Pro Bono Service Program: Opportunities
The Earle Mack School of Law promotes and coordinates a variety of pro bono opportunities through a wide range of organizations. The pro bono opportunities offered to law students provide a hands-on learning experience outside of the classroom. The Pro Bono Service Program continues to develop new opportunities from which students can choose to fulfill the requirement.
Some of the following projects have unlimited availability for student participation, while others have caps on the number of students who can participate at a given time. Please contact Karen Pearlman Raab, Director for Pro Bono and Public Interest Programs, for more information about these projects.
Direct Legal Services
11th Street Center Estate Planning Clinic
Students will staff a monthly estate planning clinic at the 11th Street Family Health Services Center. Students will be trained in simple estate planning and will draft Powers of Attorneys, Advanced Medical Directives, and Wills for the patients at the 11th Street Center and other community members. The clinic will be held one Friday afternoon a month and students must commit to participate in this project for the entire academic year. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of the Fall semester.
Public Benefits Project
This pilot project will train a select group of students to work on public benefits matters with the Public Benefits and Welfare Unit at Community Legal Services. The Public Benefits and Welfare Unit at CLS works with clients to resolve legal problems that arise in many different government benefit programs run by the Social Security Administration, Department of Public Welfare, and the Department of Insurance. CLS assists clients in getting health insurance, food stamps, cash assistance, and other crucial benefits. In addition to representing individual clients, CLS advocates for policy changes that will improve the lives of low income Philadelphians. In the current economic climate, these safety net programs are more important than ever. Once trained, Drexel students will have the opportunity to work on a mix of individual cases and public policy issues. Students must commit to work in a 5-hour block of time one day per week for the entire semester to participate in this project. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of both the Fall and Spring semesters.
Landlord/Tenant Housing Project
This pilot project will train a select group of students to work on Landlord/Tenant matters with the Housing Unit at Community Legal Services. The Housing Unit represents low income tenants and their families who are at risk of losing their homes or are living in substandard housing. Many of these families have young children or are headed by senior citizens. Over the past year, CLS has seen a significant increase in clients seeking help in stopping an eviction or litigating against a landlord who will not do repairs or maintain utilities as required by law. Once trained, Drexel students will help handle intake and legal advice activities in the areas of evictions, unlawful lockouts and utility shut-offs by landlords aimed at evicting tenants, and disability accommodations, among other issues. Through this collaboration, students will obtain invaluable experience interviewing clients, researching issues, and analyzing and developing solutions to real problems. Students must be available to work either Monday (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.) or Wednesday (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.) in order to participate in this project. Students are asked to make a year commitment to this project with an understanding that schedules might change in the Spring Semester. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of the Fall Semester.
SeniorLAW Help Line
The Pennsylvania SeniorLAW HelpLine, a project of SeniorLAW Center, provides free and confidential legal counseling, information and referrals to older Pennsylvanians throughout diverse communities of the Commonwealth, including rural areas where there are few, if any, legal resources. The HelpLine handles a wide and interesting universe of civil legal issues, including real estate/housing, consumer protection, family law, estate and advance planning tools, public benefits, elder abuse, and neighbor disputes. After training, students will handle client intake activities – returning calls, collecting demographic information, and determining eligibility – and will elicit additional information to identify the legal issues. Students will partner with an attorney on providing direct services to senior clients by conducting research when necessary and writing client letters to reinforce the information or advice given by the attorney. Students also will have an opportunity to submit articles for SeniorLAW Center’s statewide quarterly electronic newsletter and to update “FAQs” on common legal issues for the website. As scheduling permits, students will also have the opportunity to accompany staff attorneys to Family, Landlord/Tenant, and/or Mortgage Foreclosure Court. The HelpLine Project Director will supervise all student work. Students must commit to work at least one half-day per week for the entire semester to participate in this project. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of both the Fall and Spring semesters.
