Frequently Asked Questions - Columbia Pro Bono Requirement
Caveat: The guidelines for Columbia’s pro bono program differ in some important ways from those for New York State’s 50 hour pro bono requirement.
- Pro Bono Documentation
- Pro Bono Work at the Law School
- Pro Bono Assignments and Summer Jobs
- What Counts for Pro Bono Credit
1. Pro Bono Documentation
1a. I performed pro bono service awhile ago and never submitted the proper documentation. Can I still get credit for that work?
We cannot guarantee credit for work that is submitted more than 30 days after completion, so we encourage you to keep that deadline in mind. On a case-by-case basis, however, pro bono credit may be documented retroactively. You are encouraged to submit your documentation promptly so that you still have access to your supervising attorney and everyone has a fresher memory of the work that you performed.
1b. Who should sign my Supervisor’s Report to verify the hours that I worked?
Your supervising attorney should sign the Supervisor’s Report. If there is an additional supervisor who is not an attorney but who can verify the number of hours and quality of your work, they can also sign the form.
1c. Where can I find the forms I need to obtain credit for my pro bono work, or to get SJI approval for work with an organization that is not already established?
You can find all forms - the Student-Initiated Petition, Exit Questionnaire and Supervisor's Report - on the Forms & Guidelines page.
2. Pro Bono Work at the Law School (student groups/clinic/moot court/professors/externships)
2a. Can I get pro bono credit for coordinating a student-directed pro bono project?
Yes. Up to two leaders or coordinators of a student-directed pro bono project may receive pro bono credit for their work administering other students’ involvement in that pro bono project. Either the supervising attorney or a student representative authorized d by SJI may sign the Supervisor's Report to verify those students’ hours.
2b. I am doing more hours than required for my clinic or externship. Can I get pro bono credit for those extra hours?
Usually students are not eligible for pro bono credit in the same semester in which they receive academic or clinical credit for that clinic or externship. You can get pro bono credit for hours performed in relation to a clinic or externship only if you are not currently enrolled in the clinic OR by submitting written confirmation from the professor that the pro bono project is different in kind from the work required to receive academic credit. A student-initiated petition is required to earn pro bono credit for work done through a clinic or externship.
2c. If I participate in a Columbia Externship and only claim academic credit for the classroom component, can I get pro bono credit for the hours I spend in the field?
No; students receive academic credit for both their classroom participation and field work. Classroom and field work are a package deal.
2d. Can I get pro bono credit for my participation in moot court?
No. Like most course work, student participation in moot court is considered to be a critical component of the Law School’s academic preparation of its students and does not count for pro bono credit.
2e. Can I get pro bono credit for the public interest research project I am completing for a professor?
You can get pro bono credit for research done on a professor’s public interest pro bono work (such as an amicus brief, legislative reform, or legal advice to a not-for-profit organization). Research or other assistance with a professor's teaching or scholarship does not earn pro bono credit.
2f. Can I get academic credit for a pro bono internship?
In order to claim pro bono credit for your work at an internship, it must be unpaid and you may not also claim academic credit for the same work. If you wish to get academic credit for your internship instead of pro bono credit, you must structure it as part of a supervised research project or do it in conjunction with Professor Suzanne Goldberg's Seminar on Advocacy Theory and Practice. For more information on using internships towards academic credit, you should contact Registration Services or speak to an academic advisor in the Dean of Students office.
3. Pro Bono Assignments and Summer Jobs (firm/government/not-for-profit)
3a. Can I get pro bono credit for service that I perform on a firm’s pro bono case?
You can get credit for work on a firm’s pro bono case if you are not compensated for your work by the firm. During the summer, this means that the pro bono work must be performed during an entire week in which you are not paid. During the academic year when you are paid by the hour, you cannot bill the firm for hours you spend on a pro bono case, and you are encouraged to find a supervising attorney other than the person who is overseeing your paid work. Note that students who wish to receive credit for work with a firm on pro bono cases must submit a Student-Initiated Petition in advance of the work.
