We are pleased to highlight the Equal Justice Works campaign for increased law student pro bono participation. A brief summary of the campaign and how you can support it is below and is followed by an interview with Tyler Levsen, a law student and advocate for law student pro bono service.
This month, law students are speaking up about pro bono through the Law Students for Pro Bono initiative. Equal Justice Works is supporting the hundreds of law students and graduates who are asking the ABA to adopt an aspirational goal of law students completing 50 hours of pro bono work. Comments are due to the ABA this Friday, January 31. Join the growing list of supporters by signing the online petition today, and get your classmates and colleagues to sign too.
Pro bono projects are great opportunities to gain hands-on experience while doing what so many come to law school to do: make a difference and serve the underserved. See what Equal Justice Works Executive Director David Stern has to say about the Law Students for Pro Bono campaign in this special video message.
Tyler Levsen is a Law Students for Pro Bono advocate and leader at the University of Missouri School of Law. Tyler has been an active pro bono participant, volunteering at several organizations in a wide variety of capacities.* Here’s why he thinks pro bono makes a difference:
Jake Hertz: What inspired you to do pro bono?
Tyler Levsen: As a sociology major during my undergraduate education, I learned a lot about inequality. The degree to which injustice is systemic and even intentional greatly frustrated me. I saw opportunity and purpose in assisting good people who had been discounted by others based on shallow, at times malicious, evaluations. Whether it’s due to socioeconomic status or educational attainment, a substantial number of people are taken advantage of and are not provided for according to the common dignity we all share. When I chose to attend law school, I knew I wanted to provide for those without financial means, bridging their world and the legal world, in the legal system. I am determined to provide effective legal services to those who are overwhelmed by innumerable challenges, regardless of their ability to pay, so that they may have some resolution in their lives.
JH: What skills has your pro bono service helped develop and how has it been personally rewarding?
TL: Pro bono service has taught me to be mindful in giving advice. At the same time, it assured me of my advocacy abilities. It is harmful when I preemptively jump at an answer on behalf of a client, but once I have properly considered the issue, I need to believe in my assessment and approach. Because pro bono work quickly exposed me to actual case work, the importance of my research and writing spurred me to become more capable in these areas. I am fairly patient and enjoy interacting with clients, so I would often listen to them share about their lives at length. Through these exchanges, I have improved in distinguishing information and guiding clients so I can determine what is important to their case more efficiently while still being attentive and respectful. Ultimately pro bono service has been personally rewarding in shaping my career, but more so because I have been able to provide assistance to low income clients. I have made a difference.
JH: How has your pro bono service added to your law school experience?
TL: From high school to college to law school, I have proceeded through my academic education as a continuous student without any sizeable break. While I appreciate learning in a class room setting, I found law school encouraged me to do more during these years and after graduation. I am ready to employ my knowledge, and law school has been the access point through which I have been able to accomplish this by serving pro bono. In this way, pro bono work has substantially shaped my path through law school, giving it meaning beyond grades and rankings. I have developed a finer sense of justice, helping real clients outside of casebooks. I am more aware of my strengths and weaknesses as an attorney, beyond taking a classroom test. Through assisting low income individuals, I demonstrate what I have learned in class, proving to myself that I am indeed refining my skills, which bolsters my confidence and determination. Pro bono service has been the heart of my law school experience.
JH: Why do you think the 50 hour goal is important and how do you hope it will help increase access to justice?
TL: The 50 hour goal is important because law students are eager for professional, practical experience, but have not been properly exposed to the benefits of pro bono work and public interest areas of law. I believe these opportunities for personal development and impactful service have been substantially under promoted to law students for a long time. I sense that legal education and career services are undergoing a shift, though the traditional and popular path from law school to a big firm still holds sway over the aspirations of many law students. If the ABA encourages law students to participate in pro bono, many indigent clients will be aided not just from the work of present-day law students. As attorneys, students who have awareness and involvement will be more likely to seek out employment that prioritizes continuing their service. No matter whether one is an attorney at the smallest non-profit legal aid office or the largest corporate law firm, pro bono can be and should be a part of their case load so that everyone may be represented, ensuring that justice will become more accessible to all. This need must be given the attention it deserves and the proposed 50 hour goal would help that to be accomplished.
*Tyler’s pro bono service includes:
- Legal Aid of Western Missouri, Rule 13 Certified Extern, Kansas City, MO (Jun. 2013 – Aug. 2013) Advised and interviewed indigent families with children in need of Medicaid coverage. Drafted research memos and letters to clients, health care providers, and insurance companies. Conducted community outreach.
- Mid-Missouri Legal Services, Rule 13 Certified Extern, Columbia, MO (May 2012 – Aug. 2012) Represented indigent clients in civil disputes with landlords. Interviewed and counseled clients. Drafted legal memos, motions, and other legal documents.
- Heart of Missouri CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocate Volunteer, Columbia, MO (Sept. 2011 – Present) Advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court through investigation, evaluation, and monitoring of the case until a permanent placement is achieved.
- Mid-Missouri Legal Services, Rule 13 Certified Volunteer, Columbia, MO (Jul. 2012 – Present) Assist clients in uncontested divorces and obtaining power of attorney.
- Memphis Area Legal Services, Rule 13 Certified Volunteer, Memphis, TN (Mar. 25-26, 2013) Worked to draft simple wills and complete power of attorney forms. Advised clients at a clinic for veterans.
- South Eastern Louisiana Legal Services, Volunteer, New Orleans, LA (Winter Break, 2010 & 2011) Interviewed clients. Monitored hearings. Drafted memos on landlord/tenant law and social security issues in regard to homeless clients.
- University of Missouri School of Law, Mediation Clinic, Columbia, MO (Jan. 2012 – May 2012) Organized mediation between two parties. Observed mediation in civil rights cases.
Read more testimonials from students, and share your own story, at lawstudentsforprobono.org.