Today, about a quarter of the 202 accredited law schools in the United States have a pro bono requirement for graduation. Back in 1988, however, there was only one: Tulane School of Law.
Eileen Ryan and Julie Jackson have administered the Tulane Law School pro bono program since its inception in 1988. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)
“We started a trend,” says Julie Jackson, assistant dean for public interest programs. Jackson, who along with program manager Eileen Ryan has administered the program for the last 25 years, says the original intent of the requirement has remained intact over the years.
“The requirement is designed to instill in law students a sense of their responsibility to the community when they become members of the bar,” Jackson reads from a brochure that was printed a quarter-century ago.
“And I think it is even more important now than it was then for law students to recognize their duty to give back to the community,” she says.
When initially instituted, the pro bono requirement
mandated that a student complete 20 hours of public service. The number of service hours was increased to 30 after Hurricane Katrina, “when the faculty decided that the need was even greater,” says Jackson.
Law students, typically in their second or third year, offer legal service to any of more than 70 partnered nonprofit, public interest organizations in the New Orleans area or, in some cases, the student’s home area.
Along with the skills-training that comes with working in the real world, the program can have a more profound effect, says Jackson.
“Many times they tell us that the requirement reminds them of why they came to law school in the first place,” she says. “You forget sometimes in the rush of things at law school that there is a world out there with people who have needs, and that you as a law student — soon to be lawyer — can actually address those needs.”