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Pro Bono

Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements | Affiliated Student Group | St. John’s Public Service Award


Introduction

Building on St. John’s University’s Vincentian mission of serving those in need, the Law School recognizes the ethical obligation of lawyers to promote social justice. As such, the law school encourages and promotes its students’ participation in pro bono service. Pro bono work grants students the opportunity to provide legal assistance and access to justice to unrepresented clients, groups and interests. In addition, students will gain practical skills in client interviewing, advocating in court, preparing legal forms and memos, etc. The law school partners with many organizations and legal services providers to provide students with a range of pro bono legal experiences and opportunities in various practice areas. Students will play an important role in each pro bono project as well as network with the providers, judges, attorneys and other staff with whom these projects interact.

The list below represents some of the pro bono opportunities coordinated through the Law School.  Students interested in other practice areas and opportunities should contact Dean Kimathi Gordon-Somers at gordonsk@stjohns.edu.

CLARO – The Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office

CLARO is an innovative pro se advice project sponsored by the New York City Bar Association and the Queens County Bar Association. Law students work with volunteer attorneys to advise individuals on self-representation strategies when they are sued in consumer debt cases. The project operates as a walk-in clinic every Friday from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm in Queens Civil Court. Before volunteering, students will attend a training at St. John’s Law School on substantive and procedural law relating to consumer debt cases. As CLARO volunteers, students will greet clients, gather basic intake information about their legal matter, accompany volunteer attorneys at litigant interviews, and assist with and review follow up tasks, such as completing and filing court papers, with the litigants. Each CLARO session requires approximately a 3 hour commitment. CLARO does not require a regular weekly commitment. Students can volunteer according to their availability. Please visit the CLARO TWEN page for more information.

Resolution Assistance Program (RAP) and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) program sponsored by the Housing Court Volunteer Lawyers Project

The Resolution Assistance Program (RAP) trains law students to assist unrepresented tenants and owners/landlords, who are appearing in the Resolution Part of Housing Court as parties to nonpayment proceedings. The goal of RAP is to help litigants who do not have an attorney have a productive court experience through an offering of non-legal support. Participating students work in the courtroom under the supervision of a RAP Coordinator. They have the opportunity to interact with judges, lawyers and litigants, gaining real-world experience. RAP volunteers provide support to unrepresented tenants and owners/landlords, who are discussing their claims or defenses in hallway negotiations; encourage unrepresented tenants and owners/landlords to talk about the settlement of their cases with the court attorney or judge, where appropriate; and inform unrepresented tenants and owners/landlords about places to go for legal, rental or other assistance in their nonpayment proceedings. RAP offers a 1.5 hour training course to volunteers. RAP volunteers volunteer for a minimum of six hours in the Resolution Part per year. Students are given flexibility with their schedules and may split their volunteer time into hourly blocks over a period of days or months.

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) interactive computer programs help unrepresented litigants prepare personalized court forms that are ready to serve and file. During the training, students learn about various programs, including the Tenant Affidavit to Vacate a Default Judgment, and the Roommate Holdover programs, and are provided with an overview of common legal issues arising in the context of the filing of the Affidavit to Vacate a Default Judgment, the Roommate Holdover Notice of Termination, and the Roommate Holdover Notice of Petition, and Petition.

For more information, please visit http://nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/housing/rap_prospective.shtml

Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP)

The Courtroom Advocates Project is a student volunteer program that trains, recruits, supervises and mentors law students to act as a lay advocate for women seeking orders of protection in the family courts of New York City. Students, after attending a one day training session, volunteer to interview domestic violence victims and help them to draft court petitions for orders for protection. Victims are often intimidated by the court procedures and uneducated about the legal significance of their situation and therefore do not return to court to obtain final protective orders. CAP student advocacy significantly improves the quality of the petitions filed by ensuring the accuracy of the complaints and the allegations of family offenses and encourages women to return to court when necessary. Advocates also help to determine the necessary temporary relief to be sought. Student Advocates accompany individual petitioners to court on the date of their initial meeting and when they return for a future court date. Please visit the CAP TWEN page for more information.

Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT)

LIFT’s mission is to enhance access to justice for children and families by providing legal information, community education, and compassionate guidance, while promoting system-wide reform of the courts and public agencies. LIFT offers both community-based programs including the Family Legal Center, and the Family Law Information Telephone and Email Hotlines, and court-based programs including the Education and Information Sites, and serving in the Family Court’s Help Centers. LIFT also produces 35 original multilingual Legal Resource Guides, as well as activity books for children and teens that explain the court process.
Email Hotline: Students who volunteer for the LIFT Family Law Information Email Hotline will be assigned to respond to emails received from individuals who seek information and support regarding the full spectrum of family law and family court issues. Students will receive support and training from LIFT staff. The hours are flexible for students who volunteer with the LIFT Family Law Information Email Hotline, with a requested commitment of three to five hours per week.

LIFT’s Family Law Information Telephone Hotline: Students will answer questions and Provide legal support, information, and referrals to Hotline users at LIFT’s Central Office, 350 Broadway, Suite 501 on Monday-Friday between 9:00am – 5:00pm

Family Court-based Information Sites: Work side-by-side with LIFT staff at LIFT’s Family Court-based Site. Help Families Navigate the NYC Family Courts by answering questions, addressing concerns regarding Court procedure and family law matters, and distributing Legal Resource Guides at the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, or Staten Island Family Courthouses Monday-Friday between 9:00am – 5:00pm

Document Translation: Help non-English speakers navigate the court system by translating LIFT’s Legal Resource Guides into languages other than English. Skills Required: Fluency in Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese,

For more information, please visit http://www.liftonline.org/volunteer.html

New York State Courts Access to Justice Program: Consumer Debt Volunteer Lawyer for the Day (VLFD)

This program provides limited representation to pro se defendants in consumer debt cases in Queens Civil Court at pre-trial conferences. Under the supervision of an attorney, students will represent defendants in court, work to negotiate favorable settlements with opposing counsel, conference with court attorneys, argue before a judge, and advise clients on trial strategies. The program is held on Mondays from 1:30-4:30 p.m., and Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9:00-12:30 and 1:30-4:30 p.m. in Queens Civil Court.
Please visit the TWEN page or contact Helen Wrobel, Program Coordinator, at wrobelh@stjohns.edu, for more information.

