Pro Bono Program - Alternative Spring Break

Pro Bono Program

Law students travel to New Orleans as part of Alternative Spring Break 2015.

From left, Siddharth Fresa, LLM ’15; Zack Carpenter, JD ’06 (staff attorney at Orleans Public Defender); Megan McKoy, JD ’17, Amy Tannenbaum, JD ’17, Natalia Renta, JD ’15, Erica Sollazzo, JD ’17, Zehava Robbins, JD ’17, and Isabel de Carvalho e Silva, LLM ’15 at the Orleans Public Defenders’ office.

It is the daily; it is the small; it is the cumulative injuries of little people that we are here to protect...If we are able to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.

Learned Hand, Address at the 75th anniversary celebration of the Legal Aid Society of New York

Why Pro Bono?

One of the most noble aspects of the American legal profession, and one outlined in the American Bar Association’s Model Rules, is its recognition that lawyers should aspire to provide significant pro bono publico legal service; using our legal expertise and skills to provide assistance to those who are most in need. Stanford Law School (SLS) similarly expects and encourages its students and faculty to provide such service. SLS views the Pro Bono Program as integral to its commitment to excellence in legal education. But to best understand the reason for SLS’s vibrant public service programs, one need only consider the words of students themselves:

Stacy Villalobos, ’15, said: “My pro bono experiences were some of the best of my law school career! My pro bono participation helped remind me of why I came to law school: to use the law to positively impact people. Law school can often separate the theory of the law from its impact, and the pro bono projects are a great way to meld the two together again!”

Trey Reliford, ‘15, said: “Without a doubt, the greatest joy and most invaluable experiences I have had during my time here have come from serving my Pro Bono clients. There is no greater feeling than being an advocate for the voiceless: the experience is both empowering and transformative; it is everything being a lawyer is about.”

And Carly Bittman, ’15, said: “Through pro bono I’ve had the privilege of meeting great people from all walks of life and been reminded that the dedication of a few can have a meaningful impact on many. I am very grateful for these experiences and would not be who I am today without them.”

These students were not alone. In 2015, 93 graduating 3Ls earned Pro Bono Distinction, which means that they spent at least 50 hours using their legal skills in unpaid public service during law school for which they received no academic credit. Additionally, 39 3Ls completed more than 100 hours, 13 3Ls completed more than 200 hours of pro bono and 7 3Ls completed more than 300 hours.

Even more important than the benefits students receive from pro bono are those they provide to the clients they serve. Through our various pro bono projects, SLS students do impactful work that provides much-needed aid to the people who seek their assistance. One client of SLS students who participated in a Justice Bus Trip to Fresno said: “I was very nervous, but when I met the person who was going to help me out [they were] so friendly and helpful, I felt like I knew the person and was more calm…Today I even found a friend! … I’m glad there are so many young people trying to help us out and make us feel good and be friendly to us.”

Another client, this time from Santa Rosa said: “I would first like to say thank you to everyone for having this event in Santa Rosa. I have lived [here] for 25 years and this is the first event of this type – hopefully there will be more to help the Sonoma County Community. Sincerest thanks. We hope you continue.”

A third client in Stockton said: “I came to today’s event to get my record expunged so I can better provide for my family. The volunteers and supervisors were very knowledgeable [about] the laws and the paperwork I needed to fill out. I am no longer the man my RAP sheet says. Thank you so much for your help.”

As these comments illustrate, the work SLS students do through their pro bono projects transforms the lives of the clients they serve. It is clear that SLS students volunteer for myriad reasons, but there are many common motivations: The need is dire; they learn a lot about themselves and the law; it’s fulfilling; and its fun. Everyone, regardless of career goal, should participate.

If you are a current or prospective student and have questions, please contact Jory Steele, Director of Pro Bono and Externship Programs, at

Stanford students help formerly incarcerated people become entrepreneurs

Stanford Law School’s Project ReMADE is a pro bono boot camp for formerly incarcerated people seeking to start their own businesses. Now in its fifth year, the 12-week program teaches basic business skills to aspiring entrepreneurs and helps them build the social capital needed to launch and sustain their enterprises. Students from Stanford’s Law School and Graduate School of Business lead biweekly classes on topics ranging from accounting and marketing to negotiations and public speaking. Additionally, entrepreneurs meet with student mentors and Silicon Valley professionals to develop individualized business plans. At the program’s end, the new entrepreneurs present their business plans to a panel of executives from local micro-development organizations.


