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Law students complete thousands of pro bono hours

May 14, 2013

Alex Kain got involved with the King County Bar Association's Domestic Violence Family Law Clinic when she started at Seattle University School of Law last fall.

Alex KainKain had already volunteered for several years with domestic violence survivors before law school, but wanted to see the problem from a legal standpoint. She moved to the clinic to learn more about family law and the local court system, meet local attorneys, and continue serving her community throughout law school.

"I've done that and more in the last year with KCBA. The learning experience has been invaluable," she said. "Though I was already working in DV for a while before law school, the clients I've met at the clinic taught me a lot about the legal consequences of violence and how something as simple as a form can impact a person's safety, whether they have a place to live, and what rights they have to their children."

Kain is just one of hundreds of students at Seattle University School of law who have contributed thousands of volunteer hours through the Pledge Pro Bono Program. In just its second year, the program reported that 214 students — nearly a quarter of the student body — have taken the Pro Bono Pledge and completed more than 9,500 hours this academic year.

That's a 22 percent increase from the first year of the program (176 students). In total, 262 students, including prior graduates, have pledged since the program launched in October 2011. About 80 percent of the hours were legal pro bono activities, and the rest are other community service volunteer work.

Students have always engaged in a great deal of meaningful work outside of the classroom. The voluntary pledge program takes an important next step by inviting students to commit to a minimum number of hours of pro bono and volunteer service before graduation, then formally acknowledging those who meet their goals.

The program offers resources to those who want to volunteer and allows those who already do so to track their time. While working to help others, students also build their professional profiles and network of professional contacts.

"We are grateful that so many students are contributing their time and skills in the community through pro bono work," Dean Mark C. Niles said. "In addition to helping people who have critical legal needs, students who Pledge Pro Bono gain practical experience and skills."

The program is run through the law school's Access to Justice Institute, which has a goal of encouraging all students to pursue social justice, no matter where their careers take them. Even students who do not intend to practice public interest law can find ways to do pro bono work through ATJI and the pledge program.

In addition to the KCBA, many agencies and organizations benefit from the volunteer hours, including the Washington Attorney General's Office, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Northwest Justice Project, and Associated Counsel for the Accused. Students logged hours in a variety of areas, including criminal justice, health law, disability law, and homelessness.

Beth Leonard, a May 2013 graduate, has done a variety of public interest and pro bono work throughout law school. Among her service, she has completed internships and externships with the Snohomish County Legal Services, Legal Voice, and others. She volunteers with the Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy Project, providing legal education and information about family law issues to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers in the state, and with Street Youth Law Advocates. For her commitment, she received an honorable mention in the national National Association of Law Professionals Pro Bono Awards.

Though Leonard would do pro bono work regardless, she appreciates the law school creating the formal program to encourage others to take part.

"I think it's our obligation as law students to use our skills to help marginalized communities access legal services," she said. "It's a positive step for our school, especially with our social justice mission."