What Is the Requirement?
For JD students who entered HLS in fall 2015 or later – Requirement is 50 hours
Pro bono service may be performed in an approved supervised setting anytime between the start of their 1L year and before spring break of their 3L year, including the summers between law school years.
This requirement is a mandatory component of the JD academic program. If students do not meet the requirement, they will not be allowed to graduate and will not be certified for admission to the Bar. Individual state bars may have separate pro bono requirements for admission; all students are advised to check those requirements for any state in which they may seek to practice.
Meeting the Requirement
In order to meet the requirement and receive HLS pro bono credit work:
- Must be supervised by a licensed attorney;
- Must be performed by both the supervising attorney and the student on behalf of (1) people who cannot afford, in whole or in part, to pay for legal services; (2) the government; (3) a non-profit organization 501 (c)3 or 4; (4) a law firm working on a pro bono basis; or (5) a foreign equivalent of any of the above.
- Must be legal and involve the application or interpretation of law, the formulation of legal policy, the drafting of legislation or regulations and/or work done in anticipation of litigation.
- Must be uncompensated and non-clerical.
- Work that is related to a political campaign may be credited toward the requirement under the conditions indicated in the School’s Pro Bono (Section I(K)) and Written Credit for Political Activities (Section I(L)) policies.
Where Students Can Work
Where can students work?
Students can work:
- on behalf of people who cannot afford (in whole or in part) to pay for legal services
- for the government
- for a non-profit organization as defined under IRS sections 501(c)(3) & (4)
- protecting rights of marginalized individuals/groups
- in the broader public interest
- for a law firm working on a pro bono basis
- or for a foreign equivalent of the above
The work may also be performed:
- in a setting in which clinical credit is given
- in conjunction with a faculty pro bono project
- in student-initiated projects
- in many HLS student practice organizations
May I work at more than one placement?
While we suggest that you do your hours at one placement so that you enjoy a more substantial learning experience, you may divide your time to work at more than one placement.
Can I set up my own pro bono project?
We encourage you to be entrepreneurial in designing pro bono work that best suits your particular interests. You should consult with the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs for project approval and supervision arrangements before starting work.
Can I fulfill the pro bono graduation requirement away from campus?
Many summer public interest jobs and volunteer positions both nationally and internationally qualify for pro bono credit. Work can also be done during joint degree programs (e.g., Kennedy School or Business School) as well as during winter terms, semesters away on exchange programs, or programs abroad. All placements must be approved by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs before work begins. You may search Helios for long-distance projects and organizations around the world.
Do summer public interest jobs count?
Most likely yes.
Jobs that qualify for HLS Summer Public Interest Funding will also meet the pro bono requirement only if the work is legal and you are supervised by a licensed attorney and the work meets all other criteria, but credit is not automatic. We have collaborated with the Student Financial Services office to streamline the paperwork, and all forms are to be submitted to the SPIF office. Students doing a summer public interest job not funded through SPIF should contact our office.
Does law firm pro bono work count?
Working on pro bono cases at a law firm while receiving compensation for any work does not qualify for HLS pro bono credit. If you volunteer additional hours after the paid summer associate program ends, those hours may qualify for HLS pro bono credit as long as the entire time is uncompensated and all work is on a pro bono case in the public interest or for a client unable to pay. Unpaid work with a firm on purely pro bono matters during the school year will also qualify for HLS pro bono credit. Additionally, the firm must not receive compensation for its work. Firms may have different protocols for working with students so discuss this with your firm in advance.
Learn more about pro bono in law firms in the Pro Bono Program webpage.
How do I find pro bono projects?
Discrete projects are posted in OCP’s Student Legal Volunteer Opportunities page and you can research public interest organizations in the Public Service Org Search section of Helios. You can also set up an advising appointment with Lee Branson Mestre to discuss your various options and find a project that is a good fit for you.
Work that qualifies
What kind of work qualifies for the graduation pro bono requirement?
Work must be legal. Since the pro bono requirement is intended to teach law by experience, work should involve the application or interpretation of law, the formulation of legal policy, drafting of legislation or regulations, and/or have an advocacy or representational component. It should not be primarily clerical in nature. All work must be supervised by a licensed attorney.
