Above and Beyond: College of Law Pro Bono Program
In 2005, the Faculty of the University of Idaho College of Law mandated that each student must complete 40 hours of uncompensated pro bono legal work as an academic requirement for receipt of a JD degree. Students have stepped up to the task and taken it to heart, garnering legal experience while promoting justice for those underrepresented.
The program hopes to instill a sense of community in the lawyers that graduate, and expand the interest of public interest work in today’s workforce.
The graduating class of 2009 was the first class to graduate the pro bono hours as requirement. While the class of 2008 wasn’t required to participate in the program, most students still participated voluntarily, with 39 students going above and beyond the 40 hours. Six out of the eight students graduating summa cum laude or magna cum laude in 2008 were very active in pro bono work. The tradition continues. Although the graduation requirement is 40 hours, in recent years the graduating classes have served an average of more than 100 hours per student.
This reflects the University of Idaho’s focus on educating lawyers who see the importance of being well-rounded professionals, not just scholars or successful lawyers, but true professionals who cares about society and the lawyer’s special responsibility for the quality of justice in that society. The College’s overall and curriculum-wide commitment to the public interest, including its Mandatory Pro Bono Program, Public Interest Externship programs, and wide array of Clinical offerings, have been recognized by many constituencies, including The National Jurist magazine, which recently recognized the University of Idaho College of Law as one of the nation's top 30 law schools for producing graduates entering public interest law.
Jordan Taylor’s story provides a useful example of the way in which the pro bono program is impacting students and preparing them for a career marked by pro bono service. As a first year law student in the first class for whom pro bono service was a graduation requirement, Lewiston native Jordan Taylor joined the Public Interest Law Group (PILG) and attended Alternative Spring Break. He was one of 14 members that made the original trip to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Under his watch as president of PILG, the Alternative Spring Break participation has more than doubled.
Taylor said that the required pro bono service hours are responsible for the increased participation. The required service generated more hours for PILG, creating room for more projects and events. The increase in service hours also reflects the original purpose of the pro bono program. "The pro bono program expanded everyone's interest in public work," said Taylor. "I think more students want to become involved in public interest law in their future."
Taylor continued his work in public interest law. His second summer, he worked at the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, which handles most of the death penalty appeals for the state of Louisiana. Taylor said that pro bono work definitely will be a part of his career as a lawyer. Taylor served over 400 hours of pro bono service during law school, but equally importantly, he was a leader, providing opportunities and motivation for other students. As a result, Taylor received the “Above and Beyond Award,” which is an award the College can award each year if a student is deserving, based on the student epitomizing the spirit, values, and goals of the pro bono program. Taylor was also the first, and to date the only, law student to receive the Idaho State Bar Association’s Denise O’Donnell-Day Pro Bono Award in recognition of his outstanding work.
Similarly, Amanda Ulrich, a 2008 College of Law graduate, exemplifies the impact the pro bono program has had on our students. Amanda was also an achiever and leader in the College’s pro bono program, even though it was not a graduation requirement. While studying for the bar examination and delving deeply into books to review substantive law, she recalled that it was the service-learning experience that expanded her education while studying in the College. “Pro bono work has influenced my studies greatly,” said Ulrich. “I would say that it had the most influence on my decision to participate in the College of Law Legal Aid Clinic, which provides free legal services to those with a need for them. My pro bono work also influenced me to take courses in Human Rights and International Law, areas of law which are conduits for improving the human condition.”
Ulrich was given the Above and Beyond Award by the college for her impact on the pro bono program. “Getting the Above and Beyond Award was such a great honor because there were so many people in our class who did amazing pro bono work,” she said.
The College continues its proud tradition of public service as evidenced by the pro bono program, and each year we look forward to helping create countless more uplifting stories and countless more lawyers dedicated to serving the public.