Pro Bono: Cultivating a Culture of Service
Founded in 1995, the Eric R. Neisser Pro Bono Program strives to inculcate an ethic of service in all law students. Through the program, students have the opportunity to engage in pro bono work to increase access to justice, build their lawyering skills, and develop a lifelong commitment to public interest. The Program supports this vision through collaborating with student, faculty and attorneys to create meaningful and structured pro bono opportunities for Rutgers law students. In an era of decreasing resources and increasing community needs, the Program is playing a crucial role in creating innovative pro bono partnerships and in bridging the gap between legal needs and resources. The program cultivates and maintains partnerships with a vast array of public interest organizations and lawyers through which our students can fulfill their pro bono obligation. In addition, the program has developed a variety of "in-house" pro bono projects, through which we provide trainings and ongoing sort to select community partners. A sampling of our "approved partners," and "in-house projects," are included below.
AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION
Practice Areas: Civil Rights & Liberties/Racial Justice Issues, Constitutional Law/First Amendment, Criminal Law/Death Penalty, Gender/Sexuality, Immigration, Juvenile Issues, Legislative/Policy Issues, LGBTQ, Litigation, Non-Profit, Prisoner Rights, Reproductive Rights, Women
AMERICAN FRIENDS SERVICE COMMITTEE
Practice Areas: Health Law/HIV-AIDS Issues, Immigration
ADVOCATES FOR CHILDREN OF NEW JERSEY
Practice Areas: Children’s Rights, Family Law
ACNJ is the state’s foremost child advocacy agency, assertively advancing policies that help children and families. The association’s advocacy has grown since its inception. While protecting abused children is a priority, ACNJ, over the years, has played a role in improving nearly every aspect of children’s health, safety and education.
CENTER FOR COLLABORATIVE CHANGE
Practice Areas: Children’s Rights, Civil Rights & Liberties/Racial Justice Issues, Community Economic Development, Consumer Protection/Debt/Bankruptcy, Employment/Labor, Environmental, Government/Regulatory Affairs, Health Law/HIV-AIDS Issues, Homelessness/Housing/Landlord-Tenant, Judicial/Judiciary, Legislative/Policy Issues, Municipal Law, Non-Profit, Nonprofit Management/Administration, Political Activity/Election Law, Public Benefits/Social Security, Real Estate/Land Use
The Center is committed to restoring trust between Newark’s decision-makers and residents, realigning them to be on the same team, and using the knowledge and resources of that alliance to establish a critical mass of reforms that will bring Newark to a tipping point where a positive cycle of health, abundance and opportunity can achieve momentum.
The Center is conducting a citywide community needs assessment which began in June 2009. Throughout the course of the academic year and over the summer, the Center will continue and deepen this needs assessment employing a variety of tools and techniques including community forums, focus groups, interviews with City officials, surveys, and community mapping. On the basis of our preliminary results, will also assume a slate of projects to develop policy and program solutions to pressing problems through our research, implementation, and evaluation processes.
Practice Areas: Children’s Rights, Homelessness/Housing/Landlord-Tenant
EASTERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER
Practice Areas: Administrative Law, Environmental, Government/Regulatory Affairs, Legislative/Policy Issues, Litigation, Non-Profit
EDUCATION LAW CENTER
Practice Areas: Civil Rights & Liberties/Racial Justice Issues, Education, Legislative/Policy Issues, Litigation
In addition to working extensively in NJ and NY, ELC also provides support for legal and policy advocacy in other states and has been invaluable in advancing the urgent need for school funding equity across the nation.
Through its Education Justice national program, ELC facilitates the only national network of attorneys and advocates working on school finance and other equity-related litigation through its website, message board and annual Litigators’ Workshop.
INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE PROJECT
Practice Areas: Academic, Civil Rights & Liberties/Racial Justice Issues, International Law/Human Rights, Legislative/Policy Issues, Women
Our activities center on supporting and assisting the representation of victims in the Darfur Situation before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The formal inclusion of victims in the trial proceedings at the ICC gives, for the first time, victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, the opportunity to actively participate in an international criminal trial. International Justice Project founders, Wanda M. Akin and Raymond M. Brown, represent the first victims recognized in the Darfur situation before the ICC, including four victims recognized to participate in the case against Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir, President of the Republic of Sudan. This achievement is the result of hundreds of interviews conducted by Akin, Brown, and the IJP staff, with Darfuris located in Europe, East Africa, and United States.
