Pro Bono Opportunities

Villanova Law hosts a number of exciting public service and pro bono opportunities for students. These and other programs offer to serve those in need, while developing your own lawyering skills.

Pro Bono Spring Break Service Trip to New Orleans

Why Pro Bono?

For some students, the fact that they are providing desperately needed legal services to people who cannot afford them is sufficient reason. Doing pro bono work enables law students to touch and change the lives of others. Many students came to law school with the goal of helping people; doing pro bono work can help them reconnect to the motivation that brought them here.

Pro bono legal work can also advance your professional development and career planning goals. For example, performing pro bono legal work can help you better understand the substantive issues you are studying in your courses. Trying to use the law to help clients achieve their goals, pro bono volunteers learn about the power--and the limits--of the law and the lawyer’s role in resolving complex problems associate with poverty and powerlessness.

In addition, pro bono legal work can enhance marketable skills that you will need as practicing lawyers. For instance, pro bono programs offer great “hands on” experiences – such as interviewing and counseling clients, drafting pleadings, negotiating deals, or appearing in court – that are very attractive to prospective employers. Pro bono legal work can also help you identify areas of practice you may (or may not) wish to pursue when you graduate. Finally, pro bono legal volunteers meet practicing lawyers who may be helpful to them as they consider and search for employment opportunities.

Finding Time

How do busy students find the time to do pro bono? For most law students, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do everything that needs to be done—much less to do things we’d like to do. Indeed, once you graduate and become practicing lawyers, the demands on your time can seem even more overwhelming. The “Lawyering Together” program lets students see how and why busy practicing lawyers choose to integrate pro bono into their schedules and still find time to fulfill their other professional and personal commitments.

Summer is a good time to begin developing a time-management plan that can include pro bono legal service into your schedule for the upcoming year. In addition, in the summer you may also find opportunities to volunteer for pro bono projects through your employer or other avenues. Even the most modest commitment can make a difference to a client in need.

Getting Involved

We have a number of pro bono projects, including “street law” presentations to high school students and a legal clinic at a homeless shelter and involvement with PA innocence Project.  We can also give you information about pro bono and public interest organizations that are eager to recruit volunteer law students. In addition to our established programs, we can work with you to develop an individual pro bono project.

Think About What Interests You

Consider your academic, personal and community service interests. Is there any area of law that intrigues you? Is there specific groups of people – children, the elderly, people with physical disabilities – with whom you are particularly interested in working? Was there any project that you are worked on in high school or college that you particularly enjoyed? What was it about that project that you valued?

See if there is any organization that is doing the kind of work you think you may want to do.

That organization may be at Villanova or in the Philadelphia area. Check out the resources on the Career Strategy website and on the Public Service Job  PSJD is a database of pro bono and public interest / public service opportunities linked to the Career Strategy website and available on the Internet, it contains extensive information about volunteer projects and resources for getting involved.

Villanova Law Dorothy Day Pro Bono Award

The Dorothy Day Award for Pro Bono Service acknowledges students who have volunteered at the inception of their careers to take on the added responsibility of pro bono service.

The award is named for Dorothy Day (1895-1980), a Catholic journalist and peace and justice activist who co-founded the Catholic Worker and established Houses of Hospitality to help feed, clothe, and comfort the poor.

Qualifying Pro Bono Work

For purposes of the Dorothy Day Award, pro bono service is defined as unpaid, not-for-credit legal work for the poor or disenfranchised, performed at a public interest/non-profit agency or with a private attorney working on a pro bono case. This definition is intentionally narrow, as the intent of the award is to recognize students who providedirect legal services to the poor or disenfranchised. Hours must be completed during the academic year, and work for which a student has received academic credit is not considered pro bono for the purposes of the award.

Qualifying Organizations

Work completed on behalf of the following organizations qualifies towards the Dorothy Day Award: Homeless Advocacy Project “Adopt a Shelter,” Face to Face Legal Clinic, PA Innocence Project, STAR Federal Prisoner Reentry Project, VITA, Federal Defender’s Capital Habeas Unit, Senior Law Center, Pennsylvania Volunteers for the Indigent Program, Support Center for Child Advocates, Wills for Heroes, and VLS-sponsored pro bono service spring break trips. This is not an exhaustive list; work performed on behalf of other organizations which provide direct legal services to the poor or disenfranchised is also eligible for credit, provided all award criteria is met.

