a group of our Pro Bono Scholars.

Left to right: Kerri M. Bejger ’19, Channa Gordon ’19, Vice Dean Melinda Saran ’86, Joseph J. Robinson and Katelyn M. Gindele.

Pro Bono Scholars hit the ground running

For UB School of Law’s newest group of Pro Bono Scholars, the future’s looking pretty bright.

Each of them provided 520 hours of pro bono service to vital institutions during the spring semester of their 3L year, qualifying them for New York State bar admission. All four jumped into their bar prep work starting in December, and all of them passed the bar exam in February. And each of them had their first job as a lawyer waiting for them as they walked across the Commencement stage.

The Pro Bono Scholars Program allows students in their final year of law school to devote their last semester of study to performing pro bono service through a legal services provider or law school clinic. It’s a lot of work, they say – but for the students in this, the fifth year of the program at the law school, it affords both the satisfaction of providing legal help where it’s sorely needed, and a head start on their post-law-school career. 

"We’re able to give [Pro Bono Scholars] more responsibility, more projects, and they can do direct client interaction. I expect more from a Pro Bono Scholar than from a student intern, and Katie was really invaluable.” - Sarah Duval ’12, Elder Abuse Prevention Unit

“They have to have a really good work ethic,” says Melinda Saran ’86, vice dean for social justice initiatives, who oversees the program at the School of Law. “They have to commit to undertaking their bar review during the holiday season, and on into January and February. And after the bar exam, they go right into their public interest work. There’s no spring break.”

It also takes a real commitment to social justice legal work, Saran says: “They want to do it and they feel strongly about it. And it’s a chance for them to develop their skills, so when they enter practice, they’re ready. They’ve been working as full-time student attorneys for three months, and they’re ready to go.”

For many, they follow their passion into careers in public interest work. Of the 36 UB School of Law students who have chosen this path, all are currently employed in law or law-related jobs. Nine work in legal services offices that serve disadvantaged clients. Seven work as assistant district attorneys or in government offices. Four are judicial law clerks.

For Katelyn Gindele, one of this year’s Pro Bono Scholars, the experience confirmed her passion for working with people in need. She spent her spring semester at the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit of the Center for Elder Law and Justice, in Buffalo – where she had interned in the summer after her 1L year. Impressed by her work, the agency hired her as a staff attorney.

“I knew I wanted to do this kind of work,” says Gindele, who, as a Pro Bono Scholar, worked mostly with elderly clients who had fallen victim to scammers or had suffered financial abuse, typically by family members. She says older people are vulnerable because “a lot of times they’re lonely, and then someone calls them – these people are pros at manipulating people, and this generation of people grew up assuming that people are trustworthy. You think you can trust your children especially, but a lot of children have drug problems and people get wrapped up in these situations.”

The Pro Bono Scholars Program offers a couple of overlooked advantages, she says. For one, if she hadn’t passed the February bar exam, she’d get another shot in July, when most of her classmates will take it. For another, “once the bar was over, there was no more studying. After I worked all day, I could go home and relax – no more homework.”

For the agencies that employ these scholars, their work is a real boost. “We treat them almost like lawyers,” says Sarah Duval ’12, a supervising attorney in the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, which is a regular partner in the program. “They have more experience, especially since they’ve taken the bar, than a first-year or second-year student here for the summer. So we’re able to give them more responsibility, more projects, and they can do direct client interaction. I expect more from a Pro Bono Scholar than from a student intern, and Katie was really invaluable.”

In addition to Gindele, the following students were Pro Bono Scholars in 2019:

Kerri Bejger served Journey’s End Refugee Services at its satellite office at Vive Shelter of Jericho Road Community Health Center. Supervised by Irene Rekhviashvili ’13, a Journey’s End staff attorney, she worked with refugee claimants seeking asylum, primarily in Canada. This fall, Beiger will begin a judicial clerkship at the Batavia Immigration Court, Executive Office for Immigration Review, as part of the U.S. Department of Justice Honors Program.

Channa Gordon worked in the Immigration Unit of the Erie County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, with supervising attorney Emma Buckthal ’10. Gordon worked on issues of victims of domestic violence in immigration proceedings and sex trafficking issues in Buffalo City Court. She has been hired as an immigration staff attorney at VLP’s Batavia office.

Joseph Robinson served in the Criminal Defense Unit of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, interviewing individuals charged with crimes in the Erie County Holding Center and handling arraignments in Buffalo City Court. His new job is with the Genesee County District Attorney’s Office.