctions on your resume! ATJI can also provide certificates of achievement to those who are interested upon request.
I am not interested in receiving individual recognition - why bother pledging?
If you participate, the School can develop a more complete picture of how our students are spending their time and impacting the community. It enables us to develop future services and support that are relevant to our students' experience and allows us to better communicate to the external community what works - and where there are needs.
I do not want to publicize any information about what I do on my own time - who will see this information?
Any student-specific information submitted will be kept confidential at the Access to Justice Institute and will only be shared publicly with your advance permission. You will be notified prior to any public recognition activities and will be able to opt out of any recognition activities should you so desire.
I am volunteering and met someone who needs legal help. Where can I send them?
1. Visit washingtonlawhelp.org or call 2-1-1 if the person is inside of King County.
2. Or, have them call the Coordinated Legal Educational Advice Referral (CLEAR) Hotline at 1-888-201-1014.
Please note that the Access to Justice Institute is not a direct legal services provider, and remember that, for a variety of reasons, both ethical and legal, you should not provide any legal assistance or advice without a licensed attorney involved.
I had a bad experience with the organization I volunteered with. What do I do?
In addition to providing feedback to your organization directly, we encourage you to share your experience with us as well. ATJI may circulate evaluation forms to students who have submitted activity, and an ATJI staff member is always happy to discuss any challenges (or successes) you may be experiencing at your pro bono or volunteer placement. Please contact ATJI at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like to make an appointment.