In addition to this main task, the International Justice Project is also involved in research and advocacy for the development of mechanisms to address the health and welfare of victims of atrocities. In this capacity, we have launched a new venture with the support of the Marilyn S. Broad Foundation in the fall of 2011, titled the Darfur Community Health and Reparations Project (HARP). The HARP-project will assess and document specific pressing medical and mental health needs in the Darfuri community. Specifically, it will conduct an audit to produce data on the specific types of harm from which the Darfuri refugee community is suffering as a result of the destruction of Darfur and the Diaspora of the Darfuri population around the world. Using this information, the HARP project hopes to galvanize public and private resources to provide assistance for Darfuri refugees in the U.S. and abroad, and to provide data for ongoing discussions on restorative justice mechanisms.
Finally, the IJP engages with decision-makers, academia and other members of civil society by giving lectures and talks and through participation in public discussions.
NEW JERSEY CITIZEN ACTION
Practice Areas: Civil Rights & Liberties/Racial Justice Issues, Consumer Protection/Debt/Bankruptcy, Employment/Labor, Family Law, Health Law/HIV-AIDS Issues
VOLUNTEER LAWYERS FOR JUSTICE
Practice Areas: Children’s Rights, Consumer Protection/Debt/Bankruptcy, Education, Family Law, Homelessness/Housing/Landlord-Tenant, Municipal Law
In recent years, the program, has designed and implemented a variety of in-house projects through which we have leveraged the talents of pro bono attorneys, law students, and other community partners, to create innovative partnerships through which the program addresses vital unmet legal needs in the community. The program plays a more active role in our "in-house projects," through developing and hostings trainings for both students and community partners; recruiting student and attorney volunteers; and insuring the ustainability of projects.
TESTIMONIALS ABOUT OUR IN-HOUSE PROJECTS:
The VLJ Pro Se Divorce Project provides invaluable legal assistance to low-income Newark residents, serving to empower them and help them gain greater access to legal recourse. Students volunteers are fundamental to the program providing assistance in English, Spanish, and Portuguese while gaining hands-on experience with divorce pleadings and the satisfaction of knowing we are helping each client achieve their objective.
These Honorable Morris Stern Bankruptcy Assistance Project provides free comprehensive training for students and the opportunity to actually draft a bankruptcy petition under the guidance of a practicing attorney; the clients receive often-badly-needed relief that they probably would not be able to afford otherwise, and the attorneys get the perks of genuine altruism -- they provide both the professional help needed by the clients as well as mentorship to students who sometimes lack significant real-world experience to supplement their academic instruction.
“The VLJ Child Support Project is a wonderful resource for Newark residents. It's also been great as a student to gain hands-on experience while developing practical skills”
These Projects provide invaluable legal assistance to low-income Newark residents, serving to empower them and help them gain greater access to legal recourse. Students volunteers are fundamental to the program providing assistance in English, Spanish, and Portuguese while gaining hands-on experience with divorce pleadings and the satisfaction of knowing we are helping each client achieve their objective.
The Program provides free comprehensive training for students and the opportunity to actually draft a bankruptcy petition under the guidance of a practicing attorney; the clients receive often-badly-needed relief that they probably would not be able to afford otherwise, and the attorneys get the perks of genuine altruism -- they provide both the professional help needed by the clients as well as mentorship to students who sometimes lack significant real-world experience to supplement their academic instruction."Help needed by the clients as well as mentorship to students who sometimes lack significant real-world experience to supplement their academic instruction.
These projects give students’ access to these organizations we can develop sustainable partnerships that promote the visibility of our students in the national community.
- Honorable Morris Stern Bankruptcy Assistance Project
- International Refugee Assistance Project
- Language Access Project
- LGBTQ Legal Education and Outreach Project
- Legal Outreach Project
- National Lawyers Guild
- Sanctuary for Families
- New York's 50 Hour Requirement
The Honorable Morris Stern Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project (BPBP) at Rutgers Law School seeks to further two important goals: providing pro bono bankruptcy assistance to an underserved population and mentoring second- and third-year law students in the actual practice of law. The BPBP, launched in fall 2013, was created to insure adequate representation to indigent and other pro se bankruptcy filers. It brings together various segments of the community, including legal services, local bar associations, and law students. The Project provides an important community service, while also promoting the importance of pro bono work to current law students. This project gives students the rare opportunity to handle a case from start to finish.
