Getting an Early Start

A recent article in National Law Journal cites a Kaplan Test Prep study which found that prospective law students are paying little attention to the grim employment statistics for recent law school graduates.  Indeed, job placement ranked dead last among all factors presented to the 645 prospective law students surveyed.  The most important factor in deciding which school to attend was a law school’s rank.

This got us thinking about prospective law students and what role pro bono and other public interest opportunities play in their decision about where to attend law school.  Many aspiring lawyers enter law school with dreams of making the world a better place—of using a law degree to fight for a cause or advocate on behalf of the disadvantaged.  We previously wrote about law firms and legal departments using pro bono to attract young, standout candidates, and law schools employ the same recruitment tactic.  Law schools have long enticed prospective students by offering public interest and pro bono opportunities that speak to students’ passions.

According to the Association of American Law Schools, in 1987, Tulane Law School became the first American law school to create a pro bono program.  By 1991, 13 other law schools had launched pro bono programs.  Today, out of a total of 200 ABA accredited law schools conferring J.D. degrees nationwide, 39 have mandatory pro bono graduation requirements, 118 have formal voluntary programs, and 19 have independent student pro bono group projects.

This steep increase reflects students’ desire to engage in pro bono during law school as well as schools’ recognizing the benefits derived from offering students pro bono opportunities, whatever their ultimate professional destinations may be.  We have no doubt this trend will continue as a variety of factors (e.g., New York Chief Judge Lippman’s new 50 hour pro bono requirement as a condition for bar admission) converge to encourage pro bono work early in a lawyer’s career.

At the Northeast Regional Leadership Convocation earlier this month, attendees discussed how student pro bono efforts can be leveraged and broadened and how law firms and legal departments can better partner with law schools on pro bono initiatives.  Does your law firm or legal department partner with a law school on a pro bono project?  How do these partnerships add value to your pro bono programs and business?