RWU, lawyers expand pro bono aid

Few people will work for free, especially if a person spent thousands of dollars and an unknown amount of hard work to obtain a professional degree such as that required to practice law. More

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RWU, lawyers expand pro bono aid

VALUABLE TIME: Jeffrey Biolchini, facing camera, attorney at Ratcliffe, Harten, Burke and Galamaga, gives pro bono legal advice. Eliza Vorenberg, director of Feinstein Institute for Legal Service's Pro Bono Collaborative, looks on.
Posted 11/28/11

Few people will work for free, especially if a person spent thousands of dollars and an unknown amount of hard work to obtain a professional degree such as that required to practice law.

But lawyers, more than many other professionals, do offer services free of charge in the form of work commonly called “pro bono,” aimed at helping indigent members of society deal with legal needs ranging from simple counseling to full-fledged representation in court cases.

The Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, the only law school in Rhode Island, wants to make certain pro bono work remains a priority in the state through its Pro Bono Collaborative, part of the school’s Feinstein Institute for Legal Service.

The collaborative has law-school students working with practicing attorneys from private firms to resolve the legal problems of community-based, social-service agencies and their needy clients. The program is one of the few in the nation to formally partner students with private law firms and with community groups on a regular basis, according to the law school.

Since the program started five years ago, approximately 90 law-school students and 100 private attorneys from 11 firms have worked with 30 community groups to help about 200 individuals, according to Eliza Vorenberg, director of the Pro Bono Collaborative at Roger Williams.

Laurie Barron, executive director of the Feinstein center, explained that the Pro Bono Collaborative is one of several programs the institute offers students, who must complete at least 50 hours of public-interest service to graduate.

“Our goal is to teach students how to integrate pro bono work into an otherwise already-busy schedule,” Barron told Providence Business News. “Our hope is that our students will become pro bono leaders at their own firms [after graduation].” Students come to law school wanting to change the world, she noted, “and we want to make sure they still want to do that when they leave.” As of 2008, 8 percent of the law school’s graduates took public-interest jobs after graduation compared to a national rate of 5.4 percent.

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