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Pro Bono Programs Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Pro Bono Requirement?

All law students must complete at least 70 hours of pro bono work, with a minimum of 35 hours completed by the end of 2L year. 1l students may not count more than 35 hours of pro bono work towards the 70 hour requirement, but additional hours may count towards graduation recognition (more information below).

What is Considered Eligible Pro Bono Work?

The Penn Law pro bono requirement is based on ABA model rule 6.1, which states that lawyers should provide free legal services to:

  1. Persons of limited means or
  2. Charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; and

Provide any additional services through:

  1. Delivery of legal services at no fee or substantially reduced fee to individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate;
  2. Delivery of legal services at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means; or
  3. Participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.

Generally, law related work, for a government or non-profit organization, that is supervised by an attorney and benefits an underrepresented cause or individual will qualify. In order to make sure that students are working on eligible projects, we ask that you obtain pre-approval for any work that is not done with one of our student pro bono projects.

If you have any questions at all about whether the pro bono work you would like to do will qualify, you should speak with a TPIC staff member. Always complete a self-initiated placement form before beginning any placement.

Can I Complete my Pro Bono Hours During the Summer?

No. Your pro bono work is intended to enhance your legal education, and to be integrated with your classroom experiences. Therefore the pro bono requirement must be completed during the academic year. Any exceptions must be pre-authorized by the Toll Public Interest Center.

Can I Complete my Pro Bono Hours During Winter or Spring Breaks?

Yes. Students sometimes engage in service projects during these semester breaks.

Can I Perform More than the Required Number of Hours?

Of course! At the Annual Public Interest Recognition Event in April, Penn Law honors students who have exceeded the pro bono requirement by at least 10 hours. In addition, in 2010, Penn Law began awarding the Professor C. Edwin Baker Award for excellence in advancing social justice for the student completing the highest number of pro bono hours in his or her graduating class. The inaugural winner, Marsha Chien l’10, completed an amazing 531.5 hours of pro bono work! Students seeking recognition must be sure to log their hours by April 1st of each year!

What is the Limit on Training Hours?

A total of four (4) training hours may count towards your 70 hour requirement. However, each training hour above four will count towards year-end pro bono recognition awards.

Can I Get Credit for Training Hours if I Don’t Actually End up Doing the Work for the Organization or Project I Trained With?

No. Training is connected to service. Training hours may count only if a student performs at least an equal amount of pro bono service with that organization.

Does Travel Time Count?

No. Travel time does not count.

How Do I Report my Hours?

By filling out a detailed log form, and having it signed by your supervisor. Logs are available online and at our office.

Do I Need to Fill Out a Self-Initiated Placement Form?

Any pro bono work that is not performed through one of TPIC’s student pro bono projects or ad hoc oppportunities circulated by TPIC will require a self-initiated placement form. Once this form is approved by TPIC, the student may begin their pro bono service. If you have any questions about this, please contact a TPIC staff member.

Does Non-Legal Community Service Count?

No. The work must be explicitly and substantively legal, but we support all community service work and will be recognizing great community service at our annual recognition event as well.

Does Judging Mock Trial and Moot Court Competitions Count?

Generally not. Some coaching and teaching (such as with the James Wilson Project) may count, but, in general, judging competitions does not count. See us first before assuming any of this type of work counts.

Does Assisting a Penn Law Student Group (Like EJF) Count for Pro Bono Hours?

While we work closely with and tremendously support the work of EJF, service to any student organization other than our pro bono projects does not count towards pro bono since it does not meet the criteria of model rule 6.1.

Does Any Work for Any Nonprofit or Government Organization Count?

No. Most substantively legal work for government and nonprofit organizations will count. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. Before starting at any placement, you should first stop by the public interest center, and fill out a self-initiated placement form.

Does Research Help for a Professor Count?

It depends. Assisting a professor on scholarship generally does not count. However, if a professor is doing work that would otherwise qualify under our definition of pro bono service, and you are assisting them on that, your work would most likely count. If you are in this situation, you must fill out a self-initiated placement form, so that TPIC staff can evaluate whether the work counts.

Does Work for an Organization that Previously was Approved for Work Mean that My Work will Automatically Count?

No. While the previous approval of a project is a good indicator that a placement will be approved, it is not a guarantee. Even for organizations where others have worked before, we will need a self-initiated placement form so that we have contact information for your supervising attorney and so that you know exactly what work you will be doing. Please fill out a self-initiated placement form for approval by TPIC staff to be sure.

How Does the Requirement Work for Transfer Students?

For students who transfer to Penn as 2Ls, the requirement is the same- 70 hours, with 35 hours completed by the end of the second year. If transfer students engaged in pro bono work at their previous law schools, that work may be logged towards the Penn Law requirement as long as it meets our criteria. We strongly encourage all transfer students to meet with a TPIC staff member to discuss their pro bono in the fall semester of their 2L year.

How Do Clinic Courses or Externships Count Towards Meeting my Pro Bono Requirement?

If you are enrolled in a Clinic* course, you can elect to drop 1 credit in exchange for 35 hours of pro bono service (assuming you do not need the credit for graduation). Students who elect this option must submit this formto TPIC. No other paperwork is necessary.

*Please note: Credit transfers for students enrolled in the Entrepreneurship or Intellectual Property clinics will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as not all work performed in these clinics is pro bono eligible.

Can I Count Other Clinic Hours Towards my Pro Bono Work If I Exceed the Requirements for my Clinic?

No. Clinics, like real practice, often require students to spend a considerable amount of time on work for their clients. Even if students technically exceed the hours of work needed for academic credit, they may not claim these for their pro bono requirement. However, if students continue to do work on a case in a semester when they are not receiving any academic credit for this work, they may, with the pre-approval of the supervisors and TPIC, receive pro bono credit.

What Do I Do if I am Experiencing a Problem with my Placement?

We’re here to help you resolve any problems or issues that you might be encountering. Call us at 215-898-0459, email all-pic@law.upenn.edu, or stop by TPIC right away.

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