Best Practices for Student-Led Pro Bono Legal Assistance Projects

Revised June 2016

To ensure UW law students are best prepared to fulfill the promise of equal justice, the UW School of Law has developed minimum best practices for law student-led pro bono projects or organizations. These best practices aim to set standards for high-quality legal assistance for underrepresented communities, minimize professional liability and malpractice, maximize professionalism and ethics as well as ensure a first-rate service-learning experience for law students.

Student organizations that wish to continue or begin to provide pro bono legal assistance including but not limited to intake, referral, pro se assistance, drop-in clinics, legal research and writing, community legal education workshops and/or a short term/adhoc service learning experiences, should aim to:

  • Have a written organizational mission statement
  • Have a written leadership and decision-making structure as well as a succession planning process
  • Conduct a community needs/services assessment by engaging law school and community stakeholders to help identify the problem(s), service gaps, and identify strategies for how to best to solve the problem(s)
  • Have a formal partnership with a community organization(s) and/or legal services organization(s) which includes some kind of memorandum of understanding (MOU) to reflect the partnership agreement
  • Have a UW Law faculty or staff advisor with subject matter expertise whom student leaders meet with at least on a quarterly basis to discuss issues such as operations, volunteer management, service provision, supervision, sustainability and project effectiveness
  • Ensure that all new law student volunteers (including pro bono project board members) attend UW Law School’s Annual Pro Bono Core Competencies Training
  • Together with faculty or staff advisor, ensure that all volunteers (attorneys, law students and interpreters) have adequate subject matter training and regularly evaluate training effectiveness
  • Have on-site or direct attorney supervision of student volunteers (can be a volunteer attorney)
  • Ensure that attorneys associated with the project are covered by malpractice insurance
  • Develop short term (quarterly) medium term (annual), longer term (bi-annual) goals
  • Develop and draft annual budget and fundraising plan
  • Determine location of funding sources and draft written procedures to access funding sources
  • Draft volunteer job descriptions/agreement for all volunteers including attorneys and student leader/project board or steering committee members
  • Designate a secure filing process for important and sensitive documents
  • Implement organizational annual evaluation process that includes internal and external stakeholders
  • Create organizational/volunteer manual (can be a working draft) that contains the above information
  • Ensure that at least two steering committee or project board members per active project participates in the law school’s leadership and management course for pro bono projects (B- 543 Pro Bono Advocacy- offered Fall and Winter)
  • Encourage all volunteers to practice self-care, attend trainings and seek support for Secondary Trauma and Compassion Fatigue
  • Meet with, discuss and share all of the all the above with the Center for Public Service Law staff at least at least twice a year to get leadership development support and help ensure continuity and institutional memory

Questions? Please contact Aline Carton-Listfjeld, Director, Center for Public Service Law at acarton@uw.edu.