The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) has launched an annual project to calculate law schools’ collective contributions to the delivery of much-needed legal services through clinics, other experiential courses, and pro bono activities of law students.
Through a survey conducted in November 2016, 80 law schools reported that 17,899 law students in the class of 2016 contributed more than 2.2 million hours in legal services as part of their legal education, an average of about 124 hours per student. Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization coalition, estimates the value of volunteer time to be $23.56 an hour. Using this number, the total value of the students’ time at these schools is estimated to be in excess of $52.2 million. The schools represent approximately 45 percent of the students in American Bar Association accredited law schools in the class of 2016.
Several schools indicated that many hours go unreported, or are difficult to track, and actual contributions are likely to be significantly higher. The project also did not include hours contributed by students in law school master degree programs.
Hands-on or experiential learning opportunities allow students to apply classroom theory to legal problems under the supervision of lawyers and law teachers. Students receive practical experience in law and communities receive essential legal services that they would otherwise not be able to afford. Law students contributed hours through a variety of efforts, including externships at legal non-profit and community organizations, law school clinic programs, and law student organization projects.
“Access to justice regardless of means is a guiding principle of the legal profession and legal education,” said Paul Marcus, 2017 AALS President and Haynes Professor of Law at The College of William and Mary Law School. “We are pleased to report these significant contributions by law students toward equal justice for all. Through these important efforts, thousands of clients and communities receive quality legal services while providing students with hands-on educational opportunities to help them become more effective lawyers upon graduation.”
Law students contributed hours to hundreds of pro bono projects serving thousands of clients. Examples of law school clinic and pro bono projects can be found at aals.org/news/public-service.