3b. Does an uncompensated judicial internship count toward pro bono credit?
Yes. All unpaid judicial internships that are not a part of Columbia’s Judicial Externships will count towards the mandatory pro bono requirement. You can also receive pro bono credit for work done beyond the eight weeks required by the August Intensive Judicial Externship. You must submit a Student-Initiated Petition as well as an Exit Questionnaire and Supervisor’s Report to receive credit in connection with the summer externship.
3C. I’ve been working overtime at my Human Rights Internship or Guaranteed Summer Funding placement. Can I get pro bono credit for those extra hours?
You may not claim pro bono credit for hours worked during the eight- or 10-week period for which you receive the stipend. However, you CAN get pro bono credit for working additional weeks without compensation.
3d. I am splitting my summer work between a firm and a not-for-profit organization. Can I get pro bono credit for work done at the not-for-profit?
If the total amount of money you make during a 10-week split-summer is less than what you would earn as a recipient of guaranteed summer funding, you will likely be able to claim some pro bono hours. Please contact the pro bono coordinator for more details about your specific situation.
3e. I am working at a public interest law firm and am not paid or receiving a stipend from Columbia Law School. Can I get pro bono credit for my work there?
You can claim pro bono credit for your work as long as the firm is not being paid by the client and does not count student hours when calculating contingency fees. Before you begin the project you will need to file a Student-Initiated Petition confirming compliance with the rules outlined above. Upon completion of the project, submit an Exit Questionnaire and a Supervisor’s Report.
4. What Counts for Pro Bono Credit (mock trial/teaching law/poll-monitoring/legal observing)
4a. How do I get approval for a placement that is not established by SJI, and what are the qualifications?
In general, the project must follow the Pro Bono Guidelines. A pro bono assignment must be law-related, public interest in nature (for definitions, see II of The Guidelines), uncompensated (no cash, nor credit), and supervised by an attorney. In order to get approval for work with an organization that is not already established, you must file a Student-Initiated Petition for Pro Bono Placement and receive approval before starting the project.
4b. Can I get pro bono credit for my participation in an undergraduate mock trial program?
Pro Bono credit will only be granted for participation in mock trial programs developed to support disadvantaged students. Examples include organizations like Legal Outreach and generally do not include mock trial programs developed for university or college students.
4c. Can I get pro bono credit for my work teaching law classes at a university or law school?
Students will be granted pro bono credit for teaching students with limited access to financial and/or academic resources. In addition, pro bono credit will be granted to students whose teaching abroad supports the practice of public interest law and improves the legal profession and/or the judicial system in the country in which they are teaching.
4d. Can I get pro bono credit for poll monitoring or legal observing?
In order to get pro bono credit for poll monitoring or legal observing, these activities must use your legal education, such as discovery for a voter protection lawsuit or advocacy, developing law-related materials, educating the public about the law, legal research, analysis and/or case follow-up. If the tasks could be performed by a college student it does not count for pro bono credit.
4e. Does translating count for pro bono credit?
Pro bono credit is only granted for the translation of legal documents that requires knowledge of the law for completion. If the tasks could be performed by a college student it does not count for pro bono credit.
4f. I am working in the office of the General Counsel of a not-for-profit organization. Can I get pro bono credit?
Work at a General Counsel's office will qualify for pro bono credit with approval of a Student-Initiated Petition, if you are working on a law-related project supervised by an attorney that is aimed at protecting the rights of an individual or individuals in situations raising significant public interest concerns and/or rights belonging to a significant and underrepresented segment of the public. The petition should be submitted prior to the beginning of this work for approval by SJI.
4g. Can I get pro bono credit for volunteering on a political candidate’s campaign?
No. You cannot receive pro bono credit for volunteering for a political campaign because Columbia University is not allowed to endorse or expend resources for political candidates.
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