Starting this fall, students will be encouraged to complete 60 hours of pro bono work while they are in the law school, according to an IU press release.
The goal is not mandatory, but the law school hopes students will provide law-related services around the community without pay or academic credit.
“Helping other people is very personally fulfilling,” said Judy Reckelhoff, Pro Bono Fellow and JD Candidate 2010 in the law school. “This type of volunteer work can help people with low income get the legal help they seek because it is usually their only access.”
Rachel Yates, JD Candidate 2009, said she agrees.
“The law school has always had a commitment to volunteer for the community,” Yates said. “Now the school wants to institutionalize commitment and launch a formal program.”
The law school offers extensive clinical opportunities, but this program can give a student the initiative to volunteer in other local organizations including Tenant Assistance Project, the Inmate Legal Assistance Project and the Protective Order Project, according to the press release.
Reckelhoff said she is part of the Protective Order Project, which helps victims of domestic violence and stalking.
Yates said she hopes the number of free services student groups and institutions already give will grow.
“In this time of economic downturn, it is a good service and resource for people to have who cannot afford legal help if they need it,” Yates said.
Some other law schools do have programs where the service is required, Yates said.
The law school is mimicking the American Bar Association, where the volunteer commitment is also voluntary. The aspiration is 50 hours a year for a lawyer after law school.
Yates said she thinks the students should volunteer because they want to, not because they feel they have to.
“In my opinion, the volunteer work should be voluntary and it should also be an ethical commitment,” Yates said.
The pro bono work is also a way for law students to get job experience.
“Law school focuses on the hypothetical,” Reckelhoff said. “The volunteer work brings everything that the students learn in the classroom to a state of reality and gives the student real life experience. It also looks good on a resume.”
Reckelhoff also stated that it is popular for first-year students to volunteer with various organizations to gain experience.
“We haven’t gotten much law student feedback on the program yet, but we think it will be great feedback,” Reckelhoff said. “The likelihood that most law students are providing these kinds of services with other programs in the community is very great.
We want to encourage other students to do the same and recognize the students that are already committing their time to these services.”
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