What is SLS’s Pro Bono Program?

Stanford Law School has a robust Pro Bono Program with many student-led pro bono projects.  SLS defines pro bono work as any law-related work done in the public service that is

  • Uncompensated
  • At or with an SLS-approved non-profit or government agency
  • Performed under the supervision of an attorney, faculty member or other qualified supervisor
  • For which no academic credit is received.
What pro bono projects are available?

SLS’s pro bono projects cover diverse subject matters and types of legal work.  Examples of projects include StreetLaw, where students educate incarcerated youth about their legal rights and responsibilities, develop their advocacy skills, and promote critical thinking about our justice system, the Immigration Pro Bono, where students work with licensed volunteer attorneys to interview potential clients at Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto (CLSEPA), screen for legal issues, and help CLSEPA’s immigration staff provide counsel, and Project ReMade, where students provide recently incarcerated individuals comprehensive entrepreneurship training, leadership development, and mentoring in teams comprised of a law student, a business school student, and a Silicon Valley business executive. Other students participate in pro bono projects focused on, for example, providing pro bono legal representation and policy advocacy on behalf of Iraqi refugees seeking resettlement in the United States, or assisting people who wish to become naturalized citizens.

How Do I Earn Pro Bono Distinction at SLS?

Students who volunteer at least 50 hours of law-related pro bono work without compensation or academic credit before graduation will receive Pro Bono Distinction.  Students who receive Pro Bono Distinction will receive a pin to wear on their graduation robes to recognize their achievement, it will be noted in the graduation program, and they will be able to note it on their résumé.

Members of the faculty and staff are also encouraged to aspire to meet the standard of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which call for fifty hours of pro bono service annually, or the financial equivalent.  Faculty and staff who complete 50 hours of pro bono service within a year will also receive Pro Bono Distinction.

What Hours Count for Pro Bono Distinction Credit at SLS?

Students will be given pro bono credit at SLS for the following public service work:

  • Law-related assistance to a non-profit agency engaged in uncompensated legal representation of low-income clients
  • Law-related assistance to a governmental entity
  • Lesson preparation and presentation in legal education projects
  • Hours in excess of SLS clinical program requirements
  • Hours in excess of those for which a student is receiving summer funding at a public interest placement
  • Substantive training directly relating to the pro bono project
  • Student leader time spent organizing and coordinating projects
  • Note: Travel time does not count towards pro bono hours
New York Bar Pro Bono Requirements

The New York Bar has also recognized that the provision of pro bono services is central to the legal profession, and now requires all those who wish to be admitted to practice law in New York to complete 50 hours of pro bono work prior to admission.  The New York Bar’s definition of pro bono is slightly different than SLS’s definition; for example, clinical coursework can count towards the New York Bar’s requirements, but not towards SLS’s requirements.  By contrast, lesson preparation and presentation of legal education projects counts towards our requirements, but not towards the New York Bar’s requirements.  For more information about the New York Bar’s pro bono requirements, please visit its Frequently Asked Questions page: note: those students, particularly LLM students, wishing to meet the New York Bar’s pro bono requirements while at SLS should begin their pro bono work early in the academic year.

Who Can Participate?

Everyone!  Students at all levels, from 1L to LLM, are encouraged to participate in these projects, regardless of your ultimate career goals.  Just as lawyers in all walks of life can and should contribute to the public good, whether as firm lawyers donating their time and skills to those in need, or as life-long public interest or government lawyers, so too, can students pursuing any career path.

How Can I Participate?

Each fall, a Pro Bono Fair is held for 1Ls, where they can learn about and sign up for pro bono projects.  Students returning to campus, transfer students and LLM students are also invited to sign up for pro bono projects in the fall.  For more information on these projects and SLS’s Pro Bono Program, please review the 2015-16 Pro Bono Handbook (provide link here), or contact the Director of Pro Bono and Externship Programs, Jory Steele, at

What Training is Required?

Every student who commits to participate in a project must attend the SLS Ethics Training (given in the fall of each year), any student who will be interviewing clients must watch a video on how to interview clients, and students must participate in any training required by the project itself.