In-House Pro Bono Projects 2017-2018
This is not an exhaustive list of projects. Please click here for more information on how to find a pro bono project.
Please note that unless otherwise indicated (by “CLS only”), the projects listed below are open to JD's and LL.M's and qualify for both the CLS mandatory requirement (for 2 & 3Ls; voluntary for 1Ls) and the NY State Bar requirement. "CLS only" means that the project does NOT qualify for the NY State Bar requirement.
Student-Run Pro Bono Projects
Black Law Students Association & Latino/a Law Students Association
Resilience Advocacy Project [CLS ONLY]: Students will work with attorneys to provide information in various areas to youth in schools and youth organizations. Students will lead “Know Your Rights” and advocacy workshops for youth around issues ranging from dating violence to reproductive rights, to public benefits and education, in order to help teens build social-justice-focused youth advocacy clinics in their communities. Contact: Tomi Williams.
Columbia Law School Military Association
Veterans Legal Assistance Project – New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG): Law students will meet with veteran clients and their families to prepare benefits applications and develop the strongest cases possible. Students will have the opportunity to work on PTSD claims, Agent Orange-related disability claims, discharge upgrades, sexual assault claims, and appeals. Students will work simultaneously for multiple clients on various stages of the benefits application process. Students will be the main point of contact at NYLAG for each of their clients and will keep clients informed of case progress by telephone and in person. Contact: Jesse Feng.
Columbia Law Women’s Association (CLWA)
Students engaged in the CLWA/HerJustice Intake Project will assist HerJustice staff in conducting intake for potential clients seeking to receive legal services. Participation in the project requires a commitment of at least three four-hour shifts per semester. Students will be trained in conducting phone intakes with clients, entering the information into our web based database, and writing a summary for our attorneys to review. Students may also have the opportunity to assist with drafting documents for a divorce or immigration case with HerJustice. Students will have direct client contact, developing intake interviewing skills, basic education in family, matrimonial, and immigration law, and experience working with a legal database. Contact: Andrea Metz.
The Domestic Violence Project
- U-Visa Project: Participants represent undocumented low-income victims of domestic violence seeking a path to U.S. citizenship through a petition for U non-immigrant status. Students are assigned a client and complete the petition application from beginning to end and learn skills such as interviewing and drafting affidavits. This project includes a thorough training curriculum that exposes students to aspects of both immigration and family law in New York City. Contacts: Emily Tu and Stephanie Colorado.
- Courtroom Advocates Project: Students serve as advocates in Family Court for domestic violence victims. Under the supervision of Sanctuary for Families, students help victims draft and file petitions for Orders of Protection, educate them on their rights and safety precautions, and advocate for them during court appearances. Interested students must attend a training before they can participate. Please register here by noon Thursday, February 1st, the spring semester training session will be held at Fordham Law School on February 2nd, from 2pm-6pm. Contacts: Sophie Gandler and Erika VanHorne.
- Uncontested Divorce Workshop: Law student volunteers participating in the Uncontested Divorce Workshop help victims of domestic violence attain uncontested divorces from their abusers. Under the supervision of attorneys from Sanctuary for Families, each two-student team meets with a client and helps the client prepare and file papers for the divorce process. From this process, students can gain experience working directly with a client while developing a better understanding of the issue of domestic violence. Completion of the project also involves learning and executing the procedure for filing for an uncontested divorce in the state of New York. This includes learning to draft and revise initial and final papers, as well as learning the rules around service (who is able to serve the papers, when must the papers be served, etc.) and filing. Contact: Yerin Pak.
- Human Trafficking Intervention Court Project: Columbia students will work with Sanctuary for Families attorneys to interview foreign-born individuals with cases before the Human Trafficking Intervention Court in order to identify any trafficking-based or immigration remedies potentially available to them. If you are interested, please submit the online application by Friday, January 26th. A mandatory training session will be held on Friday, February 2nd from 2-5:00 PM, room TBD. Contact: Natalie Cha.
High School Law Institute (HSLI) [CLS ONLY]
HSLI has law school students spend their Saturday mornings and early afternoons teaching high school students a legal curriculum based on Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Moot Court, and Mock Trial. The knowledge our student-teachers learn in their classroom and extracurricular settings plays directly into their lesson plans. Contact: Clara Kent.
