Public Interest & Pro Bono

Pro Bono Orientation

The Public Interest and Pro Bono Program is divided into four main areas:

The Career Center

The Career Center has a Public Interest Counselor, Siobhan Madison, who actively promotes public interest job opportunities for students, including the Equal Justice Works Career Fair, held each fall in Washington, DC; the George Washington - Georgetown Public Sector Recruiting Program; financial assistance; and additional job search resources, including online databases.

The Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics

The Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics operate under the direction of Laurie S. Kohn. The Law School is home to 11 clinics housed in the Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics at 2000 H Street, NW and one off-site clinic, Rising for Justice Housing Advocacy. Most of the Clinics offer second and third year law students the opportunity to practice as lawyers under the supervision of Law School faculty for academic credit.  Once enrolled in the Clinic and certified to practice, Clinic students represent real clients in real legal disputes.  They appear in court and other tribunals, argue motions, present trials, draft and file briefs, negotiate contracts, provide legal advice, advocacy, and lobby legislative branches. One of our clinics, Domestic Violence Project, provides students with an intensive academic curriculum focused on domestic violence, and a concurrent placement at an organization or government office to work on domestic violence issues. Our clinics span many practices:

  • Civil Access for Justice Clinic

  • Civil and Human Rights Law Clinic

  • Criminal Defense and Justice Clinic

  • Criminal Appeals and Post-Conviction Services

  • Domestic Violence Project

  • Family Justice Litigation Clinic

  • Health Rights Law Clinic

  • Immigration Clinic

  • Prisoner & Reentry Clinic

  • Public Justice Advocacy Clinic

  • Rising for Justice

  • Small Business & Community Economic Development (SBCED) Clinic

  • Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic

Each clinic, which satisfy experiential learning requirements, involves a classroom component in which students learn the skills and law necessary to handle their case work.  In the seminar, students might also hear from guest speakers such as judges and other advocates and conduct case rounds.  Clinics are a significant time commitment, involving 4-6 credits; and with a couple of exceptions, they are taken for a letter grade. Students who exceed the required number of hours on their clinic work may receive pro bono credit for those additional hours worked.  

Clinic work, with the exception of the Domestic Violence Project which operates as a hybrid, differs from pro bono or field placement experiences because students act as lawyers on their cases. They do not support the work of other lawyers nor do they act as paralegals as they may do for field placement or pro bono work. Instead, clinic students directly represent clients and act as the primary lawyers on their cases. Their work is supervised and supported every step of the way by their clinic professors who review drafts and accompany them to all official appearances and most client meetings. 

The Field Placement Program

The Field Placement Program is under the direction of Keri A. McCoy, Assistant Dean for the Field Placement Program. It is one of the nation's largest law school externship programs, and is offered year-round. The Field Placement Program (“Program”) provides students with the opportunity to work closely with judges or practicing lawyers as legal externs in unpaid externships with qualifying governmental, judicial and non-profit organizations while earning academic credit. The Program is designed to enhance the educational experience of its students through exposure to the actual practice of law. 

The primary educational objectives of the Program are to provide students with the opportunity to gain experience in different substantive areas of law and legal process; to develop legal research, writing, interviewing, counseling and investigative skills; to deal with issues of professional responsibility in a real practice setting; and to engage in reflective lawyering. 

Each student is supervised by a member of the law school faculty and is enrolled in a required co-requisite course for which they receive a letter grade. The student's externship experience also includes regular communication and feedback from an attorney field supervisor who is assigned to that student. On-site attorney supervision, instructional guidance through the law school's faculty, and regular communication between law school faculty and the field placement attorney supervisor combine to offer students a unique opportunity to gain practical experience and continue to build upon their law school education. 

