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Information for Law Students About Pro Bono Service

Information for law students about pro bono service from the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services.

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As a law student, you have the opportunity to learn practical skills and increase access to justice by providing “law-related pro bono services." This webpage provides information about (1) the nature of law-related pro bono services, (2) the benefits of providing law-related pro bono services, and (3) the ways in which the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) of Massachusetts recognizes the law-related pro bono services of law students.

What are Law-Related Pro Bono Services?

Because law students cannot perform legal services for clients except under appropriate supervision, the SJC Pro Bono Honor Roll for Law Students recognizes students who have provided a significant number of hours of "law-related pro bono services."

"Law-related pro bono services" are services performed, without compensation or academic credit, to support or assist "pro bono legal services," as defined below. Examples of law-related pro bono services include assisting an attorney with a pro bono case, assisting a self-represented litigant in court, drafting an amicus brief for pro bono case, and conducting legal research or writing for a pro bono case or activity. For more information, visit About the Pro Bono Honor Roll.

"Pro bono legal services" are legal services that are provided "without compensation or expectation of compensation to persons of limited means, or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means." Mass. R. Prof. C. Rule 6.1, Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service (Rule 6.1). Pro bono legal services include "activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession that are primarily intended to benefit persons of limited means." See Rule 6.1, Comments 4 and 5. 

Reasons for Providing Law-Related Pro Bono Services

  • Increase Access to Justice. Legal services organizations in Massachusetts must turn away many income-eligible individuals who seek assistance. You can do your part to increase access to justice.
  • Make a Difference in Someone’s Life. By using your legal skills to support an individual in crisis, you can change that individual’s life and enrich your own.
  • Learn and Network. Providing pro bono legal services is an excellent way to learn about the legal system, hone specific professional skills, and meet attorneys.
  • Build Your Résumé. Pro bono work can enhance your résumé by demonstrating to future employers that you have practical experience and care about improving the legal system. Qualifying for the SJC Pro Bono Honor Roll for Law Students or being selected for an Adams Award for outstanding pro bono service (see below for more information), is a significant achievement that evidences your dedication to helping others. 
  • Begin a Habit of Legal Professionalism. When you join the legal profession, you will have a professional responsibility to provide legal services for individuals of limited means. According to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, “[a] lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” Providing pro bono legal services to clients in need while you are still in law school is the first step toward developing an important professional habit.

SJC Recognition for Law-Related Pro Bono Services

  • The Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards. Every year the SJC Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services selects several individuals to receive the prestigious Adams Pro Bono Publico Award for outstanding pro bono service. Law students are eligible for this award. If you perform outstanding pro bono work while in law school, you may be nominated for the Adams Award by a supervisor or faculty member. Recipients of the Adams Award are honored at the Adams Award Ceremony in the fall. For more information, visit About the Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards.
  • The SJC Pro Bono Honor Roll for Law Students. If you complete 50 or more hours of law-related pro bono service during your time as a law student and have your hours certified by your law school, your name will be placed on the SJC Pro Bono Honor Roll for Law Students. For more information, visit About the Pro Bono Honor Roll.

The SJC Pro Bono Honor Roll for Law Students

  • The SJC Honor Roll for Law Students is open to students who are enrolled at Massachusetts law schools or who have graduated from Massachusetts law schools within the past year.
  • Eligible law students who provide 50 or more hours of law-related pro bono service during their law school careers qualify for this honor roll. Students may appear on the Honor Roll only once.
  • Hours may 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 first year and must be completed by the date of graduation. The work may be performed over the summer and on school vacations.
  • Only hours devoted to the provision of law-related pro bono services may be counted toward the honor roll hours requirement. For detailed guidance on what types of activities qualify as “law-related pro bono services,” visit About the Pro Bono Honor Roll.
  • Please note that the following activities do not qualify as “law-related pro bono services”: academic coursework; work for a school-based clinical program; an internship or any legal work for which the student receives academic credit or pay; pro bono work performed at a law firm as part of a paid summer internship or associate position; a judicial internship, externship or summer clerkship (paid or unpaid); non-legal volunteer or community service work; and training, transportation, and observation. That said, if a student exceeds the number of hours required to receive academic credit for a clinical program, internship or other legal work, the student may count any hours performed in excess of the requirement toward the honor-roll hours requirement.

Inform yourself about the procedures in place at your law school for tracking your hours and submitting them, at the appropriate time, to the person at your law school who is responsible for certifying your hours and submitting them to the SJC.

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