How Pro Bono Work Benefits our Students

January 28, 2021

Pro bono work is a privilege and a priority at the University of Arkansas School of Law, and we have a tradition of offering and recognizing pro bono work. As our dean, Margaret E. Sova McCabe, said, "Public law schools have a unique responsibility to provide robust exposure to public service opportunities for students.”

Our school recently received the Rose Law Firm’s 200th Anniversary Public Service Award and a generous monetary gift. We’re excited to use this gift to further develop our public service and pro bono programs.

But first, what exactly is pro bono work, and how does it impact our students?

What is pro bono work?

A quick Latin lesson. “Pro bono” comes from the Latin phrase “pro bono publico,” which means “for the public good.” For law students, pro bono work refers to any legal work performed for which they receive no academic credit or compensation. It’s done strictly for the public good.

Pro bono work comes in many shapes and sizes. In the 2019-2020 school year alone, University of Arkansas School of Law students provided over 1,800 hours of free services to a large and diverse swath of community organizations. After engaging with their communities, it’s little surprise many of the students develop a lifelong passion for pro bono work.

Here are just some of their stories...

2L student Mason Gates participated in a pro bono estate planning event in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas during his first year of law school, assisting low-income individuals and families with legal services. He said his favorite part of being a student at the U of A School of Law is the heavy focus on gaining real-world legal experience by helping the community.

Sara Koch began volunteering the spring of her 1L year for Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Pro Bono Road to Justice Project. She loved the experience so much she remained onboard through the summer, compiling resources to help low-income households better understand the legal process.

Alumna Torri Jacobus started the Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution at the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and she currently runs the Office of Civil Rights for the city. Buoyed by her pro bono work while a student at the U of A School of Law, Jacobus dedicated her career to public service.

Experiencing the full impact of public service and pro bono work instills within our students a drive to help those less fortunate, and this can impact career decisions for the rest of their lives.

What’s in it for students?

Just because it’s done without any academic or financial compensation doesn’t mean law students don’t benefit from pro bono work.

Consider the significant personal, professional, and collegiate advantages:

Personal: Pro bono work offers students the chance to give back and grow as individuals. There’s a heart-filling satisfaction that comes with impacting the world for good, and it has an indelible effect on the lives of our students. In the words of Katie Rose Martin, 3L student and recipient of the Squire Patton Boggs Fellowship, "The pro bono work I have done has helped me to grow as a person.”

Professional: In addition to the personal benefits, pro bono work also offers students a chance to get ahead in their careers. There are so many opportunities to network and develop relationships with lawyers, community organizations, and other law students.

Of course, there’s also an educational benefit. As Martin said of pro bono work, it gives “real-world application to the material learned in class.” For law students, pro bono work affords a crucial, early boost to their careers.

Collegiate: As a reflection of our commitment to public service, the U of A School of Law provides fellowships and awards—more benefits of pro bono work—to deserving students.

Each year, we recognize 10 law students with the most pro bono hours as “Pro Bono Leaders.” Here are the most recent recipients.

Additionally, once a year the dean selects one or more exemplary third-year law students to serve as “Pro Bono Fellow(s).” This title, along with a stipend, recognizes and supports law students committed to pro bono work. For completing over 170 hours of pro bono service by the end of her second year, the school honored Lexi Acello as the 2020 Pro Bono Fellow.

There’s also the Summer Public Service Fellowship Program. Founded in 2019 by Dean McCabe, the program has provided valuable public service experience to 18 first- and second-year students. Moreover, the Squire Patton Boggs Foundation Public Policy Fellowship is awarded annually to exceptional 2Ls and 3Ls dedicated to public service and with an express interest in public policy.

Our school also awards the Robert F. Fussell Pro Bono Award to the student with the most hours of pro bono service, exemplifying Judge Fussell’s distinguished career in public service and dedication to pro bono work.

Medallions and Transcript Notations are awarded to graduating law students who performed over either 50 (silver) or 100 (gold) hours of pro bono service during their time in law school.

Fellowships and awards like these play a major part in our overall pro bono program. Since legal work is considered pro bono only if the student receives no compensation or academic credit, awards and stipends offer encouragement and support to students who devote their time to helping communities.

The choice is yours. Make a difference.

Are you interested in learning more about pro bono opportunities or attending a law school that prioritizes making a difference in the community? The Pro Bono Student Manual is an excellent resource for more information on finding pro bono opportunities and details on our pro bono policies.

We’d love to connect with you. Our Director of Pro Bono and Community Engagement, Annie Smith, can be reached at