The NJ Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) - the first NJ based IRAP program -- provides legal representation to Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as to refugees of other nationalities. Rutgers IRAP's Student Advocacy program matches teams of 2-3 law students with supervising attorneys at Duane Morris who have volunteered to work pro bono. Together, the student advocates and supervising attorneys take on the case of a refugee or refugee family seeking resettlement in the United States. Most refugees or refugee families are Iraqi and are currently located in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq. Some refugees are applying for resettlement for the first time and others are appealing their rejection. Students -- with the support of the supervising attorneys, IRAP Case Managers, and regular training sessions -- handle the case from start to finish. As a result, IRAP provides students a unique opportunity to gain real legal and client experience within a supportive framework. Typical work includes: preparing client interview questions and interviewing clients; submitting a Freedom of Information Act request; drafting affidavits; crafting case strategy; gathering supporting evidence; conducting legal research.
The Language Access Pro Bono Project program strives to enhance the ability of NJ's public interest organizations to provide high-quality legal services to poor and near-poor clients in one the most diverse metropolitans cities in the world. Volunteers skilled in translation and interpretation will work closely with select organizations to interpret during client interviews, meetings, and court documents. This is an excellent opportunity for bi-lingual students to learn about civil proceedings and to receive hands-on experience working with clients and in collaboration with experienced attorneys and legal staff.
In collaboration with the LGBT Bar Foundation of NYC, NJ Community Research Initiative, the Rutgers University Office of Diversity Affairs, the Center for Gender and Sexuality and Law and Policy, the LGBTQ the project provides community education and intakes for the LGBTQ community. With seed grant funding, the project has developed model training materials for participating pro bono attorneys and student volunteers; a centralized portal including information for participating attorneys and student interns; and an extensive NJ statewide referral guide.
Through a partnership with the NYC based Legal Outreach, Rutgers law students teach a law-related curriculum to Newark public high school students. year-long constitutional law debate program is a key part of Legal Outreach’s effort to inspire and prepare young people to go to college.
The NLG Training prepares students to serve as legal observers to support protects. Since 1968, NLG’s legal observation program has played a vital role in promoting the First Amendment Right to protest. Legal observers, note and visually record incidents such as arrests, uses or immediate displays of force, denial of access to public spaces like parks and sidewalks, and any other behavior by law enforcement officials that appears to restrict demonstrators’ ability to express their political views.Information gathered by Legal Observers has contributed to the NLG's long and extremely successful track record in defending and advancing the rights of demonstrators, including in criminal trials and several major lawsuits against federal and local governments for violations of constitutional rights.
Students serve as advocates in Family Court for domestic violence victims. Under the supervision of Sanctuary for Families, students help victims draft and file petitions for Orders of Protection, educate them on their rights and safety precautions, and advocate for them during court appearances. \
NEW YORK STATE PRO BONO REQUIREMENT
What is the New York State Pro Bono Requirement?
All individuals who are admitted to the New York bar after January 1, 2015 must demonstrate that they have completed fifty hours of qualifying pro bono work. Since New York’s emerging guidelines are continually changing we urge you to utilize this information in conjunction with the resources by the State of New York. See: 520.16 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals; www.nycourts.gov/ctapps.
Who does the New York mandate apply to?
Every person who is seeking admission to the NYS bar on or after January 1, 2015 – except for applicants for admission without examination --will have to complete 50 hours of requisite pro bono service. This means that current students will have to meet this mandate requirement. Additionally, anyone who delays seeking admission, by delaying taking the bar exam, or by having to re-take the exam, will have to complete the mandate hours prior to being admitted if they would be admitted on or after January 1, 2015 as a result of the delay.
Please note that the pro bono mandate does not apply to attorneys who seek admission to the New York bar on motion pursuant to Rule 520.10 or those who are admitted pro hac vice pursuant to Rule 520.11.
When must my qualifying hours be completed?
To qualify, you must complete your pro bono work before your complete your application for admission to the appropriate Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court. In the First Department, your application may be filed after you have received your bar examination results and your certification of bar passage has been issued. In the Second, Third and Fourth Departments, your application may be filed after you have taken the bar examination, regardless whether your examination results have been announced.
Be advised that the application and any further materials required by the Appellate Division and its Committee on Character and Fitness must be filed within three years from the date that you are notified by the New York State Board of Law Examiners that you have passed the bar examination (see 22 NYCRR 520.12). The three-year period will not be extended if an applicant has delayed satisfying the Pro Bono Requirement. After three years your bar examination score will be deemed stale, and you must retake the bar examination.
What counts towards the pro bono requirement?
