Law school can provide many hands-on opportunities for students to develop legal skills before they enter practice. Two skill-development examples include pro bono work and clinic programs. In this post we discuss the benefits that participation in these hands-on programs provide.
In 2005, the New York State Unified Court System held a Partners in Justice Colloquium to discuss strategies for collaborations among the judiciary, law school clinical programs and the practicing bar on issues of social justice. One of the working papers produced for the colloquium, Teaching and Doing: The Role of Law School Clinics in Enhancing Access to Justice, notes:
Participating in the delivery of pro bono legal services is an exceptional learning opportunity for law students and significantly enhances their legal education. In its most basic form, engaging in pro bono provides a platform for students to develop critical lawyering and professional skills, helps improve access to justice, and imparts an understanding of the vital need for legal assistance in the community. Pro bono is not merely an altruistic endeavor, but rather an affirmative responsibility under ABA Model Rule 6.1. Early exposure while in law school enables students to standardize the practice of incorporating pro bono into their professional life, helping to create a culture of ethical, compassionate attorneys committed to civility, public service, and zealous advocacy on behalf of their clients. Having law students participate in pro bono early and often in their training helps produce lawyers who are well informed about the legal needs facing the under-represented, and are committed to increasing access to justice. Therefore, we suggest that all law students should participate in pro bono.
A clinic is a law school program providing hands-on legal experience to law school students and free services to those in need. Students gain practical legal experience under the supervision of licensed attorneys (usually, a clinical professor), and typically do pro bono work in a particular area.
Although legal clinics originated as a method of practical teaching, today there are also practice-based law clinics unassociated with law schools which provide hands-on skills to lawyers, judges and nonlawyers on practical ethical dimensions of the law and at the same time offer free public defense legal services.
By doing pro bono legal work while in law school, students can prepare to be and join lawyers who provide free legal services to individuals and groups who cannot afford these services or whose needs are underrepresented.