How Do I Find Pro Bono Projects?
There are hundreds of available established and student-initiated opportunities for pro bono work. Here are some places to look for a new project.
(Already have a project in mind? To see if it qualifies for pro bono credit, check the guidelines.)
- In-House Projects and Spring Break Caravans
Review the In-House Projects list and Caravans page for more information on current projects and opportunities for Columbia Law School students.
- Your Email!
SJI sends out a weekly email of pro bono opportunities that have been passed along to us. We also periodically send notices about new projects that have been developed.
- PSJD’s Database
PSJD is a global network of more than 120 law schools and more than 12,000 public service organizations working to foster law student community service and public interest work. PSJD’s database contains information about thousands of domestic and international organizations and pro bono opportunities. Students can go to PSJD and open a free student account to search for projects in a particular practice area or location.
- The New York State Pro Bono Opportunities Guide
The New York State Pro Bono Opportunities Guide is a joint project of The City Bar Fund, The New York State Bar Association, Pro Bono Net, and Volunteers of Legal Service. Students can go to their website to search for pro bono opportunities in New York City and State. Opportunities are searchable by location (including borough), as well as topical area and population served.
- Pro Bono Brown Bags and the Pro Bono Fair
Attend these events to hear student groups talk about projects you can get involved in. Approach speakers at panels who are working on topics of interest to you and see if they need assistance on particular projects or cases.
- Public Interest Professors
Approach your professors to ask for contacts in their field or to see if they need assistance on public interest projects. Note that assistance on scholarly work such as law review articles or curriculum development will not count for pro bono credit.
- Your Summer Public Interest Job
If you are working at a public interest organization over the summer, consider staying one week later or starting one week earlier to do a week of work without pay.
- Your Summer Firm Job
If you are working on a pro bono project while summering at a firm, you might see if you can continue the project once your paid work has ended. Some students do an extra week at the end of the summer, and others continue with a firm’s pro bono project throughout the semester. Please see our Forms & Guidelines page for more information.
When Should I Start Looking?
- 1Ls: During the first semester, 1Ls need to gauge their workload (and stress level) but many students feel that doing a few hours of pro bono a week or working on a time-limited project, reminds them why they came to law school and enables them to meet like-minded students. Many 1Ls participate in Columbia’s In-House Projects in both the first and second semesters.
- 2Ls: 2Ls should think about doing some part of their pro bono requirement in their second year. Even as few as 10 hours under one’s belt makes the completion of law school requirements less daunting. It also helps students to avoid the stress of finding a project last-minute before their last semesters.
- 3Ls: Students in their third year should definitely be looking during the first semester! Columbia staff has learned from experience that “stuff happens” and students cannot predict how much time they will have in their last semester, no matter how meticulously they plan. In addition, public interest organizations are not usually thrilled about giving projects to students whom they perceive to be “killing” hours for graduation, and students do not want to be left scrambling for the few projects that are out there.
- Vacations & Caravans: Many students do not want to add to their already busy academic schedules and opt to do pro bono over spring, summer, or winter break. Student groups organize pro bono caravans in the spring, allowing teams of students to travel to other states and countries to work intensively for a week. Other students who go home for winter and/or spring break choose to work on remote research projects or assist a public interest/governmental organization nearby.
For additional information about pro bono projects, contact Lisa Kim at (212) 854-3318, or email email@example.com.