Education Law Project
The Education Law Center is a statewide organization that advocates on behalf of families and students in the public education system. Our work includes both direct services (counseling, negotiation, representation) and policy and legislative advocacy projects. We seek one or more volunteers to work in our Philadelphia office, preferably five hours per week for at least one semester. Projects may include legal research and writing, analysis of pending legislation or regulations, and/or interviewing of clients; the exact mix of tasks will depend on the student’s schedule and interests and on ELC’s priorities. Recruiting will take place at the beginning of both the Fall and Spring semesters.
Municipal Court Project - Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center
The Philadelphia Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center, located in Philadelphia Municipal Court, is the City’s first court-based legal assistance project, providing free legal information, advice and limited representation to unrepresented, low-income individuals of all ages who are facing eviction and other legal rental housing problems in Philadelphia. Coordinated by SeniorLAW Center, the Help Center is a collaborative effort of legal services organizations, pro bono volunteers, and court leadership to address the enormous number of low-income tenants who navigate the legal system without an attorney or information about their rights or the legal process. The Landlord/Tenant Legal Help Center offers an opportunity for tenants to meet privately with an attorney to talk through their problems, learn about their rights and responsibilities and the legal process, obtain advice and guidance, and connect with financial, housing counseling, and other resources, as appropriate, to help strengthen their and their families’ lives. The Help Center is staffed by a Supervising Attorney, volunteer attorneys, and law students. It is currently open twice a week but is expected to expand both in terms of the number of hours of walk-in intake and with the additional of intake by telephone. Once trained, students will interview clients, and provide legal advice, education and/or referral. They will also prepare pro se documents and research legal issues. Students are asked to make a three hour commitment per week for the entire year. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of the Fall Semester.
Campaign for Working Families Tax Clinic
The Campaign for Working Families provides free tax service to low income people in Philadelphia. It seeks to improve the economic well being of low and moderate income individuals, families, and communities by building a movement to dramatically increase access to tax credits and benefits and asset-building opportunities. The Campaign for Working Families will hold training sessions on tax return preparation for student volunteers. Once trained, student volunteers will have their choice to volunteer at one of the 17 sites around the city where the tax clinics are hosted. The tax clinics are open for tax season, from mid-January to mid-April. All sites have evening and weekend hours to fit your individual schedules. Recruiting for this project will take place in late-November and again at the beginning of January.
Migrant Farm Workers Tax Clinic
The Low income Tax Clinic is organized by Philadelphia Legal Assistance and serves the local migrant farm worker population in Kennett Square, PA. Philadelphia Legal Assistance will hold training sessions on tax return preparation for student volunteers. Once trained, students can begin volunteering at the clinic. The clinics are held every Saturday in February and the first two Saturdays in April. Students do not have to attend all clinics, but are welcome to attend as many as they want, as there is a great need for volunteers. The clinics are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Breakfast and lunch are provided, and Philadelphia Legal Assistance tries to coordinate carpooling out to Kennett Square for the volunteers. Recruiting for this project will take place in late-November and again at the beginning of January.
Domestic Violence Projects
Family Court Project - Domestic Violence Unit
The Domestic Violence Unit of Family Court helps pro se litigants file for Protection from Abuse Orders. Students selecting this placement will have the opportunity to interview victims of domestic violence and prepare petitions under the Protection from Abuse Act (23 Pa.C.S. Section 6101, et seq.) for review by a Common Pleas Court judge. Orientation and procedural and computer training will be given on a one-on-one basis. Students will be given the opportunity to observe court proceedings arising under the PFA Act and will be introduced to the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and the Philadelphia County Court Rules ("Local Rules"). Most of the hearings are not lengthy, thus they provide students with practical illustrations of such legal concepts as: jurisdiction, venue, standing, a preponderance of the evidence, hearsay, and the statutory definition of the word, "abuse." Students are asked to work in four-hour blocks and must make a 25-hour commitment to participate in this project. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of each semester. Summer placements are also available for this project.
Domestic Violence Assistance Project
In response to the unavailability of lawyers to represent and court staff to assist victims of domestic violence who seek Protection From Abuse Orders (PFAs), student volunteers will provide information and referrals to help litigants better understand and successfully complete the protection from abuse judicial process. Students will meet with pro se litigants who have filed petitions for PFAs and provide them with information about service of process, preparing for the hearing, and how to address abuse after obtaining a PFA order. Students will also provide pro se litigants with information about available resources as well as informational brochures. Students must make a semester commitment to this project and agree to staff at least three sessions each month. Shifts at Family Court are either 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of both the Fall and Spring semesters. Summer placements are also available for this project.