If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice
Through If/When/How's Legal Research Initiative (LRI), volunteer law students and legal professionals are matched with partner organizations around the country to complete a wide variety of legal research projects. Projects can be short- or longer-term, can be completed remotely, and have flexible time commitments. Legal research is supervised either by the partner organization’s legal staff or by If/When/How’s in-house Legal Fellow. Contact: Juliana Bennington.
The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual (JLM) [CLS ONLY]
The JLM is a handbook of legal rights and procedures distributed to thousands of prisoners across the country each year by Columbia’s Human Rights Law Review. Student volunteers write, update, edit, and cite check discrete sections of the JLM and its various state supplements. Short assignments are available (up to 6 hours), but volunteers who complete longer assignments may be eligible for “by-line” writing credit. Students interested in immigration law can also work on the JLM Immigration Law Supplement. Contact: Mitchell Schwartz.
Legal Clinic for the Homeless
Join a team of Columbia students staffing a legal clinic at a local homeless shelter. Working with attorneys from the City Bar Justice Center, students will be assigned a client and advocate for the resolution of various legal issues. Students commonly work on issues related to public assistance, immigration, employment, and family law. Interested volunteers must be able to attend the entirety of the mandatory training on Thursday, January 18th from 4 PM to 6 PM at 299 Park Avenue. Apply here by Wednesday, January 10th. For questions, email Mitchell Schwartz.
Mentoring Youth Through Legal Education [CLS ONLY]
Debate & Mock Trial Program: CLS students work with attorneys from major New York firms in coaching New York high school students for constitutional law debates. The year-long constitutional law debate program is a key part of Legal Outreach’s effort to inspire and prepare young people to go to college. Student coaches will establish a strong mentoring relationship with individual students through one-on-one tutoring and guidance. They will also adjudicate a series of four exciting debates, all conducted at CLS. Contact: Katherine Nunez.
Public Defender Students of CLS
Columbia Bail Fund (CBF): Designed in partnership with the Bronx Freedom Fund, CBF participants will be working on the frontlines of bail reform in New York City and making a real impact in the lives of low-income clients. Members will train to become licensed bail bond agents in New York state, working closely with the Bronx Freedom Fund and building knowledge of the criminal justice and bail systems inside and out. Students can expect to conduct client interviews, contribute legal research, and help the Freedom Fund in their mission to minimize the collateral consequences of criminal prosecution and demonstrate that our current system of cash bail is unjust and unnecessary. Interested students should contact Victoria Xie and Dorothy Weldon at [email protected].
Queer and Trans People of Color
Transgender Legal Defense Fund: Through the Transgender Name Change Project, law students assist transgender clients in petitioning to have their names legally changed to match their gender identity. This involves both helping the client file name change documents and representing them in a hearing before the court, supervised by attorneys from Sullivan and Cromwell. Students learn valuable written and oral advocacy skills and gain firsthand experience interacting with clients. For questions, contact Ed Costikyan.
Leveraging the vast research resources available to Columbia students, Rightslink provides free legal research services to human rights groups that lack the capacity or political freedom to conduct their own research. Students interested in human rights gain the opportunity to contribute to research projects covering both domestic and international issues ranging from language discrimination to human trafficking. Contact: Tim Cuffman. [CLS ONLY]
The Rightslink Research and Advocacy Program (RAP) will give students (JDs and LLMs) the chance to join a dedicated human rights advocacy community and participate in exciting human rights research ongoing at CLS. Contact: Jacob Bogart.
Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
- International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP): CLS students partner with attorneys to help refugees primarily located in the Middle East navigate the refugee resettlement process. Students can (1) volunteer to take on a case under the supervision of attorneys at major New York law firms, assisting a client with the preparation of submissions to and interviews with UNHCR, IOM, and DHS through the case's completion (likely a multi-year commitment), or (2) assist IRAP National with their client intake process by screening potential new clients (a one-year commitment). Contact: Tyler Finn.
- Kids in Need of Defense (KIND): KIND serves children facing deportation who would not otherwise have legal representation. The work includes court observation, legal research, and client interviews. In order to participate in a KIND project, you are required to attend a training and submit to a background check. If you are interested, please email Hilary Rosenthal.
