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1L: Pro Bono

The 1L experience is challenging.  So, while some students dive full force into pro bono opportunities available at Penn Law, the temptation can be high for others to put it off as long as possible.  Neither is a good option!  All 1Ls should embrace the pro bono opportunity as a critical and, in fact, required, component of the Penn Law legal education.  This requirement should be planned carefully and strategically for maximum impact, and the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) is here to guide students every step of the way.

1L year is exactly the right time for students to familiarize themselves with pro bono at Penn Law. TPIC, located in T146, oversees the law school’s expansive pro bono program, which includes both internal and external opportunities. External pro bono opportunities range from time-intensive pro bono internships, to less time-intensive ad hoc assignments.  Internal pro bono opportunities consist of the law school’s 30 student pro bono projects. These are service initiatives that are overseen by TPIC, but developed and managed by law students.  Most 1Ls who engage in pro bono work do so as members of these internal pro bono projects. Students are also welcome to perform pro bono through self-initiated projects with TPIC’s approval. The required self-initiated placement form can be found here.

TPIC staff members work closely with students to ensure that they identify the opportunities that best meet their interests, schedules, and long term goals.   We also work closely with all pro bono placements to ensure that students are well-trained and supervised for their pro bono service.


What students need to know about pro bono in the 1L year:

All Penn Law students are required to complete at least 70 hours of pro bono legal service before graduation. Students must complete at least half of these hours by the end of the 2L year (failure to do so bars registration for 3L classes).  1Ls are not required to complete pro bono hours.  However, a significant number of students do begin pro bono service in their 1L year.  Because students are expected to infuse service throughout their Penn Law education, and as acclimation to the rigors of law school course work may take time at the start, no more than 35 hours of pro bono service completed during 1L year will count toward the 70 hour graduation requirement.  Hours beyond this 35 hour ceiling will count toward pro bono service recognition (information about this can be found here).  Also, here are all the details of the pro bono requirement. 

Some students feel overwhelmed at the thought of taking on pro bono work as a 1L.  But there are many ways to engage in pro bono through modest time commitments that reap rich rewards.  Putting off pro bono can result in stress, limited choices in the kind of pro bono work available, missed opportunities for leadership and professional development, and delays in course registration.    In contrast, taking a proactive approach to pro bono can offer students valuable opportunities to develop professional experiences and skills that can enhance their summer job search, to build their professional networks, and to help crystalize the areas of law in which they will eventually want to focus.  After 1L year, a range of commitments (journal work, clinical work, externships, etc.) can all add unanticipated scheduling challenges to student schedules.  1Ls who learn to infuse their schedules with some pro bono service will maximize all of the benefits pro bono has to offer, and can more readily seize opportunities during their upper-level years. 


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How 1L students can begin their pro bono work:

At the beginning of the fall semester, all 1Ls will be receive a formal orientation to pro bono at Penn Law.  This session provides students with detailed information about the pro bono program, the wide range of pro bono opportunities, and the logistics of engaging in pro bono service (hours tracking and reporting, how to join a project, etc.).   Shortly after orientation, a pro bono sign-up fair will be held.  At this event, 1Ls will have an opportunity to learn about the many student pro bono projects available at Penn Law, to sign up for information sessions, and to meet the 2L and 3L students who lead these pro bono projects.  Many pro bono projects recruit only once a year, so 1Ls should plan to attend the fair even if they are not certain when they will begin their pro bono work.  Students can make the best informed decisions about how to manage their time only after learning about all of the opportunities available.  Any student needing assistance in deciding how to allocate his or her time most wisely can visit TPIC to discuss the options. 

For more information about the pro bono requirement, please visit the FAQ page or email TPIC at .  


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