What is Pro Bono?
The term Pro Bono comes from the Latin "Pro Bono Publico," which means "for the public good."
The Pro Bono Program provides students with opportunities to deliver law-related services to underrepresented community members. Students are assisted and supported by Pro Bono Program staff with placements in private and nonprofit law firms, legal aid groups, in-house programs and other organizations, where their pro bono work is performed under appropriate supervision. In keeping with the law school's law-in-action tradition, students develop legal and professional skills, gain practical, hands-on experience in real work environments and explore their ethical responsibility to provide pro bono service.
Students who graduate in 2014 or later and complete a minimum of fifty hours of pro bono services will be inducted into the Pro Bono Society and graduate with pro bono distinction.
The mission of the Pro Bono Program is to provide students and faculty with opportunities to deliver pro bono services to underrepresented community members.
The goals of the Pro Bono Program include providing desperately needed services to the Dane County community, instilling in students a sense of professional responsibility that includes a lasting commitment to providing pro bono services, helping students learn about representing the underrepresented, providing students with practical experiences and the opportunity to interact with representatives from public interest organizations and law firms, and building a positive identity that strengthens UW Law School's community ties.
Law-related: To receive recognition for their pro bono work, students at the University of Wisconsin Law School must perform work that is law-related.
Uncompensated: Students must work in a volunteer capacity and may not receive any compensation for pro bono work counted towards the Pro Bono Program benchmarks.
No Academic Credit: Any work performed to fulfill requirements of a clinic or directed study project, or to otherwise obtain academic credit will not be counted towards recognized pro bono hours.
Eligible Clients: To receive credit towards the Pro Bono Program service requirements, the work must serve:
Clients of limited financial means or who otherwise lack access to justice;
Charitable or not-for-profit organizations that serve underrepresented clients;
Charitable or not-for-profit organizations that seek to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties and other public rights, or
Charitable, not-for-profit or educational organizations where payment for legal services would significantly decrease their ability to serve clients.
These guidelines are adapted from ABA Model Rule 6.1.
The Pro Bono Program (formerly the University of Wisconsin Law School Pro Bono Partnership Project) began as a pilot project in 2007. Its basic structure involved pairing law students with local Dane County attorneys to provide legal assistance in civil matters to persons otherwise unable to secure legal representation. Initially, the project utilized a volunteer law student to assist Clinical Professors Ben Kempinen and Marsha Mansfield in administering the program. Kristin Davis, former Career Services Public Interest advisor, also provided support.
In 2009, The Project applied for and received a three-year renewable AmeriCorps*VISTA grant from Wisconsin Campus Compact. The VISTA program focuses on building capacity in non-profit organizations, schools, and communities toward the end goal of poverty alleviation. Today, nearly 6,000 VISTA members serve in a variety of sites throughout the country. The VISTA member's role at the UW Law School Pro Bono Program is not only to ensure the ongoing operation of the program, but to establish long-term project sustainability beyond the three-year grant cycle.
In the 2010-2011 academic year, the Pro Bono Program was coordinated by VISTA member Henry Weiner with the support of Public Interest Advisor Kristin Davis. In the 2011-2012 academic year, attorney Ann Zimmerman served as the program's first Director, and VISTA member Julia Zwak served as the program's Coordinator. As the final VISTA member, Jonathan Seok took over from Julia Zwak for the 2012-2013 academic year. Currently, in the 2013-2014 academic year, attorney Ann Zimmerman continues to serve as the program's Director, and law student Alexandra Bentzen serves as the program's Coordinator. Clinical Professors Ben Kempinen and Marsha Mansfield continue to serve as the Program's academic advisors.
Commitment to Excellence
The UW Law School is committed to excellence in legal education, which involves offering substantial opportunities for student participation in pro bono activities. Students who participate in the Pro Bono Program are provided with hands-on opportunities to develop professional skills under the supervision of practicing lawyers, law faculty members, and other licensed professionals while exploring the ABA's ethical standards, which state that lawyers should aspire to provide 50 hours per year of pro bono legal services to people of limited means or nonprofit organizations that serve the poor.