Law students who graduated in 2017 performed more than 3.39 million hours of pro bono work while on campus, which equates to nearly $82 million in free legal services.
A newly released survey by the Association of American Law Schools found that on average, recent law graduates logged 184 hours of pro bono service over the course of their studies. That includes time spent in law school clinics, in externships with legal service providers, and through student organizations and volunteer opportunities.
“The numbers are really impressive,” said Wendy Perdue, dean of the University of Richmond School of Law and the incoming president of the Association of American Law Schools. “It’s a story I think many communities don’t fully appreciate. I’m not sure university boards and presidents appreciate the services that their law students are providing. I’m enormously proud of my school and my fellow schools for adding to access to justice.”
The students themselves benefit from pro bono work by building skills and laying the foundation for successful careers, Perdue added.
The actual cumulative number of pro bono hours performed by recent law graduates is likely much larger. The 2017 survey was based on responses from just 94 of the 205 American Bar Association-accredited law schools, and it only includes time logged by juris doctor students. It excludes pro bono work performed by LL.M. students.
The association launched the pro bono survey in 2016 as a way to quantify the public service impact of law students nationwide and illustrate the positive impact legal education has on society.
The inaugural survey found that the class of 2016 completed more than 2.2 million hours of pro bono work, for an estimated value of $52 million. That finding was based on responses from 80 schools. The survey assigns each pro bono hour with a $24.14 value, a coalition of nonprofit organizations called Independent Sector.
It appears that the amount of pro bono service students assume is rising. The 184 average among the class of 2017 represents a 60-hour increase over the class of 2016—or 20 additional hours per year on campus.
There has been no shortage of opportunities for current law students and recent graduates to assist those who may not be able to afford a lawyer. Among the initiatives highlighted by the association are the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law’s Election Day VOTEline, a voter assistance hotline; New York University School of Law’s Policing Project, which seeks to improve policing through greater accountability; and Baylor University School of Law’s Texas Legal Answers project, where students answer legal questions submitted via a website by low-income residents.
This fall, law students on numerous campuses helped those with status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program apply for extensions after the U.S. Department of Justice in September announced the repeal of the program that allows them to remain in the country.
A rash of hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico also created opportunities for law students to assist. At Columbia Law School, a group of students created the Legal Corps for Puerto Rico—a network of volunteer attorneys who aim to assist people on the storm-ravaged Caribbean island navigate the bureaucracy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, filing for unemployment or housing assistance, and other legal obstacles.