Eligible tasks include:
- assisting an attorney at trial
- assisting pro se litigants in court
- client and witness interviewing and investigation
- community legal education
- drafting documents
- preparing a case for trial
- research and writing
Does work as a research assistant to a faculty member qualify?
It may qualify if the faculty member is a licensed attorney and if the work is done on a pro bono basis, the work is directed toward future litigation, and the student is not compensated. The work may not be strictly academic (e.g., working on a faculty member’s book).
Does a judicial clerkship qualify?
However, judicial clerkships are not eligible for HLS Summer Public Interest Funding.
Does work on a political campaign or 527 qualify?
Most likely no.
If the work is as legal counsel to the campaign or as a lawyer in the general counsel’s office, then it may count toward the pro bono requirement. See the Academic Handbook for more information.
Does non-legal volunteer work count (e.g. Big Brother/Big Sister)?
Work must be legal to qualify for the pro bono requirement. Education in the community for both adults and children concerning the legal process and their rights may fulfill the requirement if there is an advocacy or representational aspect to the work (for example, writing pamphlets about Fair Housing laws or leading information sessions on pro se divorce).
Does foreign language translation qualify?
Foreign language interpretation on behalf of a client in an approved legal services setting (generally HLS clinics which provide legal services) will qualify. Written translation work does not qualify since it does not have an advocacy or representational component.
I am a transfer student. Can my prior with other schools count towards the requirement?
Yes. Transfer students may seek pro bono credit for work completed at their prior law school.
Does work for a benefit corporation qualify for the requirement?
When can students begin working towards the graduation pro bono requirement?
On the first day of classes 1L year.
Work can also be done in the summers between law school years, during 2L and 3L winter term, or during vacations.
For students who entered HLS prior to Fall 2015, pro bono service hours are counted beginning in the Spring semester of the 1L year.
When must students complete the requirement?
Before spring break of 3L year.
You must complete the work and submit all the paperwork before this time. Students enrolled in an SPO, a clinic or participating in HLS TaxHelp during 3L spring semester are excused from this deadline.
May students do more than 40 or 50 hours of pro bono work?
As long as the placement where you are conducing pro bono work is approved and all paperwork is completed on time, additional hours will be acknowledged by HLS. We ask that you let our office know of any additional pro bono work so we can recognize efforts above and beyond the requirement. Students who complete more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work are noted in the graduation program during Commencement. In fact, 93% of students do more than 50 hours!
Does training time count towards the graduation pro bono requirement?
No. Hours spent receiving training do not qualify. Hours spent giving legal training may qualify.
Does transportation time count towards the graduation pro bono requirement?
Does observation time count toward the graduation pro bono requirement?
Ensuring your pro bono hours are counted
What is the procedure for students volunteering with a Student Practice Organization (SPO)?
An officer or supervisor should first meet with the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs to discuss the project and process. Each student must submit all of the required pro bono forms to the SPO administrator or project leader, and OCP collects them each semester.
What is the procedure for students doing clinical work?
Almost all clinics automatically count towards the pro bono requirement, except for the Sports Law Clinic, some Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinic projects, and some independent clinical projects. At the end of every semester, clinical credits are automatically converted into pro bono hours at a rate of 48 hours per credit. Additional hours are not counted as pro bono hours. You do not need to submit any pro bono forms to OCP. You will receive an email confirming completion of the pro bono requirement after successful completion of the clinic (i.e. a passing grade has been achieved). If you have previously completed the pro bono requirement, the hours will be added to your student record.
What is the procedure for students doing summer public interest jobs?
We have collaborated with the Student Financial Services office to streamline the paperwork, and all forms are to be submitted to the SPIF office. Time Logs can be kept by the week rather than by the day. See the Summer Public Interest Funding website for forms and procedures. Students doing a summer public interest job not funded through SPIF should contact the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.
What are the steps for fulfilling the requirement for volunteer projects?
Pro Bono Resources
What are the available pro bono resources?
HLS students have many choices if they choose a career at a law firm. These Law Firm Pro Bono links offer some resources to evaluate law firm pro bono. Set up an advising appointment with Lee Branson Mestre to discuss pro bono culture at law firms and how you can best integrate pro bono into your law firm career.