Pro Bono Service Program
Students volunteer to provide the underprivileged with legal help through the Pro Bono Service Program at the Center for Social Justice.
Since 1988, Seton Hall Law students have volunteered their time to help the less fortunate through the law school’s Pro Bono Service Program at the Center for Social Justice. More than 100 students from first to third-year classes, participate each year, gaining vital legal skills in such areas as criminal justice, mental health, community development, and tax preparation, all to benefit the Newark community.
Professor Philip Ross, who directs the Pro Bono Service program, explains the philosophy of the Pro Bono program: “Pro bono work is unpaid and students do not receive school credit. But it’s a great way for all law students, from first year on, to gain exposure to the law, and it’s an important foot in the door.” Students who volunteer for at least 35 hours will have a notation on their transcript reflecting their commitment to public service. Most law firms have separate pro bono departments and lawyers often continue doing pro bono work after passing the bar..
There are currently 46 organizations with which students can volunteer through the Pro Bono Service Program. The most recent addition is the Daniel J. O’Hern Memorial Legal Assistance Medical Partnership (LAMP). Located in Red Bank, NJ, the LAMP Project addresses the socio-economic factors that undermine health care for disadvantaged patients by integrating legal advocacy into medical and personal history inquiries.
Another new participant is New Vision Organization, Inc., a Massachusetts-based organization that works with incarcerated individuals, advocating for medical support, psychological support, rehabilitation, and legal assistance.
The most popular programs are the New Jersey Law and Education Empowerment Program (NJ LEEP) and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Project (VITA). NJ LEEP, located at Seton Hall Law School, trains law students to teach law-related lessons in high schools and middle schools in the Newark area. VITA offers free tax help to taxpayers with special needs, such as the disabled, the elderly and non-English speakers. The VITA program typically draws 25-30 students from the law school, according to Professor Ross.
Here at Seton Hall Law School, students can volunteer for the International Human Rights/Rule of Law Project or the Urban Revitalization Project, which are run from Seton Hall Law’s Center for Social Justice.
In addition to the 46 participating organizations, Professor Ross allows students to select an organization of their choice and volunteer for it. “If you don’t see anything in the book that meets your interests, I will work with you to develop a placement at another site where pro bono assistance is needed,” said Professor Ross.
This year, a student is volunteering for an animal rights organization not listed as a participating organization. In past years, students have volunteered for legal services organizations out-of-state. Still, about one-third of placements are within the Newark area. “We try to help those in Newark. We are committed to the broader efforts to attain social justice for the disempowered and legally underserved here in our community,” Says Professor Ross.