Components of the Pro Bono Scholars Program

Pursuant to the Pro Bono Scholar Program rules, the program begins the week of March 1, 2021 (the week following the bar exam) and continues until May 21, 2021. Scholars will be able to participate in the Law School’s graduation ceremonies but will not graduate until June 2021.

Students will have a small number of meetings/assignments for the program during the period they are studying for the bar to meet federal requirements for financial aid disbursements. Following the exam, students will begin the formal course with a 5-day (1 week) immersion period to prepare for working full-time in their externship. Students will identify more fully their learning goals for the semester and begin to consider how they will accomplish those goals. Students will consider a wide variety of professional competencies and values that will inform the direction of their work during the semester as well their broader career paths.

Students will also engage in activities and review materials that identify a range of systemic issues that they will encounter during the semester and into their careers including:

  • Structural and other barriers to access to justice.
  • Interdisciplinary approaches to developing effective relationships with clients in a range of settings.
  • Innovative strategies for providing effective representation.
  • Understanding the larger systemic context of social justice.

Students will be introduced to methodologies for developing professional competence, diligence and ethical values including initiative, judgment and leadership. Specific professional responsibility issues such as the use of technology and confidentiality and being a member of a law office will be explored as students prepare to begin their externships. During the immersion period, students will read and discuss a current book investigating significant issues in the social-political-economic-legal justice systems.

Once externships begin, students will spend one afternoon a week at CLS preparing for and participating in a class that will build on the issues introduced in the immersion weeks and that begin to arise in their externship work. Some classes will include:

  • Case or work rounds (with the necessary confidentiality constraints).
  • Presentations by students individually or in teams.
  • Discussions with practitioners or other experts.
  • Classes built around issues that students have identified as key to enhancing their understanding of their externship work or broader professional goals.
  • On occasion, class may be held in another location as part of a field trip.

During the semester, students will provide periodic reflections grounded in both class and work experiences. After the end of the immersion week, students will identify and select an additional book that the group will read and discuss through the course of the semester. Other short written assignments may be required. Each student will be teamed to lead one class later in the course and to write a reflection paper on the experience and its relevance to their externship experience and their professional goals. A final paper or project may be required.

Students will receive a letter grade for coursework and credit/no credit for field work.

The field component will be the central focus on the semester. Students working four and half days per week will be engaged in legal work expected of lawyers entering their first jobs. Many of the field placements are likely to be in one of LEAP legal partnership organizations.

LEAP’s 18 member organizations  (a) work collaboratively to increase the availability, breadth and depth of quality community-based civil legal services for low-income persons and communities in New York City; and (b) individually offer high quality, diverse and innovative organizational models, delivery systems and methodologies. Leap’s membership includes established single community legal services providers and city-wide public interest advocacy groups in areas such as: Access to Health Care, Consumer Law, Disability Rights Law, Domestic Violence, Elder Law, Employment/Labor Law, Environmental Justice, Family Law, Government Benefits, HIV/AIDS, Homelessness, Housing, Immigration, Mental Health, Public Assistance and Special Education.

Students may also choose a placement with another legal organization that satisfies the PBSP’s requirements, such as criminal and family defense offices. In 2020, students had placements at the Urban Justice Center, the Legal Aid Society, Lenoxhill Neighborhood House, Advocates for Children, Bronx Defenders and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Students accepted into PBSP will work with Professor Spinak to identify and apply to placements likely to provide an opportunity to work on issues and explore advocacy methodologies of interest to them. Students are strongly encouraged to identify their own preferred placements based on their interests and experience. Students will be expected to take all the formal steps necessary to apply for their positions, including writing cover letters and participating in interviews. These efforts can begin as soon as the student has completed all of the screening requirements listed above and is accepted into the program.

Depending on the practice of their field placements, the students will have a variety of the following opportunities, among others:

  • To gain exposure to and/or experience in interdisciplinary social justice advocacy, including community organizing, policy advocacy, and communications;

  • To engage with and learn about low-income individuals, communities community-based organizations as well as government agencies and structures;

  • To engage with and learn about low-income individuals, communities community-based organizations as well as government agencies and structures;

  • To develop and practice professional judgment in the context of solving legal problems;

  • To engage in legal research and analysis;

  • To draft descriptive, predictive, persuasive and/or dispositional legal writing;

  • To develop other professional skills, such as fact investigation including drafting of discovery documents, client interviewing and counseling, negotiation, oral advocacy, organization and management, and recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas;

  • To build a professional network of lawyers, other professionals and advocates and community members for future professional development.