In general, qualifying pro bono work should be performed in the service of low-income or disadvantaged individuals who cannot afford counsel and whose unmet legal needs prevent their access to justice; involves the use of legal skills for an organization that qualifies as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code §501(c) (3); or involves the use of legal skills for the court system or federal, state or local government agencies or legislative bodies.
Please note that receiving a stipend or academic credit in connection with a law school sponsored internship or externship does not disqualify the work. Therefore, law school sponsored clinics that provide legal assistance to those who cannot afford representation count. In addition, internships and externships count if they meet the following conditions: they are with a not-for-profit provider of legal services for the poor and low-income individuals; law firm, only if the work is performed for a pro bono matter being handled by that firm and the pro bono client is not paying a fee; not-for-profit organization, only if the work is related to a legal matter for which no fee is being paid; judge or a court system; Legal Aid, a civil or criminal legal services organization that serves low-income clients, a Public Defender, a Conflict Defender, a U.S. Attorney, a District Attorney or a State Attorney General; or federal, state or local government agency or a legislative body.
What are the supervision requirements for my pro bono hours?
All pre-admission pro bono work must be performed under the supervision of a law school faculty, adjunct faculty, or instructor employed by the law school; an attorney admitted to practice, and in good standing in the jurisdiction where the work is performed; or, in the case of clerkships or externships in a court system, by a judge or attorney employed by the court system.
What are the reporting requirements?
You will have to submit a record of the dates, number of hours, and the nature of your service for each block of time to the Appellate Division department when you file for admission to the N.Y.S. bar. Therefore, you should keep track of your hours using this same formula.
How do you itemize your work?
Briefly describe the nature of your service when you submit your hours, and should keep your records current throughout our legal studies career to save you a lot of headaches when you are filing for admission to the NYS bar.
Who can verify my hours?
The attorney, judge, or faculty member who supervised your work must certify your service as part of your Affidavit of Compliance. Each separate position you completed pro bono service hours for will need its own Affidavit, and its own attorney certification. In other words, the attorney who certifies your field placement can only also certify your internship service if they were your supervisor for both, but you will still need a separate Affidavit for each position and attorney certification.
What will I need to provide when I submit my hours?
You will have to submit a record of your service, an attorney certification of your service, and an Affidavit of Compliance for each of the position you served in to complete your hours.
Where do I submit my records?
You will have to submit a record of your service, an attorney certification of your service, and an Affidavit of Compliance, with your admission packet to the appropriate Appellate Division department.
Where can I obtain the necessary forms to submit my pro bono hours for this mandate?
The Affidavit of Compliance is available at www.nycourts.gov/attorneys/probono/baradmissionreqs
The websites of the four Appellate Divisions: www.nycourts.gov/courts/appellatedivisions
If you have additional questions, the best way to communicate them is by email to ProBonoRule@nycourts.gov. Include your telephone contact information in the event that a personal conversation is necessary.
What is pro bono?
Law students are often unclear about the precise definition of pro bono and what it encompasses. The term comes from the Latin ―Pro Bono Publico, which means ―for the public good. The American Bar Association has described the parameters of pro bono for practicing lawyers in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Model Rule 6.1 states that lawyers should aspire to render – without fee—at least 50 hours per year of pro bono legal services, with an emphasis that these services be provided to people of limited means or nonprofit organizations that serve the poor. Model Rule 6.1 also allows for free or substantially reduced service on behalf of a variety of professional, governmental, educational, and civic organizations.
What are the governing rules and standards for pro bono?
Under American Bar Association Standard 302 (b) (2) law students must offer substantial opportunities for students participating in pro bono activities. Under the rule, law schools are not precluded from including credit-granting activities, but law school are requires to have law-related non-credit bearing initiatives as part of their program. In addition, the Preamble to the Standards mandates that law schools "must provide an educational program that ensures that its graduates…understand the law as a public profession calling for the performance of pro bono legal services."
What is the Rutgers pro bono program?
The Rutgers pro bono program provides unique opportunities for students to engage in law-related service under the supervision of a lawyer. Those students who perform 50 or more hours of service are recognized at graduation. The program works with select organizations and partners in developing structured service-learning opportunities.
How can my organization recruit students through the pro bono program?
Attorneys, faculty members, and others seeks students through the pro bono program, must complete an on-line application. In addition, all community partners must adhere to the guidelines set forth in the Pro Bono Community Partner Manual.
What is unique about the Rutgers pro bono program?
The Rutgers pro bono program has cultivated and sustained relationships with hundreds of public interest organizations and worked in collaboration with law school faculty, alumni, and the broader community in creating meaningful opportunities for our students. These innovative, collaborative projects enable Rutgers students to gain meaningful service-learning experience, while also providing invaluable support to the community.