Please Note: Work at most government agencies and offices (including District Attorney and Attorney General offices) typically does not qualify toward the Dorothy Day Award. In addition, participation in the following activities does not qualify: Street Law, VLS Days of Service (unless legal work is completed on behalf of the poor or disenfranchised), tutoring, and coaching and/or judging mock trial competitions.

Please contact Becky Fitzsimmons at if you have any question as to whether your project qualifies.

Hour Requirement

To be eligible for the award, students must have completed 60 hours of pro bono service during their three years of law school (not including summers).

Reporting Pro Bono Hours

To report pro bono hours, students must complete and submit the applicable form(s) for each pro bono project (see links below) with the signature of the supervising attorney, no later than the end of the academic year during which the work was completed. During 3L spring semester, all hours must be submitted prior to March 31. Note: for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, in cases where student hours are not directly supervised by an attorney or faculty member, students are still required to submit the applicable form(s), signed by the student organizer/officer of the Pro Bono Society who can verify the hours. Also, students may submit a signed NY Affidavit of Compliance in place of the VLS pro bono reporting form, if the hours reflect work that satisfies the definition of pro bono indicated above.

2013-2014 Pro Bono Hours Form

2014-2015 Pro Bono Hours Form

2015-2016 Pro Bono Hours Form

Facilitated Pro Bono Opportunities:

A "Facilitated Pro Bono Opportunity" is one that has the following features:

1) Villanova will advertise the opportunity to our students through Simplicity;

2) A student liaison from the Pro Bono Society will be assigned to that opportunity;

3) A faculty liaison will be assigned to that opportunity;

4) Information regarding the opportunity (including brief description, contact person at the organization, name/email of student and faculty liaison) will be provided on our website;

5) Villanova students will have the opportunity to express interest in working with the opportunity by completing a webform linked to our website (see Program Descriptions below).

Pro Bono Society 2015-2016

Program Descriptions

Wills for Heroes

Student Liaison - Robert Zanella (2L)

Faculty Liaison – Prof. Mary Ann Robinson

Placement Contact – Sandra A. Romasewski, Attorney at Fox Rothschild LLP  

‪A program co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division, "Wills for Heroes" provides free basic estate planning documents to first responders in Pennsylvania. "Wills for Heroes" provides police, fire and emergency medical personnel - those on the front lines for our personal safety - the tools they need to prepare adequately for the future. Programs are staffed by lawyer volunteers, paralegals, and law students and are conveniently offered to first responders at meeting halls and police and fire stations.

Please click here if you are interested in doing pro bono work with Wills for Heroes.

Face to Face: Birth Certificate Clinic

Student Liaison - Katie Clarke (2L)

Faculty Liaison – Prof. Michelle Madden Dempsey

Placement Contact - Niki Ludt, Legal Center Director at Face to Face

The Face to Face Legal Center protects the human, civil and legal rights of low income and homeless individuals. The Legal Center serves more than 600 people each year.  It bridges the “justice gap” by offering free legal services to individuals who live below 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. The center is staffed by volunteer attorneys and law students; it provides a full range of legal services from consumer to family law.  Our Legal Center’s nationally recognized birth certificate clinic helps countless people secure legal identification without which they are prevented from full participation in society.

Please click here if you are interested in doing pro bono work with Face to Face: Birth Certificate Clinic.

Street Law

Student Liaison - B. Ever Hana (2L), Christian Martin (2L)

Street Law develops classroom and grassroots programs that educate students and communities about law, democracy, and human rights. Some of our initiatives bring us directly into classrooms and neighborhoods.  The approach is practical, relevant, and experiential, blending legal content with innovative hands-on teaching strategies that actively engage students and program participants in the learning process.  Street Law brings together law students, high school students, and community members to explore the intersection of law, public school education, and community improvement using learner-centered teaching methods.

Please click here if you are interested in doing pro bono work with Street Law.

PA Innocence Project

Student Liaison - Taylor Adams (2L), Peter Jennings (3L),

Placement Contact - Contact Nilam Sanghvi, Staff Attorney at PA Innocence Project

The Innocence Project has two student volunteer opportunities:

1: Stage 2 reviews: This is a high-level review of some information provided by an inmate and documents from the inmate’s appeal to determine whether there is a plausible case of innocence that should be moved forward to a more in-depth review.  The student will draft a 2-4 page memo with his/her recommendation for review.  A Stage 2 review takes between 6-12 hours, and they ask that a student complete the review in 4 weeks or less.  This is the only volunteer opportunity available to 1Ls (2Ls and 3Ls are also welcome to do Stage 2 reviews).


