Cornell Law School Office of Public Service Short

Pro Bono

The Cornell Law School Public Service Challenge

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 complete 25 or more pro bono hours each year will receive a Certificate from Dean Eduardo Penalver and Assistant Dean Akua Akyea.

In academic year 2014-2015, Cornell Law students logged 1,165 pro bono hours!

How It Works

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 Akyea’s office.  At the end of the year, PILU will collect hours from students and report them to the Office of Public Service. 

Work That Will Be Recognized

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 Global Center for Women and Justice

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.

Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project

IRAP is a student-run organization that helps refugees from the Middle East displaced by war or conflict resettle in the United States and other countries. Members work with immigration attorneys to research legal problems faced by refugees, prepare visa applications, and appeal denied applications.

Feed My Starving Children Ithaca MobilePack

A community project that packs and sends specially-formulated dehydrated food to starving children around the world.

Into the Streets

Cornell University’s annual day of service.

Cornell Prison Education Program

Teaching law classes to prisoners.


Help low-income community members prepare their tax returns.

Spring Break Service Trip

(only hours actually spent doing service count towards the Challenge).

Undergraduate Mock Trial Tournament

Volunteering as a judge.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I count non-legal volunteer activities toward the Public Service Challenge?

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.

I spent the fall semester doing a full semester externship worth 12 credits, and then participated in a clinic this spring that counted for 4 credits. How many hours can I count toward the Challenge?

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.

Why aren’t 1Ls allowed to start counting hours until after fall semester exams?

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!

I’m a 1L and would like to count service hours I performed prior to starting second semester. I volunteered for 3 hours in October, and then spent 10 hours over winter break volunteering at a soup kitchen. Which hours can I count?

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.