One of the New York State Bar’s requirements for admission is to complete 50 hours of pro bono work. Pro bono simply means offering legal services free of charge to those who cannot afford them. NYU Law does not have a mandatory requirement to complete pro bono hours, but the 50-hour rule effectively operates as a requirement of sorts for many, since students who need to qualify for the bar in New York need to complete the required number of hours.
NYU Law has a great network of pro bono programs for students to consider. From assisting people with bankruptcy to providing entrepreneurs and victims of housing discrimination with advice, there is something for everyone. Too often the debate centers on whether it is acceptable for lawyers as trained professionals to offer services for free. Given the high cost of law school, coupled with the money already spent on an undergraduate education, people sometimes question why these programs even exist. However, pro bono work is really legal work for the soul.
It’s also a very easy way for law students to interact with actual clients. People who need to understand what a contract looks like. People who need representation in tax court. People with real-world problems like bankruptcy involving financial information that helps students understand how to actually evaluate documents while giving legal advice. Sometimes the finances of the client are so meager that it makes you think how privileged you are to be sitting across the table in a position to offer solutions that could be potentially life-altering. These clients are often extremely glad to see the face of a lawyer who can help them with their situation. I will never forget the client who actually gave me the name of his medicine because he said it could cure my sniffles. Or the one who stopped me by the men’s room just to say how good he felt today and that he would go home feeling relaxed, knowing he was in good hands. It’s those little things that stay with you. Lawyers often get a bad rap for being sharks, but in the world of pro bono, that is not the case. Perhaps it is the most unadulterated form of legal services, free from the taint of high fees.
Pro bono work can also be very demanding, so students need to balance their time, especially around finals time. However, NYU Law partners with organizations, sometimes even those run by its own alumni, that allow students to utilize their spring break as a time to provide pro bono legal assistance. That way, students get to complete their hours when there are no classes to worry about, and the pro bono work gets done, too. The Law School’s active and thriving Public Interest Law Center is run by some wonderful people who are always ready to offer pro bono opportunities to students looking to gain some practical experience. Whether it’s the joy of giving a presentation to entrepreneurs or the humbling feeling of sitting across from a person living with HIV, NYU Law’s pro bono offerings bring personal satisfaction to an already solid education.