2: Stage 3 reviews: This is a much more in-depth review to determine whether an inmate presents a compelling case of innocence that might be appropriate for the PA Innocence Project to investigate and potentially litigate.  Students working on Stage 3 reviews are required to work for four hours a week for at least one semester.  The students will draft 25-50 page memos about the case they are working on for review with the attorneys and investigator.

Because PA Innocence Project deals with inmates’ original documents, they require that all students do their volunteer work with us at the office, located at Temple.  The office is easily accessible from Villanova by regional rail.  And, they are likely moving to Temple’s Center City building this winter, which should make things even easier for students who volunteer in the spring semester. There is a scheduled training at Penn Law from 5-7pm on 9/17.

Please click here if you are interested in doing pro bono work with the PA Innocence Project.

Montgomery County Public Defenders Office Expungement Clinic

Student Liaison – Ian Forster (3L)

Faculty Liaison – Prof. Michelle Dempsey

Placement Contact – Leane Renee, Policy Director at the Montgomery County Public Defenders Office)

Since 2013, the Montgomery County Public Defender Office has offered free criminal record expungements for eligible clients. The Montgomery County Expungement Clinic is staffed by law student volunteers who are supervised by the Policy Director and Chief Public Defender. For first year law students, the clinic presents an excellent opportunity for direct, one on one contact with adult and juvenile clients by conducting intake interviews and follow up calls. Certified law students who volunteer for the clinic may also represent clients in contested hearings. In addition to working directly with clients, clinic volunteers get valuable experience drafting legal petitions and orders to file in the Criminal Clerk’s Office.

The Expungement Clinic is held every Tuesday, 3:00 – 6:00 pm, in the Public Defender Office, Montgomery County Courthouse, Norristown, PA. The clinic is open to six law student volunteers per semester, although additional students may volunteer for hours other than the Tuesday evening walk-in clinic. Volunteers need not be present every Tuesday, but are expected to sign up for at least six clinics in a semester. Additional students who would like to volunteer for alternate hours may do so upon request and approval.  A comprehensive training on criminal record expungements will be provided in late September, depending on student volunteer schedules.  Please email your interest and availability to Leane Renée, Policy Director,

Please click here if you are interested in doing pro bono work with the Montgomery County Public Defenders Office Expungement Clinic.

Norristown High School Youth Court

Student Liaison - Jordan Gregro (3L)

Placement Contact - Leane Renee, Policy Director at the Montgomery County Public Defenders Office

The Montgomery Public Defender’s Office is seeking 2-3 law student volunteers for the Norristown High School Youth Court. The Norristown Youth Court, the first ever in MontCo, is in its second year of operation. Law students will help to teach a tenth grade social studies class how to run their own Youth Court addressing disciplinary infractions through restorative justice rather than punishment.

Time Commitment

The Youth Court will meet Thursdays, 11:20 – 12:50. In addition to direct class time each week, volunteers may occasionally need to review the curriculum in advance before teaching various lessons. The Youth Court curriculum will begin on 9.17.15, and hearings will begin on 11.12.15.  Volunteers will work with the Policy Director for the Montgomery Public Defender’s Office, the high school teacher, and an experienced trainer, using a detailed curriculum to teach principals of balanced and restorative justice as an alternative to punishment such as detention and suspension, as well as teach students how to hold hearings and run their own court system. 

What is Youth Court?

Youth Courts are gaining popularity in response to the “zero tolerance” policies in schools that have created a school to prison pipeline across the country. The Norristown High School Youth Court is a school-based system, meaning that students are referred to the court by the school discipline office after committing non-criminal infractions. Student participants (respondents) agree to have their case heard in Youth Court, rather than face punishment through the school discipline office. The court is comprised of a judge, bailiff, jury and foreperson, respondent and an advocate for the respondent. The respondent’s advocate prepares the respondent to testify and presents an opening statement. The jury asks questions of the respondent in order to address three topics before deliberations: what harm did the respondent cause, whom did the respondent harm, and how can the harm be fixed. The jury devises a restorative justice disposition for the respondent, which may include an essay, counseling, apology letter, community service or more creative ideas. Respondents have reported that admonishments from their peers mean more than anything an adult could tell them; members of the Youth Court report that they feel more accountable for their own actions because they are charged with judging their peers for breaking rules.

