Beginning this fall, students at the Southern Illinois University School of Law will be required to complete 35 hours of pro bono work prior to graduation. While many schools encourage, support, or recognize pro bono work, this requirement is the first of its kind for a law school in Illinois.
Although the requirement of pro bono service is new to the law students of SIU, pro bono work is not. SIU Law students have a history of public and community service, including pro bono work. Last year, students completed more than 6,000 hours of pro bono work.
Dean Cynthia Fountaine believes that SIU Law’s mission, the talents of its faculty, and the characteristics of its student body combine to make SIU the natural leader for this initiative in Illinois. “Our students have repeatedly demonstrated that they are eager to jump into opportunities that allow them to exercise their new legal skills in real world settings. They bring with them their passion to make a meaningful impact – for individuals and organizations – and we provide the structure and help open the doors so that they can develop these passions into careers.”
Under the new rule, students will have until graduation to complete their pro bono requirement and will report their pro bono hours at the end of each semester. Not all public, volunteer, or community service work will meet the new requirements. Under the rule passed by the faculty earlier this year, the work must be law- related, uncompensated, supervised by an attorney, and not for academic credit. This means that work in a legal clinic or externship setting will only apply if it exceeds the amount needed for academic credit.
One of the legal aid organizations where SIU students can perform pro bono work is Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, a nonprofit serving all of central and southern Illinois with an office in Carbondale. Land of Lincoln has been working with SIU to develop new ways to help more students meet their pro bono requirement for the benefit of the community. “We have a long-standing partnership with the law school,” says Michael Fiello, Managing Attorney at the Carbondale office. “They are a tremendous help in increasing the amount of service we can provide to the area.” Michael agrees that lawyers have unique skills and a unique capacity to help those in need in their community. “This requirement gives the students the opportunity to learn this early and, hopefully, they will continue to provide pro bono service throughout their careers,” he says.
The pro bono work that SIU Law students do also pays off. SIU’s School of Law was recently ranked as one of the top schools for externship opportunities, a best school for practical training, and among the best in the nation for employment in full-time, long-term, bar-pass-required, non-law school funded jobs (class of 2013).
To learn more about SIU Law’s new pro bono requirement, contact Michael Pierre Ruiz, Assistant Dean for Career Services and Special Programs, at SIU’s School of Law.