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The Pro Bono Requirement

All JD students must perform at least 70 hours of pro bono legal work by the end of the 3L year. A minimum of 35 hours must be completed by the end of the 2L year.

A maximum of 35 hours towards the requirement may be completed during the 1L year (additional hours may be counted towards recognition).

Defining Pro Bono at Penn Law

As adopted in 1989 the Public Service Requirement provides that eligible work must be unpaid public service work that is non-clerical, professional, and law-related.

Eligible work may be performed for governmental employers, nonprofit employers other than trade associations, private law firms, law school faculty, clinical programs, or an extracurricular program under the following conditions:

  1. non-clerical, professional, and law-related work for governmental employers or nonprofit employers other than trade associations must be performed under the supervision of an attorney who is legally responsible for the work
  2. non-clerical, professional, and law-related work for private law firms must be performed under the supervision of an attorney who is legally responsible for the work, must be work for which the firm charges no fee or a reduced fee, and must be done on behalf of individuals or organizations who are not adequately represented by the private sector or the government
  3. non-clerical, professional, and law-related work for or with a faculty member must be done on behalf of individuals or organizations who are not adequately represented by the private sector or the government, must not be part of a faculty member’s scholarship and must be done without academic credit.
  4. non-clerical, professional, and law-related work performed for a clinical program, or for an extracurricular program must be done on behalf of individuals or organizations who are not adequately represented by the private sector or the government, and must be done without academic credit.

The Public Service Requirement provides that other law-related work “falling within the spirit of the program”  in the view of the Public Service Committee may also be eligible to  satisfy the Requirement,  but requires  prior approval by the Committee.

In evaluating other law-related work, the Public Service Committee is guided by the importance of training students to provide advice and representation, with appropriate supervision, to individuals and organizations not adequately represented by the private bar and by ABA model rule 6.1, (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/probono_public_service/policy/aba_model_rule_6_1.html) which states that lawyers should provide free legal services to:

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

In order to make sure that students are working on eligible projects, we ask that you obtain pre-approval from TPIC for any work that is not done with one of our student pro bono projects.  A self-initiated placement form can be found here.

Finding opportunities

The Toll Public Interest Center will assist you in identifying pro bono opportunities best suited to your skills and professional goals while helping you provide much needed legal services to the community. Students can participate in more than 30 pro bono projects (internal opportunities), partner with non-profit or government agencies for pro bono internships (external opportunities), or submit a self-initiated pro bono opportunity request. Students may also earn pro bono credit through clinics and externships if they do a formal credit exchange.

Consequences for non-compliance

3Ls who fail to perform and document at least 70 hours by the last day of spring semester classes will not be permitted to graduate.

2Ls who fail to perform and document 35 hours of service by the last day of spring semester classes will not be permitted to register for fall classes. In order to register, they must complete their required 35 hours over the summer, plus an additional 35 hour penalty, for a total of 70 hours. These additional 35 hours will not count towards special recognition at the end of the 3L year. Any student who is required to perform public service hours over the summer must meet with the TPIC staff for approval before they begin their service hours.

Learn more from our Frequently Asked Questions

Penn Law students working on public interest projects.A Penn Law student advising a client.