Seeking legal assistance?

If you are an individual seeking legal assistance, please note that Michigan Law students cannot provide direct legal advice or services to members of the general public. Since they are not yet lawyers, Michigan Law students must be supervised by a licensed attorney working for, or on behalf of, an organization approved by the Pro Bono Program.

For assistance, you might visit Michigan Legal Help or the Michigan State Bar's list of the various legal aid programs.​​​​​​

FAQs for Students

Getting Started

  • What Is pro bono?

    While there are a number of definitions, the American Bar Association's (ABA) Rule 6.1 defines pro bono as "legal services to those unable to pay."

     ABA Model Rule 6.1

  • What are the goals of Michigan's pro bono Pledge?

    To encourage students to make a lifelong commitment to use their professional training to benefit the community, particularly underserved populations

    1. To increase the capacity of the legal profession to provide pro bono services to needy populations
    2. To prepare our students for the practice of law by exposing them to:
      1. Opportunities to use the skills they've learned or gain new legal skills
      2. Professionals in the markets of their choice
      3. New legal areas that they have not explored during their coursework or summer employment
      4. Practical experiences that will be valuable to future employers
  • Why should I do pro bono?

    It is estimated that our current legal system meets less than 20 percent of the legal needs of the country's poor, and legal aid turns away more than 50 percent of eligible clients seeking their services. More pro bono work by students and lawyers alike can help fill this gap.

    However, beyond helping fill a significant gap in our legal system, it's likely that you will get as much, if not more, out of your pro bono projects than the organizations requesting your help, including practical experience with case preparation, research and writing skills, professionalism, leadership, networking, client contact, and interviewing skills—basically, all of those skills that are easier to teach in the "real world" than the classroom. Plus, you'll have the opportunity to explore a practice area that interests you without having to spend one of your summers or class choices trying it out.

  • Does the ABA require pro bono work? Do individual state bars?

    The ABA's Rule 6.1 states that "every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year." Most state bars have their own pro bono rules, which are cataloged here.

    While the ABA rule and most state rules are aspirational (meaning there are no consequences for failing to meet the standard), some states have made pro bono work compulsory. For example, the New York Bar requires that every new applicant must complete 50 hours of pro bono service before he or she can be admitted. 

     ABA Model Rule 6.1

     State Bar Pro Bono Rules

     New York Bar Requirements

Taking the Pledge

  • What is the "Pro Bono Pledge"? How many hours do I have to complete to satisfy the Pledge?

    Michigan's Voluntary Pro Bono Pledge encourages student pro bono work for two main reasons: 1) to expose students to a range of legal issues and give them an invaluable experience that will shape their education, and 2) to help students make contacts with professionals already working in a field of law that they may pursue.

    In fact, it's likely that you will get as much, if not more, out of the projects than the organizations requesting your help, including practical experience with case preparation, research and writing skills, professionalism, leadership, networking, client contact, and interviewing skills—basically, all of those skills that are easier to teach in the "real world" than the classroom. Plus, you'll have the opportunity to explore a practice area that interests you without having to spend one of your summers or class choices trying it out.

    There is actually a third reason for the Pledge—to familiarize students with their professional legal obligation to their communities and underserved populations while they're still in school. The American Bar Association's (ABA) Rule 6.1 states that "every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year."

    Michigan's Voluntary Pro Bono Pledge asks students to perform 50 hours or more of "qualifying" pro bono work over their three years in law school.

    Michigan’s Voluntary Pro Bono Pledge

    ABA Model Rule 6.1

  • Is there a smaller Pledge goal for LLMs?

    Yes, LLMs must complete 25 hours to satisfy the Pledge.

  • What does "qualifying" pro bono work mean?

