Pro Bono Scholars Program

3L Spring Semester Full-time Externship

Early Admission to the New York Bar

Spring 2023 Notice and Application

Columbia Law School participates in New York State’s Pro Bono Scholars Program (PBSP). PBSP gives students the opportunity to combine full-time work in a public interest legal office with an innovative course focusing on the development of professional identity and values. Pro Bono Scholars earn 12 credits, which satisfy their experiential learning requirement and their pro bono hours, all in their last semester of their 3L year. Pro Bono Scholars sit for the February 2023 Bar Examination and, upon successful passage, gain early admission to the New York Bar in the summer following graduation. CLS graduates receive their diploma/graduate certification on June 30, 2023 and so can be sworn into the bar as early as July 2023. Approximately 12 students will be accepted into the program.

The PBSP officially begins at the start of the Spring 2023 semester. Students will prepare for the bar exam during January and February, 2023.  To abide by federal regulations concerning financial aid eligibility and to receive federal loan disbursements during the time students are studying for the bar, students in the PBSP are required to participate in a small number of meetings and/or assignments during the study period. After sitting for the bar exam, which is expected to be February 21-22, 2023, students will begin fulltime participation in the PBSP on February 27, 2022. In Spring 2023, the PBSP course will begin with a 5-day intensive introduction to professional development and identity at CLS. Course materials and experiences will be structured around the participants’ planned work settings as well as social justice issues more broadly.

Following the 5-day immersion course, students will begin working four and a half days per week at their placements. Each Thursday, students will work at their placements in the morning only.  In the afternoon they will meet at CLS to prepare for class discussion and activities and then attend the class itself. The PBSP requires students to work and to prepare for/attend class 45 hours per week. The exact number of required hours will be established prior to the beginning of the program. Classes will likely end on May 11 and placements will likely end on May 19, 2023. While the PBSP finishes just after CLS graduation, students will be entitled to participate in all graduation activities (though they receive a June degree). Students may be able to negotiate with their placements to finish their work/hours requirements by May 12 by working additional hours earlier in the placement and/or to work the week following graduation if they have not completed their hours.

Classes in the PBSP will focus participants to consider the meaning of professional life and the role of professional responsibility obligations and values within that life. The classes will draw on the students’ experiences working in their public interest placements as well as build on students’ previous summer employment and experiential, doctrinal and theoretical law school courses. One of the key goals of the PBSP is to help students begin to create a meaningful professional identity as they enter fully into their careers. Work in public interest settings provides not only a significant opportunity for service but also a unique opportunity to explore the challenges and rewards of providing effective and ethical legal representation to low-income individuals and communities.

CLS is in the process of engaging a new faculty member in teaching the PBSP. In the meantime, interested students can contact Professor Jane M. Spinak with questions.  Professor Spinak taught the PBSP during the past three years. They can also contact the Director of Externships and Field Placements, Liliana Vaamonde. Students with a variety of postgraduate careers are encouraged to apply. The PBSP is also dedicated to facilitating equal access for students with disabilities and to cultivating a culture that is sensitive and responsive to the needs of students.

There will be a zoom informational meeting for interested students on in late May or early July.  It will be posted on the CLS calendar for access and a link will also be provided in several emails to rising 2L students. Students unable to attend can view a recording. There will be a rolling admission schedule this year that will begin immediately after the informational meeting. Students may begin applying for the program any time after that meeting until July 22, 2022. Students are strongly encouraged to apply as soon as possible; this will increase the availability of placement opportunities once a student has been accepted. There can be limited placement opportunities given that students from many schools are applying for positions so the sooner the better. More detailed information follows that should be reviewed carefully before applying for the PBSP.