- Immigration Equality: Students assist attorneys at Immigration Equality with asylum applications for LGBT immigrants. Students can sign up to write country conditions reports, which support an asylum application by providing information about the applicant's country of origin to corroborate their claim of persecution. Students may also apply to work on an entire asylum application over the course of a semester under the supervision of an attorney from Immigration Equality. If interested, please email Victoria Fydrych by Friday, February 2nd, at midnight with a resume.
- Church World Service (CWS): A prominent non-profit in the fields of global development and immigrant and refugee rights, CWS was founded in 1946 and now has offices all over the world. Its headquarters are right next to campus, at 475 Riverside Drive. CWS's low-fee and pro bono programs are open to all immigrants and refugees, regardless of their religious affiliation. To learn more about CWS, check out its website. Starting this spring, Columbia Law students may apply to assist CWS’s senior staff attorneys with its immigration and refugee program. Students may decide to assist CWS in a great many ways, from advocacy to managerial work. Interested students should submit their résumé and a short statement of interest to Argemira Florez.
- Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project (ASAP): Columbia students collaborate with law school students from around the country to assist in creating two guides focused on asylum claims: (1) A guide focused on expedited removal proceedings; and (2) A start-to-finish toolkit/guide on assisting pro se applicants with asylum applications. Additionally, students can pick up discrete assignments to contribute various aspects to an ASAP client's case, like writing letters to the court, helping draft motions, and doing translation work. Contact: Victoria Fydrych.
Suspension Representation Project (SRP) [CLS ONLY]
SRP is a pro bono project in which law students represent New York City public school students at their suspension hearings. SRP’s mission is to safeguard the right to public education and due process by providing high-quality advocacy services to New York City public school students facing Superintendent’s suspensions, which can range from ten days to a full year. SRP advocates develop meaningful legal skills—including interviewing clients and conducting direct- and cross-examinations—and SRP’s clients gain valuable assistance and support. This project is ideal for students who are looking for practical litigation experience and/or who are interested in youth, education, or school-to-prison pipeline issues. Attending a training session is required to take on cases. Trainings will be held on Thursday, January 25th, at 6:30pm at NYU Law in room VH 210 and at Cardozo Law on Wednesday, January 31st, at 6:30pm in the Moot Court Room. Contacts: Maeghan Murphy and Justin Metz.
Tenants’ Rights Project
- SRO Law Project and NMIC Legal Services: Students assist attorneys at local community organizations in all aspects of low-income tenant representation. Types of work include legal research, motion and memorandum drafting, client intake, and court appearances. Cases range from eviction defense to living condition complaints. Contact: [email protected]. For questions, email Victoria Xie.
- Manhattan Legal Services Housing Intake Clinic: Manhattan Legal Services (MLS) will hold a weekly housing intake clinic on Fridays during the Fall Semester. During intake sessions, students will conduct one-on-one intake interviews with potential low-income clients, helping to assess legal issues presented in the case, as well as potential defenses and evidence for litigation. All work will be performed by students under the supervision of housing attorneys at Manhattan Legal Services. Students will be required to complete a two-hour training at the beginning of the semester, which will cover basic NYC housing law and client interviewing skills. Students are asked to commit to three to six shifts per semester. Each shift will last approximately six to eight hours. MLS is seeking four students to staff each clinic. Register here by 1/17. TRAINING: January 19th, 12 -2 PM, WJW 103. Lunch will be served. For questions, email Ashley Dalton.
Student Animal Legal Defense Fund
The Animal Legal Defense Fund fights to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. This project provides a chance to complete legal research, writing, and fact investigation on pending animal litigation issues and cases. Animal law permeates most traditional areas of the law – including tort, contract, criminal, and constitutional law. The animals involved range from companion animals and wildlife to animals used in entertainment or research or who are raised for food. Students must make a semester- or year-long commitment to work at least 20 hours per semester. The start and end dates are flexible. This work can be done remotely. Interested students should email [email protected].
Workers’ Rights Student Coalition
The Employment Unit of the Legal Aid Society has partnered with the Columbia Law Workers' Rights Student Coalition to create a pro bono opportunity available to all Columbia Law students. Volunteers will complete discrete research assignments remotely or at the Legal Aid Office. The research assignments will range in content, and all will be immediately useful to the unit in its endeavors. Tasks may include investigating developments in the city, state, and federal levels of employment law and updating "Know Your Rights" materials for workers in New York City. Coursework in employment law is recommended but not required. Volunteers must commit to a minimum of three hours per week. Contact: Dan Richards.