    To qualify for the Pledge, students' work must be:

    • law related
    • supervised or approved by an attorney
    • provided to the client free of charge or at a substantially reduced rate
    • not for credit and uncompensated
    • at least 10 of the 50 hours must be completed while classes are in session
    • provided to underrepresented persons, interests, or communities on behalf of a nonprofit or government organization approved by the Pro Bono Program
  • Can you provide some examples of work that qualifies under the Pledge

    Sure, while this list is not exhaustive by any stretch, qualifying work includes law-related work: on behalf of indigent clients at a nonprofit organization; at a prosecutor's or public defender's office; for a government agency or office; for a student organization, such as the Food Stamp Advocacy Project or Family Law Project, where there is a supervisory attorney; to protect important legal rights and liberties at a nonprofit organization; and to educate the public's understanding of a law.

  • What types of work do NOT qualify under the Pledge?

    Examples of non-qualifying work include, but are not limited to: clerking for a judge, assisting in political campaign efforts, fundraising, work done for a law journal or similar organization, and work that receives academic credit or compensation.

    If you have any questions about whether a particular activity qualifies, please contact lawprobono@umich.edu.

  • Can I count training hours and travel time toward the Pledge?

    No, training hours and travel time do not count. You should only count hours that you are actually working on a project.

  • Does the work have to be law-related, or does community service count?

    Yes, while volunteer work of all types is valuable and a great way to connect with the community, lawyers (and soon-to-be lawyers) have special skills that no other community member can duplicate. Thus, while we encourage you to be as active in the community as you would like to be, the Pledge is specifically aimed at encouraging our students to think about their professional legal obligations, in law school and beyond.

  • Does work for compensation or academic credit qualify?

    No, the work must be uncompensated and not for academic credit.

  • What about work done through clinics or externships?

    While we recognize that students often go above and beyond the call of duty during their clinical or externship experiences, there is no easy way to calculate how many hours above the "norm" a student has gone. However, if you keep a case beyond the semester, or stay on at your externship, you may count those hours toward the Pledge, as long as you are not receiving additional credit for your efforts. For example, if you take the Child Advocacy Clinic during the fall semester, but you conduct a trial in an ongoing case during the winter semester, you may count the hours toward your Pledge provided you do not receive academic credit for that work.

  • Does work performed during the summer qualify? What about work done between terms or during winter break?

    Yes, while a student must complete at least 10 hours of pro bono work during the semester (while classes are in session) to satisfy the Pledge, the remaining 40 hours may be completed during the summer, between terms, or during winter break, so long as the work otherwise meets the criteria above.

    Examples of this include:

    • If you are working for a firm and complete a pro bono assignment, it would not qualify under the Pledge, since it was done for compensation in the normal course of your job duties. However, if your firm offered an optional opportunity to assist at an advice and referral clinic, outside of your work hours or on a weekend, the hours spent (up to 40 hours) would qualify under the Pledge.
    • If you receive the Dean's Fellowship, an SFF grant, the Public Service Guarantee, or other summer funding, your summer job at a nonprofit would not count toward the Pledge because you are receiving compensation. However, if your organization allowed you to stay beyond the required 10 weeks and work without compensation, or you worked beyond the normal 40-hour work week, the extra hours you complete (up to 40 hours) would qualify under the Pledge.
    • If you volunteer with an organization unrelated to your summer internship and the work otherwise qualifies under the Pledge, that law-related volunteer work would qualify under the Pledge (up to 40 hours).
  • Does pro bono work performed in conjunction with a student group qualify for the Pledge?

    Yes, if it otherwise qualifies, since student groups are, and have long been, a primary way our students have connected with the surrounding Southeastern Michigan community. As noted above, though, while student groups often do wonderful community service projects, only projects that are law-related and are supervised by an attorney qualify for the Pledge. You will find student group projects in the Pro Bono Project Listings with all the other available projects.

    Pro Bono Project Listings

  • Can I create my own pro bono project, or does it have to be arranged by the Law School?

    Yes, you are welcome to pursue a pro bono opportunity that is not listed. If you'd like help, please set up an appointment with Amy Sankaran, Director of Externship and Pro Bono Programs, at aharwell@umich.edu or 734.764.7787.

