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From our students: Life as a Pro Bono Scholar

Published June 8, 2017

Announced by then-Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in his 2014 State of the Judiciary address, the Pro Bono Scholars Program (PBSP) allows students in their final year of law school to devote their last semester of study to performing pro bono service for the poor through an approved externship program, law school clinic, legal services provider, law firm or corporation.

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 our state.

Below is an interview with Pro Bono Scholar Madison Ozzella '17.

What was the process to become a Pro Bono Scholar?

Towards the end of my second year, I sent in an application with my resume and transcripts for the Pro Bono Scholars Program. Shortly after, I had an interview with Dean Kim Connelly and Dean Melinda Saran. I found out I was accepted into the program around late May and I was confirmed by the court over the summer.

What was it like taking the bar exam during 3L year?

I spent my 3L fall semester taking classes like normal. However, right after finals I left my law clerk job and began studying for the bar. It was hard to stay focused through the holidays and when most of my friends weren’t studying as well. On a positive note, I spent two and a half months hanging out in sweat pants on my couch listening to bar review lectures. While it wasn’t the most enjoyable process, as long as you follow what the bar company tells you to and remember to take time for yourself, it's totally doable. At the end of February, I took the bar. It was stressful and difficult, but I don't think anyone leaves feeling like they passed. 

What kind of work did you do as a Pro Bono Scholar?

That next Monday I began my 520 hours with Neighborhood Legal Services of Buffalo in the Family Unit. Through the Pro Bono Scholar program, I was able to receive a practice order so I could practice in court under the supervision of an attorney. I used my practice order a considerable amount, including doing a cross examination during a trial. In addition to courtroom time, I have been meeting with clients, drafting pleadings, reviewing files, networking, and overall getting a better understanding of how a not for profit works. 

Every Wednesday night from 5:30 - 8:30pm all the Pro Bono Scholars met downtown for class with Dean Melinda Saran. The topics varied each week and we often had speakers (and snacks). The actual classwork included a few reflections, a presentation, some readings, and a short final paper. 

When did you hear back about your bar results?

On April 26, 2017, at 12:01 a.m. I received an email from the bar examiners telling me I passed the bar exam with a score high enough for admission into every UBE state. All five of the UB Pro Bono Scholars also passed the NY bar!

What was your overall experience as a Pro Bono Scholar?

The Pro Bono Scholars Program has given me great hands on experience. It has allowed me to meet numerous attorneys and judges and given me a jumpstart on my career. I will be an admitted attorney on June 19, 2017 which is over a month before the rest of my class even sits for the bar exam. This has allowed me to accept an associate position with a local firm and to begin my career as a lawyer at the end of May. Overall, I would highly recommend the program to anyone interested in taking the bar early and working for the benefit of low-income individuals in our community. 

Image of law student presenting about child support.
Photo of UB Law pro bono scholars of 2017.

Madison Ozzella '17 is the submissions editor for the Buffalo Public Interest Law Journal, the President of the Domestic Violence Task Force, and a Pro Bono Scholar.


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