First-year law students take top honors in school-wide pro bono competition

Students in the Wake Forest University School of Law have always given back to their communities. This year, the school inaugurated a new opportunity for that giving: the school-wide Pro Bono Project.

The students worked with private law firms in bankruptcy and family law and Legal Aid of North Carolina in Winston-Salem as well as projects sponsored by student organizations such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Wills for Heroes. The result? Students spent more than 1,000 hours on pro bono work during the past academic year.

The project also included a first-time competition among the first-year, second-year and third-year students. The first-year class took top honors. Of 154 students, 40, or nearly 26 percent, took part in the project. The second-year class had a participation rate of 22 percent, and the third-year class had a participation rate of 8 percent.

“We know the numbers will be up as this event becomes a tradition at Wake Forest Law, but on behalf of the Pro Bono committee, let me say how pleased we are with the first-time results,” said School of Law Dean Blake Morant.

The students involved in the project, for example, offered more than 25 hours of service to Legal Aid and gave hundreds of hours throughout the year to the Innocence Project, as well as helped more than 20 young people through the Children’s Law Center and the Forsyth County Guardian Ad Litem office.

Wake Forest law students screened some two dozen homeless or marginally housed people who were potentially eligible for criminal expungements; helped private attorneys with habeas petitions, domestic violence cases, bankruptcy cases, and non-profit paperwork; and dedicated several hours each week to the public defender’s office.

“The law school has always tried to encourage a habit of pro bono work among our students," said Professor Suzanne Reynolds, who is the faculty


for the Pro Bono Project and the chair of the Pro Bono committee. "It’s one of the school’s most important missions.”

Third-year law student Jackie Willingham, who is a student leader of the Pro Bono Project, says new pro bono project requests will be accepted beginning in August so that students can start signing up for pro bono opportunities the beginning of September.

"Our website should be updated by then making it easier for attorneys to submit projects online," she added.