Pro Bono & Public Interest
Why Pro Bono?
Pro bono service offers an outlet for students to serve the community with a focus on law-related needs. Students apply what they learn in class to ongoing projects under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Projects offer students practical experience while helping members of the public who may not otherwise have access to legal assistance. During their experience, students work alongside and network with practicing lawyers, exposing them to a variety of practice areas.
In 2010, the North Carolina State Bar adopted Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1, Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service, which states in part: “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year.”
To assist lawyers in fulfilling their professional obligations under Rule 6.1, the NC Bar Pro Bono Resource Center was established to help develop pro bono projects statewide in partnership with Legal Aid organizations and community organizations. The Center also supports existing pro bono activities including recruitment, training, and communication and implement voluntary pro bono reporting and recognition programs statewide.
Interested in volunteering? Let us know! Please look over our Pro Bono Project Descriptions page for projects that may interest you. If you want more direct support on how you can get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get you connected to the volunteer opportunities that interest you!
Please visit our Report Your Hours page to learn more about how student involvement in pro bono is recognized at Elon Law.
What Counts as Pro Bono?
Pro bono service is designed to meet the legal needs of underrepresented groups. Examples of such work may include: charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, health, or educational organizations working to address the needs of persons of disadvantaged or limited means; individuals, groups, or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights; or activities seeking to improve the law, the legal system, or the legal profession.
Eligible pro bono work is uncompensated work completed for a nonprofit organization that otherwise could not afford legal services without significantly depleting its financial resources; a government program, such as the Guardian ad Litem program or a public defender’s office; or a private attorney representing a client on a no-fee basis. The work must be legal or law-related, requiring the utilization of legal skills developed in preparation for a career in law.
For these purposes, competing or assisting (coaching undergraduates or other advisory roles) in mock trial competitions is not pro bono work. Further, work provided for government entities does not qualify as pro bono work unless the service is designed to meet the needs of the aforementioned groups.
Hours logged for projects/programs such as the Innocence Project and Tax Clinic count as pro bono hours. Training required to undertake the pro bono placement, excluding general body and interest meetings, also count as pro bono work. However, for the training hours to count, the skills learned during those sessions must be put into practice, and active involvement with the project is anticipated. Hours completed for a residency placement, class clinic, externship, or program which go beyond the number of required hours, and meet the elements of the pro bono definition, may count as pro bono work.
NOTE: If a student receives any financial compensation, including public interest stipends, the hours performed cannot be counted as pro bono hours. Pro bono service hours completed beyond the number of hours required to fulfill the commitment for the stipend can count as pro bono. If the stipend does not specify an hourly requirement, the Office of Career & Student Development should be consulted for further clarification.
Governmental work, including but not limited to District Attorney’s office, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and judicial clerkships, do not count as pro bono work. While these are excellent public interest opportunities, they do not satisfy the requisite service to an individual or group who would otherwise have access to legal help, which is required for pro bono work.
Pro bono projects that you have personally arranged may count toward your total pro bono hours; it does not have to be a project arranged through the law school to qualify! However, students who arrange their own pro bono projects are encouraged to verify with the administration that their project does meet the definition of pro bono prior to beginning work. Any questions can be directed to the Office of Career & Student Development.
Student & Alumni Perspectives on Pro Bono Service
“Pro bono work is at the cornerstone of our practice. From my time at Elon Law, pro bono work and giving back to our community was an emphasis. As I delve further into my career, I realize how important pro bono work is critical to our community. The opportunities are endless and no matter what time you can give, there is always a need. Whether you are fluent in Spanish and assist the NC Justice Center for their clinics, you are a Guardian Ad Litem for abused & neglected children in your county, or you volunteer for the North Carolina Bar Foundation 4ALL Day the first Friday in March each year, you take referrals from our local Legal Aid of NC office, or participate with the NCBF’s Free Legal Answers – there is an avenue for you to use your legal knowledge & expertise to give back and benefit the community.”
– Manisha Patel, Class of 2011