Working with Youth
SOAR: Rapid Access to Public Benefits
The Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP) provides comprehensive legal assistance on a broad range of civil legal matters, including access to Social Security (SSI) benefits. Specifically, under a federal initiative entitled “SOAR” (SSI Outreach, Access and Recovery), HAP assists homeless individuals in gaining rapid access to SSI benefits. Once trained, students will conduct client interviews, obtain medical records, complete SSI application forms, write letters of support for clients in the SOAR Project, and participate in all other aspects of case development. Due to the expedited nature of the SOAR process, students will have the opportunity to work on cases from start to finish. The SOAR Project was recently expanded to address the needs of youth (18 – 21 years old) aging-out of the child welfare system and student cases will likely include this population. Students are asked to volunteer two to four hours a week for the entire year and can set their own schedules each semester. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of the Fall Semester.
Immigrant Youth Advocacy Project
Law students will work with Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Counsel (HIAS) attorneys in handling cases of unaccompanied minors. Students will engage in comprehensive case representation of minors with respect to immigration matters. Students work will include interviewing clients, conducting legal research, writing legal memoranda, interviewing witnesses, preparing affidavits, managing files, and, when practicable, attending court hearings. Students must commit to participate in this project for the entire academic year. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of the Fall semester.
Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project
The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project sends law students (known as “Fellows”) into inner-city public schools to teach high school students their rights and responsibilities under the Constitution. The Fellows go to the schools in two-person teams once a week for one-hour sessions during the entire academic year. The substantive classroom visits culminate in local and national Constitutional Moot Court Competitions in the winter and spring. In order to participate in this Project, law students will need to enroll in a two-credit, pass/fail course which will be offered in the fall semester. The class will give Fellows the tools to teach the substantive constitutional law and moot court skills to the high school students. Pro Bono credit will be given to the Marshall-Brennan Fellows for their work in the field teaching and coaching the students. Students must commit to participate in this project for the entire academic year.
Social Justice Projects
Pennsylvania Innocence Project
The Pennsylvania Innocence Project is an organization dedicated to exonerating persons imprisoned in Pennsylvania for crimes they did not commit and to eliminating the causes of wrongful convictions. Law student volunteers may work on either evaluating a case (referred to as a Stage 2 review) or a full analysis of a case (referred to as Stage 3). New students and those who are looking for a shorter assignment will be assigned to a case in Stage 2. The goal of a Stage 2 review is to determine whether the inmate has a plausible claim for innocence. This will involve reviewing a questionnaire submitted by the inmate and reading the appellate documents from the case. When the review is complete, each student fills out both a Questionnaire Review Form and a Completion Memo with a recommendation of either to close the case or pursue it further. Students who can commit to coming to the office for at least 2 hours a week for one semester can have the chance to work on a Stage 3 case. This involves an in-depth review and analysis of all of an inmate’s case documents (i.e. transcripts, discovery, briefs, etc.). Stage 3 review also focuses on whether the inmate is actually innocent, but also involves trying to determine whether evidence may exist to submit in court. If the students can finish the review within their time with the Project, they will prepare an extensive memo for the Board of Directors to review and can present the case for potential acceptance to the Board. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of both the Fall and Spring Semesters. Summer placements are also available for this project.
Prisoner Re-entry Project
The Prisoner Re-entry Project is an opportunity for law students from all the Delaware Valley law schools to assist with legal intake for former federal prisoners working to put their affairs back in order. This project exposes law students to a range of civil legal problems facing former long-term inmates, and enhances their interviewing skills. Law students will establish a law student-staffed intake system to clarify legal issues and ensure that participants are financially qualified for representation by lawyers volunteering through Volunteers for the Indigent Program (Philadelphia VIP). Students are required to attend a two part initial training, and, thereafter, students must be available to staff the intake clinic once a week. Clinic hours are on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the Federal Courthouse, where appropriate attire is expected. If schedules permit, students are encouraged to make a year commitment to this project. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of both the Fall and Spring Semesters.
