Our latest community profile is of Julie Jackson, Assistant Dean for Public Interest Programs at Tulane School of Law in New Orleans. Tulane was the first law school in the country to have a mandatory pro bono graduation requirement. Ms. Jackson, who oversees the law school’s pro bono program and public service externship program, shares her insights with us below:
Describe Tulane Law School’s pro bono program.
Tulane was the first law school in the country to have a mandatory pro bono graduation requirement – we are celebrating our 25th anniversary of the requirement this year. Students must have 30 hours minimum of pro bono work before they can graduate.
The program has evolved over the years. The program started by defining pro bono in the traditional narrow scope – it extended only to students meeting the needs of underrepresented or low income clients supervised by private attorneys. This definition expanded because there was a need and also because there weren’t enough private attorneys doing pro bono to partner with law students. The program evolved to allow students to assist legal services and non-profits, as long as they were supervised by an attorney and meeting the needs of underrepresented clients.
After Hurricane Katrina, we did another jump in representation – we saw that the government, especially local government, was in a state of need. We expanded the program to allow for both government and local government placement. We now permit a range of activities and have found that students are going above and beyond the 30 hour graduation requirement.
What has been your biggest challenge? What is the greatest lesson?
Early on, the greatest challenge was to identify pro bono possibilities and create ties with programs where we were able to have attorneys (legal service or private practitioners) supervise students. We had to demonstrate – to both sides – that pro bono was a win-win situation.
Great lesson: there are 1000 ways to skin a cat. We’re often finding new approaches and new solutions. There are so many ways to fulfill the requirements of a pro bono program (either voluntary or mandatory) and we’re always looking into other ways to create scenarios where students can perform pro bono (such as student run, community run, and partnerships). We do this recognizing that pro bono might be the most interesting thing a student has done in law school!
Also, there are a number of opportunities for attorneys and law students whose time is limited – it’s nice to give people that option. For example, in our homeless program, you can go once a week, from 7-9:00, for a month. It’s a minimal commitment but it still makes a difference. You can really mold the time frame to your particular volunteer.
A recent ABA report showed that approximately 60% of attorneys under the age of 35 expressed interest in taking on more pro bono work. Based on your experience, and your work with students and young attorneys, what advice do you have for pro bono programs to help recruit and maintain the involvement of young attorneys?
Capture them as quickly as possible. A lot of students are graduating from law school recognizing the importance of pro bono and also knowing they can help. During law school they will have worked on cases where they were really able to contribute on a case or subject matter they may have not known about initially. This eliminates the idea that a lot of attorneys have that they can’t help because they don’t know the field (i.e. they can’t help with a family law case because they’ve never practiced family law). The key is to capture attorneys when they are fresh out of school and know they can help – this will keep them doing pro bono work for the long term.