Law Class Of 2023 Gave $104M In Pro Bono Legal Services

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Members of the law class of 2023 volunteered more than 3,289,714 hours in legal services as part of their education last year, giving a total of over $104.6 million worth of their time, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit Association of American Law Schools.

"The number of hours law students contribute to pro bono efforts is, again, nothing short of impressive, especially when you think about the value of those services if paid," Jim Greif, the association's director of communications, told Law360 Pulse on Friday. "Law students engaged in pro bono work help build critical connections between law schools and communities to address legal needs that would otherwise go unmet. Through these projects and clinics, students improve their legal research and writing abilities, refine their communication skills and gain experience in the client intake process."

Law students contributed hours to hundreds of efforts at clinics serving thousands of clients, including the Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law; the Environmental Law Clinic at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law; and the Animal Law Clinic at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

Besides law school clinics, students volunteered for externships at legal aid and community organizations and projects led by law student organizations.

"These experiences not only prepare students for their careers but also contribute to improving access to justice across the country," Melanie D. Wilson, association president and the Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, said in a statement accompanying the Thursday report. "I applaud the class of 2023 for their commitment to service."

About 16,559 students from 83 law schools averaged 198 hours each in volunteer time. Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, estimates the value of volunteer time to be $31.80 an hour.

In the same survey, 85 schools reported that 50,493 law students in all class years during the 2022-2023 academic year contributed 4,066,690.69 hours in legal services, an average of about 80.5 hours per student. Using the Independent Sector yardstick, the value of these services is estimated to be over $129.3 million, the association said.

The figures represent about 47% of the class of 2023 students in law schools accredited by the American Bar Association.

Many schools reported that some hours go unaccounted or are difficult to track, so actual contributions were likely higher. The project also did not include hours contributed by students in law school master's degree programs, the association said.

This was the sixth year the Association of American Law Schools conducted the survey, and 2023 was the second-highest year for pro bono student hours. The 2019 law class report had the highest pro bono numbers yet, showing that law students in that year contributed $111.5 million worth of their time at 4,384,871 hours. 

Greif said he believes that 2019 was another strong year based on a "Before the J.D." study that the group released in 2018. It found that undergraduates considering law school reported an interest in politics, government or public service as their top reason to attend.

"I can see a clear connection between that motivation and interest in pro bono projects or clinical courses," he said of the 2019 survey results.

The pro bono survey was paused in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

 The Washington-based association consists of 176 member and 18 fee-paid law schools. Its mission is to improve and advance legal education.

--Editing by Karin Roberts.

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