Projects with Partnering Law Firms and Organizations
Bankruptcy Assistance Project
Under the direction of Legal Services for New York, students will conduct client intake to assess the appropriateness of cases and will help clients file bankruptcy petitions. After the training, you are expected to take at least two to three bankruptcy petition cases during the school year. This normally takes 25 to 40 hours. Training will be held on Friday, January 19, 10:30 AM - 4 PM at NYU Law. Apply here.
CLS Commercial Division Judicial Pro Bono Program
This spring, the Law School is introducing the CLS Commercial Division Judicial Pro Bono Program. The Program will task students with drafting judicial opinions in complex commercial cases for Justices of the New York State Supreme Court, Commercial Division. The opinions will be drafted under the supervision of Joseph Hansen, an experienced commercial attorney, and the founder in 2011 of an internship program in the Commercial Division. It is expected students will spend eight to ten hours a week on preparing the draft opinion, which can be done remotely. Interested students should send a brief (1-2 paragraph) statement of interest to Joseph Hansen.
Davis Polk Asylum Workshop
Under the direction of Davis Polk & Wardwell, teams of Columbia students assist in preparing the factual record and brief the legal issues involved in complex asylum cases that bring human rights violations from around the world into the U.S. legal arena. Students can apply upon SJI notice. The workshops will be held weekly on Wednesday nights from 7-8:30 PM, with the first four sessions taking place on-campus and the last two taking place at Davis Polk in their midtown office. Workshops will begin Wednesday, February 21st. Interested students can apply here by February 9th.
Students will staff LiveHelp, an online, real-time chat service that will direct users toward relevant self-help materials, legal assistance organizations, and court information. Volunteers will receive several hours of training on the LiveHelp software and on handling common questions using the resources on LawHelp/NY and the websites of New York State Courts. If you are interested in attending the training, please complete the online LiveHelp Volunteer Questionnaire by Sunday, January 21st. Additionally, please email your resume to Allana Benton and note that you have completed the online questionnaire.
New York State Courts Access to Justice Programs
- Volunteer Lawyer for the Day - Consumer Credit: The New York State Courts Access to Justice Program seeks 2nd and 3rd year law students to provide pro bono assistance for unrepresented litigants in its Volunteer Lawyer for the Day - Consumer Credit Project in New York City’s Civil Courts. This program provides law students with the opportunity to represent clients in court, negotiate with opposing counsel, and argue before a judge. Interns gain invaluable, hands-on experience in lawyering while simultaneously helping some of New York’s most disadvantaged civil litigants obtain due process of law. The program is supervised by a coordinating attorney with expertise in consumer credit law. The Consumer Debt Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Program operates in all NYC Counties, morning sessions only from 9 AM to 1 PM. Volunteers are expected to volunteer for an entire morning session. We usually ask that volunteers volunteer a minimum of 5 sessions. Kings County, Queens County, and Bronx County operate four mornings a week Monday through Thursday. New York County operates four mornings a week Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Richmond County operates Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. If you are interested, please sign up here.
- Uncontested Divorce Program: The New York State Courts Access to Justice Program is seeking 2nd and 3rd year law students to provide assistance to unrepresented litigants in Uncontested Divorce matters in New York City’s Supreme Courts. The program is supervised by a court attorney with expertise in matrimonial law. Assistance through this project is targeted to those litigants who cannot afford counsel. Law students will assist unrepresented litigants with the preparation of uncontested divorce forms under the supervision of the Supreme Court Help Center’s Court Attorney. The court system will provide training at a date to be determined at CLS. Law students do not represent litigants in court or file papers on their behalf. The Uncontested Divorce Program operates in all NYC Counties. The Kings County program operates a morning and afternoon session on Tuesdays and morning sessions only on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Queens County Program operates a morning and afternoon session on Tuesdays. The Bronx County program operates a late afternoon/early evening session on Thursdays. The New York County program operates an afternoon session on Tuesdays. Richmond County operates Tuesdays bi-weekly. Volunteers are expected to volunteer for the entire session which lasts about 3 hours. If you are interested, please sign up here.
Spring Break Caravans
Spring Break Caravans are a popular way for students to combine travel, fun, and public service. Student-directed teams may be granted small travel stipends to help particular organizations with legal work during the week of Spring Break. To learn more, please visit the Caravans page on the SJI website.