How the Pledge Works

  • How do I get started on the Pledge?

    Step 1: Take the Pledge (this will add you to our listserv for pro bono announcements)

    Step 2 : Review the Pro Bono Project Listings and pick one or more projects!

    We hold a fall and winter fair where many projects staff tables, answer your questions, and help you sign up to get involved. If you take the Pledge, you will be notified about the fairs, as well as altered to other pro bono projects that arise throughout the school year. 

  • How do I ensure my pro bono hours count toward the Pledge?

    Enter your hours in the Student Hours Tracking Database. That’s it!

    You are welcome to enter the hours into the Student Hours Tracking Database as you go, or all at the end, but we recommend the former because it is much easier to remember your hours that way.

    The form will make you pick a particular date, but you are welcome to enter a lump sum; just explain what the entry covers in the notes.

    Student Hours Tracking Database

    Pro Bono Project Listings

  • Can I perform more hours than the Pledge requires?

    Of course! The total number of hours you complete will be placed on the certificate you receive from the Dean after graduation.

  • Can I get pro bono credit if I did the project a year, or even two years, ago?

    Yes! If you did not enter your hours from 1L, and you are now a 3L, please enter them. We’ve even had students complete pro bono work during the summer before beginning law, so enter all the pro bono work you’ve done since being admitted to Michigan Law.

  • Can 1Ls do pro bono work?

    Yes. Many 1Ls have done so quite successfully, reporting that pro bono work kept them grounded in the midst of the fairly theoretical first-year courses. However, please note that some 1Ls find that pro bono work is too much to take one while they are also trying to navigate classes and a new environment, especially during the first semester. Please think about your own personality and study needs/habits before committing to help an organization.

  • Is the Pledge a graduation requirement?

    No, it is a voluntary pledge.

  • Can I start my own pro bono project?

    Yes! First, I’m happy to speak with you if you have questions, so please make an appointment or email me at lawprobono@umich.edu.

    Second, to start a project, you need a supervising attorney and a legal problem you want to tackle. (We should also speak about malpractice insurance if it is needed for your project.) If you have both, add a project to the Project Listings.

    Schedule an Online Appointment 

    Add a Pro Bono Project

Pledge Completion and Recognition

FAQ for Organizations

  • What is Michigan Law's Pro Bono Pledge?

    Michigan's Pro Bono Pledge asks students to perform 50 hours or more of "qualifying" pro bono work over their three years in law school. To qualify, students' work must be:

    • law-related
    • supervised or approved by an attorney;
    • provided to the client free of charge or at a substantially reduced rate
    • not for credit and uncompensated
    • at least 10 of the 50 hours must be completed while classes are in session
    • provided to underrepresented persons, interests, or communities on behalf of a nonprofit or government organization approved by the Pro Bono Program
  • How can my organization participate in Michigan's Pro Bono Pledge?

    We have two requirements: (1) you must agree to provide ongoing oversight of the student volunteer during his/her work on the project and (2) students must be covered under your organization's malpractice insurance because Michigan Law is unable to provide malpractice insurance for law students doing pro bono work. We also ask for, but do not require, an Organization Evaluation so we can get your feedback.

    Please note that there are no guarantees that students will select your project.

  • How do I register my organization and create a project?

    We have a password-protected online database where organizations post projects and students can log in to select a project. The first time you use our online system, you create a username and password and then register your organization. To add additional projects in the future, you skip step one, and go directly to step two, using the username and password you created.
     

    Step 1: Create your organization's account

    To create an account, go to Michigan’s Friend Account page and enter an email address for your organization's account. An automatic email will be generated and sent to the email account you provide. Open that email and click on "Create friend account." Then re-enter your email address and create a password for your account.. If you already have a University of Michigan login (a umich.edu address), you can skip this step and use your umich email address for your organization's account instead.
     

