The Pro Bono Scholars Program (PBSP) is an innovative program, created by the New York State Court of Appeals, in which New York Law School participates. It’s a chance to serve clients in great need, while also moving your own legal career forward. Begun in the 2014-15 school year, it is now an ongoing part of our curriculum.
If you join this Program, you will complete your first five semesters of law school as usual, but your sixth semester will be very different. PBSP students spend January and February of their third year of law school on studying for, and taking, the February administration of the New York State bar exam. Then, for the next twelve weeks, Program students work full-time, pro bono, at a public interest law placement. You will earn 11 placement credits, graded pass-fail, for this work. At the same time, you’ll take a 3-credit, graded seminar meant to help you prepare for, and learn from, the experiences you are having at the placement.
Finally, if you have passed the February bar exam, you’ll be eligible for expedited admission to the bar. This year (2015), PBSP students have been getting sworn in in June, a month after graduation – six months or more before their classmates who are taking the bar in July after graduation.
Early admission to the bar is an important benefit, financially and otherwise. But the Pro Bono Scholars Program isn’t just a way to trade your pro bono work for an early start on your legal career. In fact, the 12 weeks you will spend at your placement are themselves an early start on your legal career. You’ll work with clients who urgently need legal help and cannot afford it, and alongside dedicated lawyers who seek every day to help close the drastic “access to justice” gap in the American legal system. You’ll be developing friendships and connections that may help your future job searches. You may even find that your experiences profoundly affect your own choices about what kind of legal work you want to do in the future.
There are many possible pro bono placements, but a list of the ten NYLS students’ placements from the 2014-15 program will give you a sense of the possibilities:
City Bar Justice Center
The Door Legal Services Center
The Legal Aid Society – Criminal Defense Practice, Special Litigation Unit
The Legal Aid Society – Health Law Unit (2 students were placed here)
The Legal Aid Society – Juvenile Rights Practice, Special Litigation and Law Reform Unit
Legal Services NYC – Brooklyn Foreclosure Unit
Legal Services NYC – Brooklyn Housing Unit
Legal Services NYC – Equal Rights Initiative
MFY Legal Services Mental Health Project
This Program is only open to day students, because it requires your full-time commitment, first to bar study and then to the pro bono placement, for five months. It’s also only open to students whose academic record indicates that they can successfully pass the bar exam without taking regular classes in their sixth semester. But students who are ready should not feel that a sixth semester of regular classes is essential to bar passage; in fact, the statewide pass rate for PBSP students in the first year of the program was 85 % — and NYLS’ rate was 90 %.
The Pro Bono Scholars Program is a special opportunity. As one of the 2014-15 students, Catherine Barreda, wrote, “The program was amazing – my favorite part of school to date!”
For more information on the Program, please click here to view the official guide from the New York Court of Appeals.
And for a more personal sense of the Program, please take a look at this video, in which students from the Program (including two from NYLS, Judith Leibowitz and Khushbu Patel) talk about what the Program has meant to them.