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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Pro Bono and Public Interest Opportunities


How does the Law School define public interest law?

Broadly speaking, the term “public interest” indicates law related activities that increase access to justice for those who are unable to afford representation or who have traditionally been underrepresented. This can include pro bono initiatives, non-profit experiences, and government service work. The Center for Public Interest Law and Advocacy welcomes students with an interest in any of these broad categories.

However, students should be careful to note that the scope of the term “public interest law” may be narrow depending on the specific circumstance. Students should identify in each instance whether or not the specific program that they are interested in includes government and/or public defender service within the definition of qualifying work. They should also consider whether the specific program is applicable to for-credit or for-pay work versus strictly pro bono contributions which would not include any remuneration.

Does the Law School recognize students for their pro bono and public interest work?

Yes, the Law School officially recognizes students for their pro bono and public interest contributions through theMiller Pro Bono Program. Students must report their qualifying work and specifically apply for recognition as a Public Interest Advocate. Public Interest Advocates are recognized at a formal reception as well as at graduation. For more information, visit Miller Public Interest Advocate Recognition.  

What work qualifies for certification through the Miller Pro Bono Program?

  • Pro bono projects coordinated and/or approved through the program
  • Legal Services Offices
  • Public Defender Offices
  • Non-profits providing legal services based on federal poverty guidelines
  • Non-profits representing traditionally unrepresented populations/needs (ex. ACLU)
  • In-house public interest clinics

Other placements will be considered to the extent that the student can demonstrate how the experience meets the Center’s objective of providing direct legal service to the underrepresented.

Students who complete a minimum of 60 hours of service can receive recognition for their work in any of the above settings even if they have received credit or compensation for the work. Special recognition will be given to those students who complete at least 60 hours without receiving compensation.

When can I apply to be recognized as a Public Interest Advocate?

Students are eligible to apply for certification when they have completed at least 60 hours of qualifying service. Announcements about application periods will be made to the second and third-year class in September and January. There will be an additional application opportunity for graduating seniors in April. If you have been certified, you do not need to reapply. Students are however, encouraged to report any additional pro bono service to the Miller Pro Bono Program.

Does the Law School provide pro bono opportunities for the students?

Yes, the Law School coordinates pro bono placements through the Miller Pro Bono Program and is available to counsel students on other public interest opportunities available at the Law School. To receive notification of pro bono opportunities, contact Katherene Connor, director of public interest programming.  

What pro bono work can I do as a first-year student?

There are a number of opportunities available to first-year law students that are designed to introduce them to the importance of pro bono legal assistance while simultaneously offering manageable time commitments. These programs include participation in homeless outreach projects, pro se custody clinics, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, and service on local bar association committees.

First-year students are also encouraged to connect with student organizations such as the Public Interest Law Fund, attend school sponsored conferences and career fairs, and join their peers on service trips. 

What pro bono work can I do as a second and third-year student?

Second and third-year students are encouraged to participate in any of the opportunities listed above for first-year students. In addition, they are eligible to receive research projects through the program and to connect with professors whose scholarship parallels their public service interest.

What opportunities for experiential service learning does the Law School offer?

Students who have completed their first year and are in good academic standing are eligible to participate in theexternship program. Generally speaking, students with at least 43 credits are eligible to participate in the in-house clinic program. Some clinics that do not require the student to be certified to practice under Pennsylvania Bar Admission Rule 321 will accept students with less than 43 credits. Third-year students are eligible to participate in the Semester in Washington D.C. program as well as the Semester in Harrisburg program through the Center for Government Law and Public Policy Studies.

Does the Law School provide programming for students interested in pro bono and public interest?

Yes. In addition to programming sponsored by the various student organizations and other law school departments, the Law School coordinates programming on pro bono projects, post-graduate public interest fellowship opportunities, and the financial aspects of planning for a public interest law career.

Does the Law School have a program to help graduates in public interest settings repay their loans?

Yes, the Law School created the Loan Repayment Assistance Program to subsidize graduates who pursue social justice careers. LRAP recipients receive substantial assistance with repayment of their education loan obligations. The LRAP committee reviews applications for repayment assistance twice a year.

Can law students provide legal advice to an individual seeking representation or assistance with a pro se matter?

The Miller Pro Bono Program and individual law students are not permitted to provide legal advice to the public. Students must be supervised in a formal clinical or pro bono setting in order to provide legal representation.

Unrepresented individuals may wish to contact the Law School’s clinical programs if they are in the State College area or refer to www.palawhelp.org for assistance with specific legal matters.

As an alumnus, how can I support the development of these pro bono and public interest programs?

To participate in the pro bono matching program, fill out a request form and engage a current student in remote research assistance on your current pro bono cases.

To make a financial contribution to a particular public interest program, simply add "PILF" or “LRAP” into the comments section after selecting Dickinson School of Law on the online donation form.