Students may participate in the Field Placement Program after they have successfully completed the Law School's full-time first-year curriculum. Students who have not completed the entire full-time first-year curriculum may be eligible to participate in the Program if they can demonstrate that their placement will provide sufficient contemporaneous training to ensure the quality of the student educational experience in the Field Placement Program. During the fall and spring semesters, the placement must be located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area (this geographic restriction is inapplicable to the GW in New York program). Students may earn credit for externships outside of the D.C. metropolitan area, including international internships, during the summer session only (additional requirements apply).  

Field Placement provides students the flexibility to extern at a wide variety of eligible agencies that interest them. A list of pre-approved placements is available on the Law School portal and in the Field Placement Program Office. If a placement has not been previously approved, the Assistant Dean for Field Placement must approve the placement in order to finalize registration. Field Placement is graded on a CR/NC basis and requires students, among other things, to complete 60 hours of work and 5 pages of original and substantive writing per credit. Students may earn up to 4 field placement credits per semester for a total of no more than 8 credits for this course in their degree program. Both the co-requisite course (when taken in conjunction with an externship), and Field Placement credits satisfy the law school’s experiential learning requirement. 

The Field Placement Program differs from clinics in that placements are not associated with the law school, there is a much wider range of possible placements, and students support lawyers and judges but do not represent clients themselves. Additionally, the parameters of the program afford students a degree of flexibility, within program requirements, to establish their weekly schedule for the semester. It differs from pro bono in that students earn academic credit for the work performed. Note: Students who wish to participate in both a clinic and Field Placement must obtain the express written permission of both instructors. 

The Public Interest and Pro Bono Program

The Public Interest and Pro Bono Program is directed by Alan B. Morrison, the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law. The Pro Bono Program is under the direction of David M. Johnson, Assistant Dean for Pro Bono & Advocacy Programs. Students volunteer to work for non-profit or government organizations, on projects that are organized by student groups on their own, or on projects for non-profit organizations doing legal work.

Although the Law School creates and/or facilitates some pro bono projects, pro bono can happen entirely on the student’s own initiative, whereas the School has a formal role for the clinics and field placement, in part because academic credit is afforded for both of them.  Thus, any student can do pro bono work with no involvement of anyone at the Law School although to obtain pro bono recognition, a student must meet certain standards outlined on the back of the Pro Bono Hours Sheet.  For students who perform 50 hours or more of pro bono. they are honored at a pre-graduation ceremony with the Dean’s Certificate and a listing in the graduation program, with additional recognition of a silver Public Service cord for those who surpass 100 hours. The pro bono section on the portal lists some of the Law School projects, which can be informally grouped into several categories.   

Curriculum Related Programs:  The central idea behind this group is that they seek to combine what students are taught in the classroom with the practical way in which that learning operates in the real world with clients in need of assistance.  An additional goal in these projects is to generate feedback from the pro bono experience into class discussion.  This group includes: 

  • Bankruptcy Clinic

  • Civil Protection Order Project

  • Family Law Self-Help Center

  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

Additional Clinic or Field Placement Hour: Unlike a number of other law schools, GW does not count as pro bono time spent in an activity for which the student receives academic credit.  Regardless, we are aware that some students spend many more hours in their clinic or field placement than is required by the ABA, and – in many cases - those additional hours can count as pro bono.  Further, many students stay in their outside placements after they no longer receive credit because they find the work rewarding, for which they could receive pro bono credit as well.  

Law School Sponsored Projects:  These are projects that the Law School helped launch and is involved in their operation.  The principal ones at this time are:

  • Hypothermia Homeless Family Outreach Pro Bono Project

  • Landlord-Tenant Pro Bono Project

  • Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

  • The Veterans Pro Bono Project 

On Your Own Pro Bono:  There is no requirement that pro bono come within one of these categories and students can find pro bono on their own, working for a non-profit organization in an area in which they have a particular interest or for a government agency that offers a chance to learn about its work on an unpaid and not for credit basis, often in the summer after the first year of law school.  Students can engage in this group of pro bono activities at any time, whereas clinics and field placements are open only to students who have completed their first year, and law school sponsored projects require one semester of law school. 

 

2021 Public Interest/Public Service Law Annual Report [pdf]