Please click here if you are interested in doing pro bono work with Norristown High School Youth Court.

Villanova Pro Bono Programs

Villanova Law hosts a number of exciting Pro Bono programs. These and other programs offer tremendous opportunities to serve those in need, while developing your own lawyering skills.

As a Catholic Law School, deeply rooted in its Augustinian traditions, Villanova has always emphasized the unique value of individual human lives and emphasizes the commitment the serving those in need. In an effort to make pro bono legal service an important part of legal education, the law school created Lawyering Together, an innovative partnership involving law students, practicing attorneys, the law school and public interest organizations. We pair students and attorneys together to work on a pro bono case assigned through one of our partner agencies.

The program, which was created as a joint initiative of the Pro Bono Society and the Alumni Association, matches volunteer VLS alumni with law students, who then represent indigent clients referred from several Philadelphia pro bono organizations, including SeniorLaw Center, Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program (VIP) and Support Center for Child Advocates. The cases cover a broad spectrum of civil matters, such as domestic relations (including custody, adoption, and domestic violence), immigration, wills and other personal planning documents, consumer rights and personal injury litigation defense.

The "Lawyering Together" program lets students see how and why busy practicing lawyers choose to integrate pro bono into their schedules and still find time to fulfill their other professional and personal commitments.

For more information, please contact the Office of Career Strategy and Advancement



To ensure program quality and continuity, the Director of Public Service Careers & Pro Bono Programs administers a rich array of pro bono programs that are now established components of Villanova Law School’s institutional commitment to pro bono service to the disadvantaged.

In Fall 2002, Villanova “adopted” the HELP Homeless Shelter through the Homeless Advocacy Project Adopt-A-Shelter Program. By adopting the shelter, Villanova agrees to staff a legal clinic every month on the first Wednesday of the month. Villanova students perform intake interviews and then assist clients with legal problems, supervised by the HAP staff attorney.

The Face to Face Legal Clinic in Germantown provides students with an opportunity to conduct intake interviews and work on cases involving social security, employment and housing issues.  The Villanova Pro Bono Society organizes several bith certificate clinics at the Legal Clinic each year and has also organized information sessions to help individuals take atvantage of LIHEAP (Low Income Heating Assistance Program) funding.

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project advocates for incarcerated individuals with a factual claim to innocence.  Students partner with the PA Innocence Project to review initial files and make a determination whether the claim may be appropriate for further review by the PA Innocence Project attorneys.  Interested 2L and 3L students worked on cases in the second stage of review, delving further into investigation and case preparation.

The Supervision To Aid Re-Entry (STAR) court program is an innovative program designed to assist individuals as they complete their period of incarceration.  Many of the participants in the Re-entry program also have civil legal issues that they need help resolving.  Villanova students work with the participants in the program to help resolve these issues.  This year Villanova students will be representing STAR participants in Traffic Court hearings.

Villanova operates a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, assisting low-income taxpayers in the Philadelphia area to prepare their returns. Additionally, Tax Law Society students offer “Know Your Rights” presentations to indigent taxpayers.

The Federal Defender's Capital Case Project started in Fall 2003, places two students per semester, who are selected through a competitive application process, to devote 5 hours per week working on capital cases supervised by the Federal Defender's Office. Students selected receive extensive training and mentoring as part of this project.

In addition, other pro bono programs are offered through student organizations at the law school, including the Pro Bono Society, the Tax Law Society and other student groups. The Pro Bono Society, for example, offers law students short-term and long-term pro bono and community services opportunities. Through the Pro Bono Society and other student groups, students have given "Know Your Rights" presentations to audiences ranging from immigrant detainees, migrant workers, people on the verge of homelessness. In addition, through the Tax Law Society, students have volunteered at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites at which they assist low-income taxpayers.

Stop in to speak with or e-mail Becky Fitzsimmons, Associate Director of Public Service Careers and Judicial Clerkships. Also view the the "Facilitated Pro Bono Opportunities" tab or contact the Pro Bono Society for more information.

Pro Bono Student Groups

Other pro bono programs are offered through student organizations at the law school, including the Pro Bono SocietyNational Lawyer's Guild and the Tax Law Society.  The Pro Bono Society, for example, offers law students short-term and long-term pro bono and community services opportunities.