The word "Pro Bono" in wooden block letters.

For the Public Good: Pro Bono Work at UB Law

Published November 19, 2021

You’ve likely heard the phrase “working pro bono” before. It’s not only a common phrase, but the notion of pro bono work is deeply imbedded within the roots of the legal profession. Like the rest of the legal community, pro bono work is a crucial part of the University at Buffalo School of Law, so much so that we host a pro bono week with a series of events, in addition to our Pro Bono Scholars program.

In this post, we take a look at the pro bono work done by UB Law and its students, discuss the Pro Bono Scholars program and highlight the importance of pro bono work for every legal career.

"Pro bono publico"

Oftentimes thought of as doing work for free, pro bono work is much more than providing legal counsel without payment. Literally, the phrase comes from the Latin “pro bono publico” and translates to “for the public good.” Not only is the work done without payment, but it is usually done voluntarily and for those who are unable to afford the services otherwise. Pro bono work dates back to the roots of legal counsel and providing justice for those who might not be able to advocate for themselves. UB aims to carry on this tradition in a couple of meaningful ways.

Promoting Pro Bono Week at UB

UB Law’s Pro Bono Week, October 24-30, provided the opportunity for the school to highlight and promote pro bono work. The theme for 2021 was "Moving Forward in a Post-Pandemic World.” UB School of Law celebrated pro bono week with a series of events, the two main being:

  • "Tabling" in the lobby of the School of Law where Legal Services and other agencies introduced themselves to law students to discuss their firms and pro bono work opportunities.
  • The New York State Public Defender Job Fair which UB School of Law hosts annually. This event provides students in need of Pro Bono work and experience access to local firms.

The Importance of Pro Bono Work

Besides improving one’s skills through unique experiences, pro bono work is also invigorating and challenging. Taking on pro bono matters gives young litigators the opportunity to do some good in the world, while preparing them for the American Bar Associations Bar Exam. In fact, in New York State, having well-informed pro bono experiences is a requirement to take the bar exam. The ABA recognizes the importance of this endeavor by requiring 50 hours of documented Pro Bono work in order to sit for the New York State Bar Exam. Many believe it is a duty as a member of the legal profession to help those in need, and to be ethically well by meeting those obligations.

UB’s School of Law has a long tradition of providing pro bono services to the Western New York Community and beyond. Our Clinics, Externships and Pro Bono Scholars Program help students meet the state’s mandatory requirement while connecting them with amazing individuals in their field of interest.

The Pro Bono Scholars Program

New York is unique in that it’s the only state that has a special program enabling law students to take the bar exam before they graduate. UB’s Pro Bono Scholars Program is a program of the New York State Court System, providing students with an opportunity to jumpstart their legal careers while working in a pro bono placement. 

Law schools select scholars through an application process, and these applicants are then approved by the Court. After approval, students take the February bar exam during their 3L year prior to graduation. Following the bar exam, they spend twelve weeks working full time in a legal services agency while they simultaneously take a course for their final semester.

This competitive program has seen Pro Bono Scholars serve in the following placements:

  • Center for Elder Law and Justice
  • Empire Justice
  • Journey’s End Refugee Services, Inc.
  • Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc.
  • Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc.
  • Legal Aid of Rochester
  • The Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer’s Project
  • Volunteer Legal Services Project (Rochester)

Pro Bono work should not be thought of as a requirement to get ahead, but as an obligation to the members of your community. It helps strengthen the bonds between you and your legal peers by recognizing that the justice system should work for everyone, especially those unfortunate or powerless to help themselves.

If you are interested in learning more about the Pro Bono Scholars Program, please contact Vice Dean Melinda Saran.

Additional Resources

Photo of Rachael Herbst.

Rachael Herbst is the Admissions Coordinator at the University at Buffalo School of Law.


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