How Do I Find Pro Bono Projects?
There are hundreds of available established and student-initiated opportunities for pro bono work. Here are some places to look for a new project.
- Review the In-House Projects list and Caravans page for more information on current projects and opportunities for Columbia Law School students.
- Check your email for announcements of project trainings and new pro bono projects.
- 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 working to foster law student community service and public interest work. PSJD’s database 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 is a joint project of The City Bar Fund, The New York State Bar Association, Pro Bono Net, and Volunteers of Legal Service. Go to their website to search for pro bono opportunities in New York City and State. Opportunities are searchable by location as well as topic area and population served.
- Attend Pro Bono Brown Bags and the Pro Bono Fair to hear student groups talk about projects. Approach speakers at panels who are working on topics of interest to you and see if they need assistance on particular projects or cases.
- Approach your professors to ask for contacts in their field or to see if they need assistance on pro bono projects. (Note that assistance on scholarly work such as law review articles or curriculum development will not count for pro bono credit. Check with SJI if you have questions.)
- If you are working at a public interest organization over the summer, consider staying one week later or starting one week earlier to do a week of work without pay (and after your GSF or HRIP funding has run out, if applicable).
- If you are working on a pro bono project at a summer firm job, you might see if you can continue the project once your paid work has ended. Some students do an extra week at the end of the summer, and others continue with a firm’s pro bono project throughout the semester. Please see our Forms & Guidelines page for more information.
When Should I Start Looking?
- 1Ls: During the first semester, 1Ls need to gauge their workload (and stress level) but many students feel that doing a few hours of pro bono a week or working on a time-limited project reminds them why they came to law school and enables them to meet like-minded students. Many 1Ls participate in Columbia’s In-House Projects in both the first and second semesters.
- 2Ls: 2Ls should think about doing some part of their pro bono requirement in their second year. Even as few as 10 hours under one’s belt makes the completion of law school requirements less daunting. It also helps students to avoid the stress of finding a project last-minute.
- 3Ls: Students in their third year should be looking during the first semester! Columbia staff has learned from experience that “stuff happens” and students cannot predict how much time they will have in their last semester, no matter how meticulously they plan. In addition, public interest organizations are not usually thrilled about giving projects to students whom they perceive to be “killing” hours for graduation, and students do not want to be left scrambling for the few projects that are out there.
- Vacations & Caravans: Many students do not want to add to their already busy academic schedules and opt to do pro bono over spring, summer, or winter break. Student groups organize pro bono caravans in the spring, allowing teams of students to travel to other states and countries to work intensively for a week. Other students who go home for winter and/or spring break choose to work on remote research projects or assist a public interest/governmental organization nearby.
For additional information about pro bono projects, contact Laren Spirer at (212) 854-1448, or email [email protected].