Law Firm Pro Bono Practices
Student volunteers work with the Pro Bono Directors at Blank Rome and Ballard Spahr, two Philadelphia law firms that have strong Pro Bono Practice Groups. Student volunteers will assist with organizing and participating in legal clinics, writing newsletter articles about pro bono cases, and developing internal pro bono websites by researching pro bono resources and opportunities around the country. This is a unique opportunity for students who are interested in both direct legal services as well as administration of pro bono projects. Recruiting for this project will take place at the beginning of both the Fall and Spring Semesters.
Student Organization Run Projects
Irish Immigration Clinic – Brehon Society Project
Law students will work with a licensed immigration attorney to conduct intake interviews and help fill out immigration paperwork, including N-400s and I-95s. Students will have the opportunity to gain firsthand information about immigration law and the immigration process. The clinic is held on the third Wednesday of every month from 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center in Upper Darby, which is easily accessible via public transit. The clinic is open to all members of the Drexel Brehons, and all other students are welcome to join. Scheduling needs vary on a monthly basis, depending on how many appointments are scheduled. Students are not required to attend every clinic in order to volunteer. Scheduling is typically done one week before the clinic date, in order to properly accommodate the scheduled appointments. The Brehons will set the recruiting and training schedule for this project.
Escorting Project – LSRJ Project
Students are trained in relevant law and observe protesters outside of abortion clinics to help ensure women have safe and legal access to services under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Should a student escort perceive a potential violation of a woman's safe and lawful access to services, he or she will take a full report of the incident and file his or her notes with appropriate officials. The project is open to all members of LSRJ, and all other students are welcome to join. LSRJ will set the recruiting and training schedule for this project.
Judicial Bypass Intake - LSRJ Project
Some young women decide they cannot tell their parents about their pregnancy. A judicial bypass is an order from a judge that allows a minor to have an abortion without telling or receiving consent from her parent or legal guardian. Students assist young women seeking attorney representation at their judicial bypass hearing by conducting in depth intake interviews and filing out the Petitions to file with the Court. The project is open to all members of LSRJ, and all other students are welcome to join. LSRJ will set the recruiting and training schedule for this project.
Street Law Program – NLG Project
The goal of the street law project is to increase access and knowledge to the law for residents of Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. For this purpose, NLG has created a “Stop and Frisk” manual. Students will travel to community centers, libraries, and schools to not only explain the “Stop and Frisk” manual but to present the information in a way which will help individuals to think about how they would respond if they were stopped and frisked in the future. The training for the Street Law Project will consist of explaining the law contained within the “Stop and Frisk” manual (no prior knowledge of this law is needed) and how to present the information to different audiences. Street Law (actually going into the community) will most likely take place in the evenings and on the weekends. Groups of three to four individuals will present the information in community centers, libraries and schools throughout the Philadelphia region during the summer and throughout the school year. The project is open to all members of NLG, and all other students are welcome to join. NLG will set the recruiting and training schedule for this project.
Legal Observer Program – NLG Project
Students will be trained as Legal Observers to observe and record incidents and the activities of law enforcement in relation to the demonstrators. This includes documenting, for example, any arrest, use of force, intimidating display of force, denial of access to public spaces like parks and sidewalks, and any other behavior on the part of law enforcement that appears to restrict demonstrators’ ability to express their political views. Trainings are roughly held each semester and students sign up to observe as dates of protests and rallies are made public. The project is open to all members of NLG, and all other students are welcome to join. NLG will set the recruiting and training schedule for this project.
Disclaimer for Those Seeking Legal Advice
The Earle Mack School of Law Pro Bono Service Program cannot offer direct legal help to the general public. Earle Mack School of Law students may only work under the guidance of a licensed attorney at an approved program placement or organization. If you are seeking assistance with a legal problem, please refer to the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Online Referral Service or the Directory of Public Interest Legal Organizations.