SIU first Illinois law school to create pro bono requirement
October 25, 2013
From its inception 40 years ago, SIU School of Law has acted on its commitment to serve the public good. That commitment has led to initiatives that have helped SIU earn recognition as a leader in the development of programs such as lawyering skills, professionalism, health law and policy, and the Self Help Legal Center – the first such program in the country to be housed at a law school.
Although a pro bono requirement for law students is not unique to SIU, it is unique among law schools in Illinois. Dean Cynthia Fountaine believes that SIU Law’s mission, the talents of its faculty, and the characteristics of its student body combine to make SIU the natural leader for this initiative in Illinois.
“Our students have repeatedly demonstrated that they are eager to jump into opportunities that allow them to exercise their new legal skills in real world settings. They bring with them their passion to make a meaningful impact - for individuals and organizations – and we provide the structure and help open the doors so that they can develop these passions into careers.”
The law school was recently recognized by preLaw magazine as a top law school for externships based on the percentage of students who participate in field placements.
Under the new rule, formally adopted by SIU’s faculty today as national Pro Bono Week comes to a close, students entering law school starting in fall, 2014, will be required to complete 35 hours of approved pro bono work prior to graduation. The work must be law related, uncompensated, supervised by an attorney, and not for academic credit.
3L Kerrianne Waters who serves as the volunteer coordinator for the law school’s Self Help Legal Center is excited about the initiative. "I believe that a pro bono initiative will allow students to gain essential skills through experience and practice. By requiring law students to be actively involved in a pro bono setting, students will learn vital advocacy skills outside the classroom, all while serving the community."
Assistant Dean Michael Ruiz, who will oversee the pro bono program, explains that students will be able to participate in pro bono opportunities that already exist, such as the Immigration Detention Project, the Illinois Innocence Project, and the Self Help Legal Center, but he also expects the number and type of opportunities to expand as students pursue their own areas of interest.