The notion that all lawyers should aspire to render some legal services without fee or expectation of fee for the good of the public (pro bono publico) is deeply ingrained in the legal profession. The Public Interest Law Union and the Office of Public Service can help you start building your commitment to pro bono service during law school. The purpose of the Public Service Challenge is to provide school-wide recognition of Cornell Law Students who devote time to public service activities. Students who participate in the Public Service Challenge will receive a Certificate from Dean Stewart Schwab and Assistant Dean Karen Comstock upon each level of completion.
In academic year 2011-2012, Cornell Law students logged 1,249 pro bono hours!
Students who want their hours to count towards the Public Service Challenge must maintain a log of their hours. The log will be available outside Dean Comstock’s office. At the end of the year, PILU will collect hours from students and report them to the Office of Public Service. The levels of completion are as follows:
Level 1: 1Ls, 2Ls 3Ls, LLMs and transfer students who complete 25 hours. 1Ls can start counting hours toward the Challenge after fall semester finals are over.
Level 2: 2Ls who have completed the Level 1 Challenge and complete 25 hours during their 2L year.
Level 3: 3Ls who have completed 75 hours during their law school education.
note: for 2Ls and 3Ls, the "year" is defined as the end of May through the following May.
Both legal and non-legal work will count towards the Public Service Challenge. A summer spent doing public interest work can count for five hours your 1L summer, and ten hours your 2L summer. If you perform public service work as part of a clinic, externship, or supervised teaching experience (e.g. the Cornell Prison Education Program), you can count hours toward the Challenge in a 3:1 ratio of academic credit hours to Challenge hours (i.e. if you participate in a 3-credit clinic, you can count 1 hour toward the Challenge; if you participate in a 12 credit externship, you can count 4 hours toward the Challenge).
In the past, students have counted hours for the following types of activities:
The Avon Center works with judges, legal professionals and organizations to advance the international rule of law and access to justice, particularly as it impacts women and girls and victims of gender-based violence. Students may earn pro bono hours by assisting the Center in performing discrete research tasks.
A community project that packs and sends specially-formulated dehydrated food to starving children around the world.
Cornell University’s annual day of service.
Teaching law classes to prisoners.
Help low-income community members prepare their tax returns.
(only hours actually spent doing service count towards the Challenge).
Volunteering as a judge.
Of course! The goal of the Challenge is to encourage students to participate in all forms of public service. Volunteering time at a soup kitchen or doing a neighborhood clean-up project is just as important as lending your time to give legal advice to low-income clients.
Since you have a total of 16 credit hours over the course of the academic year, you’ll divide that by 3 and get a total of 5.3 hours that can be counted toward the Challenge.
In order to encourage 1Ls to focus on their academics, the Public Service Committee chose to restrict 1L hours to those accrued after first semester exams are over. Of course, 1Ls are welcome to participate in public service projects prior to fall exams, but should not feel any pressure to do so. As students, academics should come first!
1L students can start counting hours as soon as they finish fall semester exams. So you can count the 10 hours spent volunteering over winter break. The 3 hours in October will just count toward your overall good karma.