Does the pro bono program partner with faculty and other Rutgers Newark programs?
Yes. The program works with faculty, centers, and in-house clinics, in developing a variety of service-learning projects. Among our current University partners include the Center for Gender Sexuality, and Law and Policy; Rutgers Associates; Constitutional Rights and International Human Rights Clinics.
How does the Rutgers pro bono program align with the Rutger Newark University strategic plan?
The Rutgers pro bono program is aligned with the university’s goals of promoting service-learning; integrating existing resources to create innovative collaborative programs; and to promote publicly engaged scholarship.
What are the benefits to participation in pro bono?
Pro bono work during law school assists law students in develops professionalism and an understanding of a lawyer's responsibility to the community. In general, our pro bono projects offer all participants an opportunity to service the community and increase the availability of legal services to needy populations. Both students and attorneys enhance their knowledge and marketability, gaining practical experience, developing skills, enhancing their reputations and exploring alternative career opportunities.
How is pro bono different than in-house clinics?
Our pro bono program provides students with limited scope opportunities to gain hands on legal experience. The focus of our pro bono program is on ensuring that students are sensitized to the needs of the poor and can gain meaningful experience. While we encourage students to gain service-learning experience, this experience is *not* a substitute for the rigorous and academic training students receive through our in-house clinical programs.
Pro Bono Handbook
Pro Bono Manual: (Excerpt)
The Rutgers Law School Pro Bono Program is a diverse and expanding program designed to help provide legal services to traditionally underserved populations locally and globally. In an era of decreasing resources and increasing community needs, the Program is playing a crucial role in creating innovative pro bono partnerships and in bridging the gap between legal needs and resources. Rutgers’ program will help you gain practical legal experience and use your skills and knowledge outside the classroom to serve real legal needs. This guide will familiarize you with the Pro Bono Program, including the eligibility requirements and sign-up procedures. It is important for you to understand the intricacies of and responsibilities related to providing pro bono legal service as a student; it is our hope that this guide will provide the basis of that understanding.
- Time Requirement
Rutgers Law School does not require pro bono legal service to graduate; however, we encourage each student to participate in 50 hours of pro bono service in the community during his or her three years at the law school. Students who perform 50 or more hours are recognized at Commencement and receive a notation on their transcript. Additionally, students who complete 75 hours or more will receive a special distinction at the pro bono ceremony and at the graduation ceremony at the end of their third year. Additional hours are encouraged and can be completed in one or more programs as well as over breaks during the academic year. We ask each student to sign a Pro Bono Placement Preference & Commitment Form, indicating that s/he will commit to his/her placement(s), barring extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances, for the academic year.
Program Requirement and Eligibility
Satisfactory performance of law-related pro bono work means that:
- The work is uncompensated;
- The work is provided through an eligible assignment;
- The work is performed under the supervision of an attorney, faculty member, or other approved supervisor.
The program coordinates a variety of structured pro bono placements through which students can fulfill their requirements. Our structured placements are strategic partnerships with organizations that are committed to the Rutgers pro bono program and offer strong training, ongoing supervision, and feedback to the program.
Students must follow the Placement Procedure as outlined below to ensure placement in the project that most fits their needs and interests. All students new to the Pro Bono Program shall complete the following steps.
- Complete a Pro Bono Placement Preference & Commitment Form for each program into which the student wishes to participate.
- Attend all mandatory trainings as described for the project or projects into which a student is placed. Training requirements are described in the Pro Bono Program Summary included in your Pro Bono Program Information Folder.
- To receive recognition, student must submit log and survey.
Professionalism and Ethics
Rutgers Law is committed to providing quality pro bono service to the community. As such, the Pro Bono Program expects students to perform all assignments in a professionally responsible manner and in accordance with the relevant rules of professional conduct. These rules require competence, diligence and promptness, and confidentiality. With respect, specifically, to the rules on competence and diligence, the Program asks students to pay particular attention to thoroughness, preparation, and the avoidance of procrastination, undue delay, over-emphasis on personal convenience, and prejudicial failure to carry a matter through to conclusion. Students should also bear in mind that the rule on confidentiality applies to the disclosure of information to anyone, even law school colleagues outside the purview of the specific project, faculty, or staff. Students will be provided greater instruction on ethics and professional responsibility during training in the fall semester.
