The Pro Bono Scholars Program was developed by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to allow students in their final year of law school to devote their last semester of study to performing pro bono service for the poor. 3Ls are granted early access to take the New York State bar exam before graduation and participate in 12 weeks of direct legal services for nonprofit organizations.
UC Hastings 3L Paul Jones was one of the few, if not only, students to participate in this prestigious program from a west coast law school this year. “I heard about the Pro Bono Scholars Program last summer when I interned at the Public Defender Service in Washington D.C. I wanted to be admitted to the bar of California, New York, and Florida,” states Paul. “This program gives me a jumpstart on practicing in New York while also serving the public interest.”
Paul’s drive to serve the public interest began at a young age while growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida. “My grandfather’s construction firm often provided services to Habitat for Humanity and my mother started her own nonprofit [Midtown Celebrity Club] to help underprivileged children in the inner cities. She always says the two most important things in life are family and public service. I'm proud to have both in my life.”
Paul chose to attend UC Hastings as an opportunity to live in San Francisco and study to become a prosecutor. However, during his studies his ambitions began to shift. “The more I learned, it seemed that some defendants were given a bad deal and people are being imprisoned disproportionately because of their race or sex. I didn’t want to be a part of that system and started to lean towards impact litigation and direct client services.”
Now, as part of the Pro Bono Scholars Program, Paul is working at Brooklyn Legal Services in the LGBTQ and HIV advocacy units. “I primarily work on housing, public benefit, and immigration issues. There is a need for pro bono housing work because New York City Mayor de Blasio is mandating universal access to legal representation for low-income tenants in housing court.”
There really is no typical day for Paul at Brooklyn Legal Services. His tasks vary from intensive research, to phone calls with clients and agencies, to even writing motions. “There is a lot of direct client contact and I have to speak with clients often to give updates on cases or request documents,” reflects Paul. “Most clients just want people to listen to them. Sometimes it’s about just making a client feel comfortable even if we can't help them.”
The program also has a classroom component where Paul and his professor connect via Skype once a week to go over reading assignments, which is a reminder to Paul that he’s technically not finished with law school yet. “It's not like school ended for me in December. It's still going on and I have to maintain my duties as editor in chief of the Communications and Entertainment Law Journal and vice president of OutLaw.”
Despite the hard work, including taking the New York State bar exam in February, Paul definitely recommends the Pro Bono Scholars Program for students thinking about practicing in New York City after graduation. “Taking the exam was a little daunting, but I've done stuff this semester that I never did before. The Monday after the exam I was in Kings County Housing Court with the supervising attorney on a trial. It was like another world with three different floors of landlords, tenants, and their lawyers. People were loudly negotiating terms right there in the hallway. It’s just so different than anything I've experienced in other courts.”
Paul will be in San Francisco for this year’s commencement ceremonies, but must head back to Brooklyn after graduating to finish his final week of the program. Having just heard that he passed the New York State bar exam, the future is bright for this impressive student who has basically done it all in law school. “Let’s see. I've worked in public interest, participated in dispute resolution, experienced a small firm environment, and served with a governmental agency. Wow, I didn’t realize it, but I’ve done a lot of stuff!”
The Legal Externship Program allows students the opportunity to assume professional roles under the close supervision of practicing attorneys at approved governmental or nonprofit legal services organizations. Students articulate learning objectives that are substantive and skills based and also focus on professionalism. Thus students learn substantive law, lawyering skills, and professional responsibility in context but also learn to observe, analyze and critique their own abilities and the roles lawyers and institutions play in our legal system.
For more information on Legal Externships at UC Hastings, click here.
The Pro Bono Scholars Program represents a partnership among the Judiciary, the law schools and the profession with the goal of revitalizing legal education to adapt to society’s changing needs. This new option in legal education will simultaneously better assist students in preparing for the actual practice of law, impress upon them the value of public service at the start of their careers, and provide much-needed assistance to those of limited means in New York State.
For more information on the Pro Bono Scholars Program, click here.