On Monday, the Texas Tech School of Law announced a service requirement for graduation for first-year law students.
According to a Tech news release, first-year law students will be required to complete at least 30 hours of community service before being eligible for graduation.
Students will have to complete at least 15 hours of pro bono legal service, meaning they work voluntarily for no pay, and the remaining 15 hours can be pro bono or non-legal community service, according to the news release.
Both faculty and students brought the idea of a community service requirement to the Dean of the School of Law, Darby Dickerson, director for pro bono projects Meryl Benham said. There has been a recent movement of encouraging lawyers to engage in public service and pro bono legal work.
Pro bono legal work is services for indigent individuals, Benham said. These services are provided to people who would not be able to afford an attorney.
Students will not be able to give legal advice because they are not licensed attorneys, Benham said, but they will be able to help the clients in other ways.
“Even before the student gets their license, they can do some cool legal things,” she said. “Students can work in legal offices and help attorneys with research, draft motions and help observe court hearings. They can also help interview clients but they have to be careful to say that they cannot give any legal advice.”
Through the pro bono service, the goal is to exposed students to different aspects of law, Benham said.
“Since they will be experienced in so many areas,” she said. “When they graduate they might have an idea of what area they want to practice in.”
In the pro bono service, they will also learn how to apply their skills they learned in class in practical contexts, Benham said.
Along with the pro bono service, students are required to participate in non-legal community service, she said. Non-legal is basic volunteer service including work with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“The student does not need any legal training for this work, but it’s really great volunteer work,” Benham said. “The thought is that you are helping people who are disadvantaged in some type of way.”
Andrew Smith, a first-year law student from Dallas, said there are many needs in the community, and non-legal work will help families in and around the community.
According to the release, full-time faculty will also be required to have at least 10 hours of service they can split between pro bono and non-legal work.
Giving back to the community, whether it is in a pro bono or non-legal way, is important, Teresa McGonagill, a first-year law student from Granbury, said.
“I think that we should be doing this regardless of the requirement,” McGonagill said. “Whenever you give something, you get something. Out of this, you get to feel that you have given back to your community.”
Even second- and third-year law school students participating feel it is critical to be involved in the community, Deontae Wherry, a second-year law student from Dallas, said. The second- and third-year students understand the importance and the value of all law students giving back to the community.
Doing pro bono and other community service is such a valuable asset as a lawyer, Darby Dickerson said.
“We have an ethical and professional obligation to give back,” Dickerson said. “Students who start community service early in their career find out how valuable it is not only for the people they help out but for themselves. To instill a love for public service is definitely the goal we want to achieve.”
The School of Law wants students to continue their love for public service throughout their careers, she said.
“There are so many people nationwide going without legal services and there are not enough volunteer attorneys to serve all the indigent clients who need help,” Benham said.
This service increases the number of legal services given to the less fortunate, she said. It also prepares the law students to be more practice ready.
The law school wants to instill in the students the importance of taking on volunteer pro bono cases for those in need, Benham said.
Through this service requirement, the law school wants to create a community, Dickerson said, not only within the law school but throughout the city of Lubbock.