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CLINICS: A Path to Pro Bono

To explore the connection between clinical work in law school and an orientation toward pro bono work after law school, the New England Law Clinical Office analyzed data over a two-year period (1994-1996). In end-of-semester evaluations, we asked students, among many other questions, whether their clinical course made them more likely to do pro bono work after they graduate, less likely, or had no effect. The results showed tremendous variation among clinics, based at times on subject matter, but primarily based on the setting. For example, the Lawyering Process, where all students work with indigent clients, yields a very different response from the Tax Clinic. Other clinics, like Health and Hospital Law, have mixed settings: some government, some private, some in legal services.

The most striking comparison becomes not the variation from clinic to clinic, but from setting to setting. When the responses are divided into 1) government, 2) private and 3) legal services (civil and criminal), the comparative results are dramatic: 31% of the students in government settings, and also 31% of the students in private setting say the experience made students "more likely" to do pro bono work, while 73% of students in legal services setting answered that the work made them more likely to perform pro bono work. Paralleling similar studies of attorneys performing pro bono work, students explained their answers by referring to the gaining of skills, contact with clients, realization of unmet legal needs, and gratification from providing the help. Clinic students often submit journal entries that are consistent with these findings.

For more information on this study, contact New England Law's Clinical Director, Professor Russell Engler, at rengler@nesl.edu.