    Step 2: Create your project(s)

    Go to the Pro Bono Project database, log in using your friend account, click on "Add New Project Here," and fill in the form with your project; please click "Save" to submit the project to our office. If the project meets the above criteria, we will approve it, and it will be added to the online student database, where students will be able to select your project.

    Create Friend Account

    More Information About Friend Accounts

    Add a Pro Bono Project

  • Can I edit the information I already submitted?

    Yes, by logging in with the e-mail address and password that you used to post the information originally. To change the organization information, click on "Edit Organization Information."  To change something about a particular project, click on that project and then scroll to the bottom and click on "Edit."

  • Who will be able to see my organization's information?

    Neither the organizational information, nor the project listings are visible to the public. Rather, each organization will only be able to see its own information. Only our office and our current students will have access to the information you provide.

  • What kind of projects are you seeking?

    The project must be law-related and would ideally expose the student to an area of law or provide a chance to develop some legal skills. For example, you can request student help for a one-time research project, such as a writing a brief or a memo, or you can request students come to your office every week on a recurring schedule throughout a semester (or beyond). Please do not hesitate to contact Amy Sankaran, Director of Externships and Pro Bono Programs, at aharwell@umich.edu or 734.764.7787, if you would like help crafting an appropriate project.

  • How does the student select projects?

    Students will find out about available projects in three main ways. First, students can log into the password-protected database to view all current pro bono opportunities. Second, students have completed forms identifying their main areas of interest, and we often contact students when a project in their interest area is added. Third, we have a student listserv for publicizing projects. 

    Please note that despite these various ways of publicizing a project, there are no guarantees that students will select your project.

    \When a student finds a project he or she is interested in, the student will contact your organization's contact person directly to get started.

  • Can I pre-select which student works with me? What if I have special requirements?

    While students select the projects themselves, you are welcome to create special requirements. That is, if you need someone who speaks Spanish, has taken a course in refugee and asylum law, has a car, and so on, just say so on the project form. Only students who are qualified will respond to your posting.

  • What types of work and assignments are best suited for law students?

    The most important thing to keep in mind is the students' academic schedule, as many of our students leave Ann Arbor during breaks, between semesters, and during the summer. Also, they are much less responsive during finals. See our academic calendar, which may help you structure your project accordingly. Our program is likely best-suited for less time-sensitive projects since it may take a student longer than it might take an attorney to do the same task.

    Academic Calendar 

  • What if I have a concern about my student volunteer(s)

    Please let us know as soon as possible if you have any concerns about a student; don't wait for the Organization Evaluation at the end of the project. We'd love to know about a problem as soon as possible so we can help address it.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Amy Sankaran, Director of Pro Bono and Externship Programs, at aharwell@umich.edu or 734.764.7787.

    Evaluate Student Volunteer

New York Bar Pro Bono Information

On September 14, 2012, the New York Bar adopted a rule (22 NYCRR § 520.16) stating that applicants to the New York Bar MUST complete 50 hours of pro bono service prior to admission. New York prepared a very helpful FAQ page to explain the rule. If you have further questions, visit New York's Pro Bono Bar Admissions Requirements page.

For each pro bono activity that might qualify under the rule, you will need to complete New York's "Form Affidavit of Compliance." It must be signed by your supervisor, so it is best to complete this form at the end of each project (rather than when you are trying to assemble documents for admission months or years later).

Six ways to fulfill the NY pro bono requirement

  1. Most clinics
  2. Full-time and part-time externships, including those in South Africa and Geneva
  3. Most (but not all, so be careful!) Michigan Law pro bono projects
  4. Summer judicial internships
  5. Summer public interest and government internships
  6. Pro bono work at law firms

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, so review the New York Bar’s FAQ page and Pro Bono Bar Admissions Requirements page for more details.

If you have questions, contact Amy Sankaran, Director of Externship and Pro Bono Programs, at aharwell@umich.edu or 734.764.7787, or you can make an appointment online.

Note: We are providing this information as a courtesy, but it is subject to change. Visit New York's Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements Page for the latest information.