In-House Pro Bono Projects 2018-2019
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
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. Interested students should contact Matthew de Bernardo.
Criminal Justice Action Network (CJAN) and Public Defender Students of CLS (PDS)
Prisoners' Rights Project: Law students will draft Article 78 Petitions for incarcerated folks to appeal disciplinary tickets in court that they'll then file pro-se. Students will identify whether an administrative agency failed to perform a duty enjoined upon it by by law; if the agency proceeded in excess/without jurisdiction; whether determination was made in violation of procedure, was capricious, or was marred by abuse of discretion or error of law. Contacts: Shannon Zhang and Elizabeth Parizh. [This project will begin in the Spring 2019]
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: Vanessa Ajagu and Ally Gao.
- 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. Interested students should complete the online application by noon, Thursday, September 27th and plan to attend the training session on Friday, September 28th, from 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM in JG Annex. Contacts: Kathryn Kuethman and Stephen Schmitt.
- 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. Contacts: Elizabeth Levin and Leah Zweig.
- Human Trafficking Intervention Court: 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. Interested students should submit the online application by Friday, September 21st and plan to attend the mandatory training session on Friday, October 5th at Sanctuary for Families. Contact: Grant Gerard.
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. Interested volunteers should register here to participate and plan to attend a mandatory training session on either Thursday, September 20th at 6:00 PM in JG 102A or Tuesday, September 25th at 7:30 PM in WJW L107. Contact: Christen Hammock.
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: Melissa Castillo.
Latino/a Law Student Association (LALSA)
Know Your Rights Series / Spanish Street Law: Law students will be tasked with conducting research on substantive areas of the law (immigration law, housing law, labor law, consumer rights, etc.) and they will be expected to make powerpoint presentations that will allow them to present their findings in a succinct and intelligible manner. They will have the opportunity to work with attorneys who specialize in those areas of the law and work with them to develop the knowledge needed to then present this information to large groups in various locations in our NYC Latino communities. Contact: Nestor Almeida.
Legal Clinic for the Homeless [This project will resume in Spring 2019]
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. Contacts: Andrew Howard and Hope Kerpelman.
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.
Outlaws and Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC)
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. Interested students should register here and plan to attend the training session on Tuesday, September 25th from 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm in WH 304. Contact: Ed Costikyan.
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 Dorothy Weldon at [email protected].
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. Contacts: Emma DiNapoli and Amanda McNally. [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: Tessa Baizer.
Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
- Aldea -- Credible Fear Monitoring: This project is a remote project working with families detained at the Berks detention center in Pennsylvania who have applied for asylum based on fear of returning to their own country. Our Volunteers are present on the phone during the 1 - 2.5 hour-long interviews to listen in and make sure the family is being afforded a fair interview and then to offer a closing statement in support of the family's claim at the end. No language fluency is required because the Asylum Officer has an interpreter on the call. The day or evening before the interviews are set to happen, we send out a request for volunteers, and once a volunteer confirms availability, we send the family's case summary and provide the closing statement that should be read by the volunteer at the end. The Asylum Office will call the volunteer directly. Volunteers do not have to commit to doing any amount of interviews per day, week, or month, so it is a very flexible opportunity. If you are interested, please email Quinn Leary and Emma DiNapoli.
- Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project (ASAP): Starting in the spring, columbia students can 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. If you are interested, please email Quinn Leary and Emma DiNapoli.
- 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. 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. Looking primarily for Spanish speakers. If you are interested, please submit your resume and cover letter to Shoshanna Malett. Contact: Emma DiNapoli
- City Bar Justice Center: More information to come. If you are interested, please email Quinn Leary and Emma DiNapoli.
- Immigration Court Helpdesk (ICH): The Immigration Court Helpdesk (ICH) program was created by the Department of Justice to assist immigrants in removal proceedings in understanding their rights and learning to navigate the immigration system effectively. Unlike in criminal court, immigrants facing removal from the United States are not appointed free or low-cost lawyers. ICH attorneys from Catholic Charities provide immigrants facing removal with information about the immigration court process, how to access and utilize available resources, and referrals to competent representation. Volunteers assist us at the New York Immigration Court providing one-on-one screenings and also assisting particularly vulnerable immigrants fleeing persecution during our pro se asylum clinics. Foreign language skills or prior immigration experience is appreciated, but not required. If you are interested, please email Quinn Leary and Emma DiNapoli.
- 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 you are interested, please email Quinn Leary and Emma DiNapoli.
- International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP): CLS students partner with attorneys to help refugees primarily located in the Middle East navigate the refugee resettlement process. CLS students can get involved with one of two exciting IRAP opportunities: (1) as an intake volunteer to help IRAP National identify clients for resettlement and (2) become a caseworker and work in-depth with a client on his/her resettlement case. Working with IRAP is a great learning experience that can be very fulfilling and rewarding, but it is also a serious commitment that requires time and energy. If you are interested, apply here by Tuesday, September 18th and plan to attend the training session on Thursday, September 27th at 5:00 pm at Sancutary for Families. If you are interested, please email Amanda Chuzi and Sarah Marciel.
- New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG): Students participate in Key to the City “immigration clinics." These clinics are typically held on Saturday mornings and give students the opportunity to conduct an initial screening of potential immigrant clients under the supervision of NYLAG staff. If you are interested, please email Quinn Leary and Emma DiNapoli.
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. The fall 2018 training will be held on Monday, September 24th from 6:15 pm to 8:15 pm in JG 101. Contacts: Christine Rua and Emily Gerry.
Tenants’ Rights Project
- SRO Law Project, The Legal Aid Society 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. If interested email, the Tenants’ Rights Project or Zack Struver.
- Manhattan Legal Services Housing Intake Clinic: Manhattan Legal Services 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 2-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 3 to 6 shifts per semester. Each shift will last approximately 6 to 8 hours. MLS is seeking 4 students to staff each clinic. Register here by Wednesday, September 19th. The training session will be held on Friday, September 21st from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm in JG 102A. Contact: John Finnegan.
- Lenox Hill Neighborhood House:
- Lawyer-for-the-Day Clinic at the Harlem Community Justice Center: seeking 3-5 students to participate in a pilot program providing brief legal services to public housing tenants. By the end of the semester, students will have the opportunity to enter into a limited-scope retainer allowing them to negotiate with attorneys for the New York City Housing Authority and/or appear in front of the housing court judge. Students will also conduct intakes and provide legal advice and counsel to public housing tenants. If interested contact, Zack Struver.
- Tenant Advice Clinics: seeking 4 students to provide weekly assistance at tenants’ rights clinics and to assist the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House housing advocacy team with diverse projects. Students will attend four tenants’ rights clinics where they will conduct intakes and, after consultation with a housing attorney, provide legal advice and counsel to tenants. On the weeks without a tenants’ rights clinic, students will have the opportunity to assist Lenox Hill housing attorneys with legal research and writing projects, participate in home visits, and conduct phone intakes with low-income tenants. If interested contact, Zack Struver.
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 and this work can be done remotely. Fall 2018 registration information will be announced soon. Contact: [email protected].
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. Interested students should apply here by noon, Thursday, September 20th and plan to attend the training that will be held on Friday, September 21st at NYU Law.
Davis Polk Asylum Workshop [This project will resume in Spring 2019]
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.
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. This project will be available for students to participate during winter break/spring 2019, registration and training details will be available soon.
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.