In this post, I will be discussing a time-honoured tradition at American law schools: pro bono work.
Pro bono stands for legal work done by lawyers and law students for the good of the community; that means that they are not getting paid, and usually the projects involve legal work done on behalf of people who cannot otherwise afford a lawyer, such as indigent persons, prisoners, homeless persons and in America, people on death row.
While most law faculties in England have some form of pro bono programs (at King’s, those are the Legal Clinic and the projects run by Lawyers Without Borders and the Pro Bono Society, among others), the tradition is big at American law schools. This is even more so the case at Carolina Law, where a large Pro Bono organisation spurs students to collectively complete thousands of hours of pro bono work every year.
Mid-November marked the time of year when students sign up for Pro Bono Winter Projects, take-home assignments on behalf of various organisations and professors that they can complete over the Christmas holiday from the comfort of their family home.
While a sign-up session sounds quite relaxed, it was not: The projects are so popular that some people will arrive up to three hours early to line up in order to secure their favourite project (from a list mailed out a few days in advance). For a 7am sign-up start, that means getting to the law school at four in the morning!
The reward for a long wait can be well worth it, however: projects this year ranged from evaluating studies examining free speech on university campuses and interpreting museum trusts to completing asylum applications and many more. Personally, I got in the queue at 5.45am (still roughly an hour before I would normally get up) and got a place on my second-choice project, where I will be helping to update the manual used to train prosecutors in North Carolina.
Aside from the Winter Projects, Pro Bono work is an important part of law school life at Carolina year-round: the Pro Bono Board organise trips to various communities around the State during fall, Christmas and spring break, where students get to participate in legal clinics for members of the community. This can include writing wills, helping with military records and financial matters. Additionally, there is a program that meets once a month to help patients at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital write their living wills and other medical documents.
Pro Bono work is the only recourse to legal services many people have, both in the US and the UK. So wherever you are, find a project you are interested in and participate!
In London, most of the Pro Bono work is done by the Community Law Centres, as well as the Citizens Advice Bureau and the London Legal Support Trust.