The Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services recently modified its guidelines for determining how law students may qualify for the Pro Bono Honor Roll. In general a student must complete a minimum of fifty hours of pro bono service over the course of his or her law school career. Pro bono is defined as law-related services that: 1) are unpaid; and 2) serve the legal needs of individuals or groups with limited access to legal representation or who are underrepresented in the legal system. This work can be performed for a charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, or educational organization.
Guide Law Students Pro Bono Honor Roll Requirements and Guidelines
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Prior to graduation from law school, a student must complete a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono service, defined as law-related services that: 1) are unpaid; and 2) serve the legal needs of individuals or groups with limited access to legal representation or who are underrepresented in the legal system. This work can be performed for a charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, or educational organization.
Law-related services: As law students are not yet lawyers, they cannot directly perform legal services for clients, except under appropriate supervision. Law-related services is a term that captures the work law students can perform to assist in legal matters while stopping short of directly performing unsupervised legal services. Examples include assisting an attorney at trial, assisting pro se litigants in court, client and witness interviewing and investigation, community legal education, drafting documents, preparing a case for trial, and conducting legal research and writing. Work for a political campaign or purely academic work does not typically constitute law-related services unless, for example, a law student was involved in advocating for voting rights for an underserved group or if the academic work transitioned to an amicus brief or similar law-related service for an underserved population.
There is no geographic limitation on where students can fulfill pro bono requirements. As long as the work otherwise fulfills the pro bono requirements a student can complete the pro bono service in any geographic location. The work is not limited to Massachusetts, or even the United States.
Pro Bono Hours
A student must complete a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono work during his or her law school career. Once a student completes 50 hours of pro bono, a student who so requests will receive recognition by the SJC on the Pro Bono Honor Roll.
These hours can be completed at any time during the student’s enrollment in law school and are cumulative from year to year. Work may begin on the first day of the student’s 1L year and can be performed over the summer and on school vacations, and must be completed by the date of graduation. The Honor Roll is bestowed in October of each year. Students can be recognized while still enrolled in law school, or in the October following graduation, for work performed during any portion of their years in law school.
Training time, transportation time, and observation time do not count as pro bono hours.
It is not possible for a student to appear on the Law Student Pro Bono Honor Roll twice during his or her law school career. The Honor Roll recognizes students who have done a minimum of 50 pro bono hours, so students who complete 100 or more hours still meet the Honor Roll criteria. When a student performs more than 100 hours of pro bono work during law school, we suggest the law school’s pro bono coordinator consider whether the student’s work is worthy of the special recognition afforded by the Adams Award.
Students do not need to complete all pro bono hours at one placement. The hours may be earned through service performed in more than one pro bono context. However, the Honor Roll Program recommends students use their discretion to dedicate a substantial number of their pro bono hours to a specific placement in order to best serve the organization as well as enjoy the benefits of a more robust learning experience.
Pro Bono Credit Eligibility
- A school-based clinical program
This is not eligible for pro bono credit unless the hours worked are in excess of the program requirements. If the student receives academic credit for the clinical work performed while in the school’s program, then the student cannot also count those hours worked toward the pro bono requirement. However, if a student exceeds the number of hours required to complete the clinical program, any hours worked in the clinical setting beyond the requirement may count as pro bono hours.
- An internship (or any legal work) for credit
This is not eligible for pro bono credit unless the hours worked are in excess of the hours required to receive credit for the internship. Similar to the clinical work for credit, if a student receives academic credit for an internship position in which the student performs work that otherwise constitutes pro bono services, then the student may not count the hours worked in the internship as pro bono hours. However, if the student exceeds the number of hours required to receive credit for the internship, then the student may count any hours performed in excess of the requirement as pro bono hours.
- Unpaid or stipend-supported full-time summer intern position
This is not eligible for pro bono credit unless the hours worked are outside of the normal working hours for the position. The SJC is aware that not every student is able to take a full-time summer intern position that is unpaid, or supported by a stipend only. Because the Honor Roll Program does not want to unfairly favor students who are in a financial position to devote an entire summer to such work, the hours worked in a full time summer internship position cannot count toward the pro bono requirement.
- Pro bono work performed at a firm as part of a summer internship or job
This is not eligible for pro bono credit. If the student performs pro bono work as part of a paid internship or job, then the student is being compensated for such pro bono work and cannot count those hours for consideration on the Pro Bono Honor Roll.
- Assisting a private attorney with pro bono work
This is eligible for pro bono credit. If the student is not receiving pay or credit for this work, pro bono work assisting a private attorney can count toward the requirement.
- A judicial internship/externship/summer clerkship
This is not eligible for pro bono credit. Similar to the unpaid summer intern position, a law student cannot count the hours worked in a judicial clerkship as pro bono hours. A judicial clerkship or externship also likely does not fit the definition of pro bono service.
- Non-legal volunteer or community service work
This is not eligible for pro bono credit. The work must be law-related to count toward pro bono recognition.
- A student-created pro bono project
This is eligible for pro bono credit. If the project meets the pro bono criteria and receives proper supervision, then students are encouraged to seek their own pro bono opportunities and such work will count toward the pro bono requirement.
- Training time, observation time, or observation time
This is not eligible for pro bono credit.
Pro Bono Honor Roll Certification Form
The court is now accepting completed Pro Bono Honor Roll Certification Forms for students who have met the Honor Roll criteria over the course of their law school careers. Check with your school’s Pro Bono or Career Services office to find out how, where and when to submit your certification form and paperwork.
Each law school will designate one or more individuals as authorized representatives of the law school for purposes of signing the certification forms. The role of the person signing the certification is to ensure that the student understands that he or she may count only those hours of pro bono work that satisfy the requirements listed above. If students self-report their pro bono hours to their law school subject to an honor system, the person signing the certification does not need to independently confirm the number of reported hours.
The certification form, to be filled out by student's pro bono supervisor, is available below in PDF format.
Tips for Opening and Filling Out the Pro Bono Honor Roll Fillable Certification Form:
1. Users must have Adobe Reader 7.0 or greater to use the extensions. (Adobe Reader is a free software and it is available for download from a number of sites).
2. Users must open the form on the website, fill it out, and then save it to their desktop
using "Save As...".
3. The completed and saved version should be sent as an attachment to Chip.Phinney@jud.state.ma.us, or mailed to the following address:
Chip Phinney, Deputy Legal Counsel
Supreme Judicial Court, Suite 2500
John Adams Courthouse
One Pemberton Square
Boston, MA 02108