New York State Courts Access to Justice Program: Uncontested Divorce

Through this pro bono opportunity, students will assist unrepresented litigants with the preparation of uncontested divorce forms under the supervision of an attorney. (Students do not represent litigants in court or file papers on their behalf.) The program is held on Thursdays from 2-7 p.m. in Queens Civil Court and Fridays from 9:30-4:30 p.m. in Queens Supreme Court. It is possible to volunteer for half-days. Please visit the TWEN page or contact Helen Wrobel, Program Coordinator, at wrobelh@stjohns.edu, for more information.

Suspension Representation Project

The Suspension Representation Project (SRP) is an advocacy group that trains law students to represent public school students in Superintendent’s suspension hearings and help safeguard their right to education. SRP pairs new law student advocates with experienced law student advocates, enabling law students to develop valuable legal skills including interviewing clients, conducting direct and cross examinations, and delivering closing arguments. SRP routinely helps to shorten the length of the suspension or eliminate the suspension, helping kids stay in school. Volunteers typically handle 1-2 cases per semester.
Please visit the TWEN page for more information.

Legal Outreach

Legal Outreach is a non-profit organization that uses the law as a tool to inspire vision and foster skills in high school students from New York City’s most underserved areas. A law student debate coach will be assigned one or two students and will work with them throughout the year to help them prepare for their debates. A year-long commitment is required. As a debate coach, you will help your students prepare for the debate! This includes helping them understand the debate fact pattern, brief the provided cases, outline an oral argument, and prepare to present their argument to a panel of judges. Debate coaches will also serve as judges at the actual debate. The volunteer commitment is 40 hours per year, or 10 hours per debate (there are 4 debates per year). For more information, please visit http://legaloutreach.org/?page_id=617.

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Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements

On September 14, 2012, the New York State Court of Appeals adopted a new rule requiring applicants for admission to the New York State
bar to perform 50 hours of pro bono services.

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, every applicant to the bar will be required to fulfill the pro bono requirement. Under the rule qualifying pro-bono work must be law-related and includes legal services for people of “limited means,” not-for-profit organizations, individuals or groups seeking to promote access to justice, and public service in the judiciary and state and local governments. The work must be performed under the supervision of a law school faculty member, an admitted attorney in good standing, or, in the case of a court system clerkship or externship, by a judge or lawyer employed by the court system. Participation in law school clinics, externships, public interest summer fellowships do count towards the requirement. The pro bono work may be done in any state or U.S. territory, the District of Columbia or any foreign country. The work must have been completed after the start of law school and before admission to the bar. An affidavit completed by the applicant and signed by the supervisor must be completed by each entity for submission to the character and fitness committee.

The text of the rules, frequently asked questions, and the Form Affidavit of Compliance are online.

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Affiliated Student Group

Public Interest Law Students Association
The Public Interest Center affiliates with the student Public Interest Law Students Association (PILSA). PILSA is made up of law students dedicated to supporting and enhancing the Law School’s public interest endeavors. In the past, PILSA has worked with various public interest organizations, the Center, the Law School Administration and the Career Development Office to coordinate on-campus activities, including panel presentations, fundraising and social events, including the Public Interest Auction. Additionally, PILSA encourages students’ involvement in off-campus public interest organizations where they can assist, under practice order or attorney supervision, in helping real world clients. For more information, please visit the student PILSA’s TWEN page.

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St. John’s Public Service Award

A Public Service Award is given at Commencement to those students who have completed at least 500 hours of qualifying service. Students who demonstrate an exceptional level of pro bono service, including dedicated service to specific pro bono projects (including student-run programs), will be eligible for additional awards at Commencement. The Pro Bono Service Project will adopt the same definition of pro bono as the New York Court of Appeals in 22 NYCRR 520.16.

What constitutes qualifying pro bono service?

Law-related work performed under the supervision of an attorney, judge, or law faculty including:

  • All St. John’s Law clinical programs (excluding seminar time)
  • Government placements (legislative, executive, or judicial)
  • Placements that assist in the provision of legal services without charge for:
    • Persons of limited means;
    • Non-profit organizations; or
    • Individuals, groups, or organizations seeking to secure or promote access to justice, including, but not limited to, protection of civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights
  • Most summer public interest fellowships
  • Pro bono work as a summer associate at a law firm
  • Any of the above, even if for compensation or for externship credit (excluding seminar time)

What does not constitute qualifying pro bono service?

  • Community service
  • Mock trial coach for high school or college students
  • Partisan political activities (even if law-related)
  • Not supervised by an attorney or judge (e.g. student-run projects)

Please also review the New York State Bar’s Pro Bono Requirement FAQs.

How to Record Pro Bono Hours

For the purpose of tallying pro bono hours toward the Public Service Award, students will be required to record their pro bono hours. Hours need to be logged through the Online Reporting Form. Please submit all hours by September 30 (for summer hours), December 31 (for fall hours), and May 31 (for spring hours).  Graduating students must submit all pro bono hours by May 1 of their graduation year.

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