We strongly encourage you to take a look at the entire Rules of Professional Conduct before you begin your placement. The following elaborates on certain aspects of professionalism and ethics that students should particularly take note of and adhere to in their Pro Bono placements.1
Professionalism involves the way you behave and conduct yourself with others in the profession. This includes other lawyers, office staff, court staff, judges, and clients.
Your placement is like an extended interview. While you may not be offered a position, you may continue to network with the people with whom you volunteered. They may be a great resource for job leads in the future. In addition, if you apply for admission to the New York State Bar, the Board of Law Examiners will contact your supervisor. This is true of many other state bars as well. Moreover, you may need a letter of recommendation from your supervisor or use him or her as a reference. You may even need them for a security clearance examination before you can begin particular government positions.
During your participation with the Pro Bono Program, please pay particular attention to issues concerning the preservation of client confidences. Pro Bono participants must protect client information and maintain confidentiality. The contents of client files and communications with clients are privileged material. You should discuss cases only with your supervising attorney and other appropriate staff in your organization. You should not discuss cases with other students, employers, family, or friends.
Everyone likes to tell work stories, but for lawyers and law students alike, this can be a serious matter when you divulge personal information about a client’s case. The Pro Bono Program considers student violations of confidentiality rules to be as serious as attorney violations. The Program reserves the right to report such violations to your school and to the appropriate Board of Law Examiners.
Sometimes, it is not clear what kind of circumstance might reveal a confidence. For example, if you are in a case acceptance meeting in your office, there may be a loose exchange of client information. This can facilitate discussion of how to proceed with a case. If you have concerns about confidentiality in these circumstances, discuss them with your supervisor. You may not contact other agencies or offices without the express permission of the client. While the client may have signed an Authorization Form for a particular office, you still may not contact a third party without their consent (i.e. attempts to arrange counseling or other assistance).
Just as practicing lawyers can face conflict of interest, so can law student interns. Below is a true story illustrating a law student who faced a conflict of interest through her two separate internships.
Before you start a pro bono position, enroll in a law school clinic, or begin a paid position, you should complete a conflict check. Pay attention to the client base of the organization you’ll be working for, make a list of the organizations you have worked for in the past, regardless of whether or not they were paid positions, and describe the kinds of clients you worked with (were they petitioners in family court, criminal defendants, tenants in housing court, etc). Then ask your supervisor before you begin working whether any of your contact with past clients would constitute a conflict of interest.
Law Student Liability
The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits the unauthorized practice of law; as summer associates, this section of the Rules will govern your work activities. Always be aware of how clients may perceive you. Are you doing something that may lead them to believe you are their “attorney”? If so, step back and make clear to the client that you are a student, not an attorney. This may become your mantra this summer, but it is extremely important. Then seek the assistance of your supervisor.
How to distinguish between Legal Information and Legal Advice
The line between legal information and legal advice can sometimes be blurry. Even if you are working under a practice order, you must be careful not to create the impression that you are dispensing legal advice – only your supervisor can do that. When in doubt, always check with your supervisor. In fact, this should be an area of discussion when you first begin your internship. In general, however, the following applies:
Legal information is just that: general information about what the law says or how the court works. If the person seeking assistance from you is asking “how to” questions, they are seeking legal information. You can answer these questions with information about how to fill out forms, general procedures, etc. Be careful when answering questions about forms, however. Make sure that you are not advising the client as to what words to write down, how they should answer the question based on their facts, or whether a particular answer would be more appropriate in a different section of the form. Those answers amount to legal advice
Legal advice consists of advising a client to take a particular course of action based on the facts of his or her case. If the person is asking about what will happen in his or her particular case or what he or she should do, the client is seeking legal advice, and you cannot answer those questions. Make sure to reiterate that you are not a lawyer and therefore cannot provide legal advice. You can tell them generally what the law is, but not how it will play out in their case. You should also not be advising them on what they should do. Even if you have a practice order, do not tell any client whether or not they should accept a particular offer, plea deal, etc. Providing such advice puts you in an attorney-client relationship.
The professionalism and ethical considerations apply when working with any client. However, students should be aware of different standards and considerations when working with clients with particular needs. Such clients include clients with disabilities, clients who are victims of domestic violence, and clients for whom English is a second language.
Conclusion: Rutgers Pro Bono Program gives students a unique opportunity to gain invaluable legal experience, enhance their marketability, and fulfill their professional obligation to do service. Newark provides fertile ground for our new program to foster in ways that are mutually beneficial for our students and the legal community. Engaging in pro bono services will not only compliment your legal education, it will also allow you to give back to those most in need locally and globally.