Pro Bono at Columbia Law School
Through implementation of its pro bono requirement, the Law School expresses its conviction that service pro bono publico (“for the public good”) is a cornerstone of every attorney’s professional responsibilities.
What Counts for Columbia Pro Bono Credit?
How Do I Find Project?
How Do I Get Credit?
J.D. students must perform at least 40 hours of qualifying work in order to graduate. Only work completed after the first year of law school and before March 1 of the third year (with the exception of Spring Break Caravans or preregistered spring break projects) counts towards the requirement. All other qualifying work is considered voluntary.
If you are an attorney seeking pro bono help for a public interest matter from one of our students, please visit our Employers page.
Our office does not offer legal advice to individuals or organizations.
What Counts for Columbia Pro Bono Credit?
There are key differences between what counts for Columbia Pro Bono Credit (applicable to J.D. students only) and what counts under the 50-hour pro bono requirement for the New York State Bar (Applicable to J.D. and LL.M. students seeking admission to the Bar). Upon completion of the work, students must complete a New York State Bar Pro Bono Affidavit to obtain credit; this affidavit is submitted with the applicant’s post-bar paperwork. Learn about the New York rule and access the Pro Bono Form Affidavit.
To qualify for Columbia Law School credit, pro bono projects must be:
- Law-related: The project requires knowledge of the law for completion.
- Supervised by an attorney (either directly or indirectly): The supervisor will sign off on the final work product (and/or a Student-Initiated Petition, if applicable).
- In the public interest: Public interest work includes legal services to those without the financial resources to pay counsel or aimed at securing or protecting civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights, improving the legal profession, the judicial system, or the public's understanding of public interest law. See below for more specific projects.
- Uncompensated: Students may not receive any form of financial remuneration (salary, stipend, or grant) or academic credit (writing or other) for their work.
- Completed after 1L year and before March 1st of 3L year (with the exception of Spring Break Caravans or preregistered spring break projects).
If you are unsure if your work counts, contact SJI PRIOR TO starting your work.
These tips are governed by the formal Guidelines for Pro Bono at Columbia Law School. We encourage all students to review the complete Guidelines. You may also review our pro bono FAQs.
How Do I Find a Project?
Most students fulfill their pro bono projects through Established Pro Bono Placements (which do not need a Student-Initiated Petition):
Columbia Law School’s In-House Pro Bono Projects, including student-run and firm collaborations, or Spring Break Caravans.
Additional, uncompensated weeks worked at a Guaranteed Summer Funding or Human Rights Internship Program summer placement.
Uncompensated, non-credit bearing, law-related work at legal services, legal aid, or advocacy 501(c)(3) organizations or at public defender offices (such as American Civil Liberties Union, Legal Aid Society, New York Legal Assistance Group, Legal Services NYC, Bronx Defenders, AALDEF, etc.); or government agencies and offices (at the local, state, or national level, such as District Attorney’s offices, U.S. Department of Justice, New York City Council, etc.). Many are listed on LawNet. If not, a Student-Initiated Petition is required PRIOR to beginning work.
Work for a judge that is unpaid and not used as the basis of academic credit.
Placements that may qualify for pro bono credit with the preapproval of a Student-Initiated Petition include:
A law firm’s pro bono, public interest work, for which the firm is not compensated and during a week in which the student is not being paid for his/her work.
Columbia Law School clinics, during a semester in which the student is not enrolled in the clinic.
Columbia Law School externship placements (including the DC and Judicial Externships), during a semester in which the student is not enrolled in the externship and/or during weeks beyond the time that a student is required to work for academic credit.
Nonprofit [501(c)(3)] organization whose primary purpose may not be legal, as long as the work itself is law-related and supervised by an attorney.
Other ways to find projects:
Check your email for announcements of project trainings and new pro bono projects from [email protected].
Join a student organization that focuses on issues or subject areas that are important to you. They work in collaboration with SJI to create pro bono projects.
Log into Symplicity and click on "Job Postings" on the left hand nav bar, then "CSM Jobs." Click on "Advanced Search" on the right hand side, select "Pro Bono Opportunities" under Position Type, then click on Search. If you are able to make a more significant time commitment, you should also consider internship opportunities, which you can find via a search selecting "Fall or Spring Internship" or "Summer Internship" under Position Type.
PSJD is a global network of more than 120 law schools and more than 12,000 public service organizations that contains information about thousands of domestic and international organizations and pro bono opportunities. Go to PSJD and open a free student account to search for projects in a particular practice area or location.
The New York State Pro Bono Opportunities Guide allows you to search for opportunities in New York City and State and is searchable by county, topic area and population served.
Approach your professors to ask for contacts in their field or to see if they need assistance on qualifying pro bono projects (see our FAQs for details).
How Do I Get Columbia Pro Bono Credit?
- Before you start your work, check if it qualifies. If you are unsure, contact SJI.
- If necessary, file a Student-Initiated Petition. This form is required for pro bono work completed at non-established placements (see the Guidelines for Pro Bono for more information regarding projects that require a Student-Initiated Petition).
- While you do your work, it may be helpful to track your hours. You may find this template helpful.
- Within 30 days of completing each placement (mandatory or voluntary), a student must complete an Exit Questionnaire via LawNet and request that the supervising attorney complete a Supervisor’s Report.
To fill out an Exit Questionnaire, go to My Services, select "Pro Bono Status" under SJI, and click "Fill out Exit Questionnaire." Once you have completed your Exit Questionnaire, you will receive a prompt to send a Supervisor’s Report to your supervisor for completion. You may also request a Supervisor’s Report by clicking on the “Action” button next to the relevant placement and selecting “Request Supervisor’s Report.”
NOTE: Pro bono hours will not be credited until both mandatory forms (Exit Questionnaire and Supervisor’s Report) have been submitted and approved by SJI. Each form must be submitted within 30 days of project completion, whether for mandatory or voluntary credit.