What is the Pro Bono Scholars Program (PBSP)?

The Pro Bono Scholars Program (PBSP) is an initiative of the Court of Appeals of NY to serve indigent people who otherwise would not have representation. Pro Bono Scholars spend their last semester of law school working to provide pro bono services to indigent populations. As an added benefit, Pro Bono Scholars take the New York bar examination in February of their 3L year, prior to graduation, and are admitted in June immediately after they graduate.

“The Pro Bono Scholars Program represents a partnership among the Judiciary, the law schools and the profession with the goal of revitalizing legal education to adapt to society’s changing needs. This new option in legal education will simultaneously better assist students in preparing for the actual practice of law, impress upon them the value of public service at the start of their careers, and provide much-needed assistance to those of limited means in our state.”

New York State Unified Court System

What does it look like to participate in PBSP?

PBSP is a 12-week program consisting of taking the February New York bar exam, followed by a full-time qualifying placement in tandem with an academic component. The 2023 Pro Bono Scholars Program runs from February 27, 2023 to May 20, 2023.

Pro Bono Scholars are required to commit an average of 45 hours per week, or 520 total hours over the course of 12 weeks. This includes the academic component of the PBSP, which accounts for approximately 5 hours per week. Travel time is not included in this calculation. Pro Bono Scholars may not count any work completed prior to the February bar exam towards their total hourly requirement.

PBSP is a 12 credit program. However, Pro Bono scholars are not permitted to be part time or engage in additional coursework (even asynchronously).

Pro Bono Scholars must participate in weekly Zoom meetings with Director Azemi. Scholars are also required to submit weekly journals, a weekly time log, and complete assigned weekly readings.

Pro Bono Scholars will be supervised by a placement supervisor and law school faculty member and will complete all of the training, reporting and academic requirements agreed upon at the commencement of the placement.

What are the eligibility requirements for PBSP?

In order to be eligible to participate in PBSP, students must:

  • Complete five semesters of law school prior to the start of the program, be in good academic standing, need no more than 12-15 academic credits for the final semester, and be in compliance with ABA and law school graduation requirements
  • Complete all other graduation requirements by the end of their fifth semester
    • Professional Responsibility
    • Writing requirement
    • NOTE: PBSP can be counted towards the requirement of six experiential credits
  • Be in compliance with Cornell Law School credit limits
    • 31 credit limit on clinics and externships
    • 20 credit limit on external courses
      • Includes full-term externships, part time externships, directed reading, supervised writing, supervised teaching (including Lawyering Honors Fellows), supervised experiential learning, courses taught in other university divisions, and clinics taught by instructors whose primary professional employment is not within the Law School.
  • Find a full-time placement in compliance with PBSP requirements.
  • Submit the Cornell Pro Bono Scholars Application for Spring 2024 by JULY 31, 2023. The application form is available here.

Students will apply to the law school for participation in the PBSP and must meet the requirements of the PBSP and any additional requirements established by the law school. The law school has discretion to approve applications that it deems appropriate. The law school will forward approved applications to the Executive Director of the PBSP for final review and acceptance into the program.

How do I apply for PBSP?

Prior to applying, students must identify a qualifying pro bono placement. Students must also check in with Director Michaela Azemi and Director Amanda Jantzi to ensure all necessary graduation requirements have been met. Once students have identified a qualifying placement, students must submit the Cornell Pro Bono Scholars Application and complete all New York Court of Appeals and New York Board of Law Examiners requirements.

Cornell’s Spring 2024 Pro Bono Scholars Application is due JULY 31, 2023. The application form is available here.

What is the timeline for PBSP?

  • June 1 – July 31: Interested students submit application and meet with Director of Pro Bono Services and Externships, Michaela K. Rossettie Azemi, to determine and approve placement
  • August 1 – September 15: Director of Pro Bono Services and Externships approves placements and coordinates sending of transcripts, resumes, letter stating scholars are approved by CLS to graduate. Collect placement MOUs and submit to Pro Bono Scholars Program
  • August 15: Deadline to register for September 22, 2022 administration of New York Law Exam
    • Students must view 15 hours of videos prior to registration
    • Test accommodation requests must be submitted by June 16, 2023
  • September 12: Deadline for students to register for November MPRE
    • Final administration to qualify for PSBP
    • Test accommodation requests must be submitted by July 24, 2023
  • November 14: Deadline to register for December 15, 2022 administration of New York Law Exam
    • Final administration to qualify for PSBP
    • Students must view 15 hours of videos prior to registration
    • Test accommodation requests must be submitted by September 15, 2023
  • November 30: Final deadline for law student and placement to commit to participate
  • November 30: Pro Bono Scholars submit application by this date to take the February New York Bar Exam and request test accommodations
  • February 21 – 22: Scholars take the New York Bar Exam
  • February 27 – May 20: Full-time pro bono placement and course component
  • April–May: Students who have passed the bar submit application packages for admission to the bar
  • June: NYS Admission to the Bar

What kinds of placements qualify for PBSP?

Examples of the type of placements that are acceptable under the PBSP follow. Externships or field placements with a:

  • not-for-profit provider of legal services for the poor and low-income individuals;
  • law firm, if the pro bono work is full-time and will involve pro bono matters being handled by that firm and the pro bono client(s) are not paying legal fees;
  • legal aid organization or other similar civil or criminal legal services organization that serves low-income clients;
  • public defender, conflict defender, or other similar criminal defense service organization that serves indigent criminal defendants;
  • corporation providing pro bono legal assistance through its in-house legal department to individuals who are unable to afford legal representation and are not paying legal fees;
  • U.S. Attorney, District Attorney or State Attorney General, if providing assistance to litigants or victims who otherwise would not be able to afford legal representation;
  • court, if assistance is for litigants who otherwise would not be able to afford legal representation
  • Law-related work for a not-for-profit organization that
    • provides free civil legal services for low-income individuals;
    • provides criminal legal services for the indigent; or
    • serves the poor or disadvantaged or otherwise promotes access to justice
  • Law school-sponsored clinics that provide legal assistance to those who cannot afford representation, including:
    • Farmworkers Clinic
    • Low Income Taxpayers Clinic
    • Entrepreneurship Clinic
    • Trusts and Estates Clinic
    • Asylum Clinic
    • Movement Lawyering

Placements do not have to be in New York State; they can be done in another state. Pro Bono Scholars must be supervised by an attorney admitted to practice in the jurisdiction where your work is performed. Pro Bono Scholars may not do any work for a placement site that is fee generating.

Both Cornell Law School’s Externship Director and the NYS OCA Pro Bono Program must approve the placement.

Here is a list of previously approved placements both in New York State and elsewhere (not comprehensive).

What are the New York State Court of Appeals and New York Board of Law Examiners requirements?

In addition to what is required by CLS, students must satisfy the NYS COA and BOLE requirements as well. These include:

  • Registration with the New York State Board of Bar Examiners in November
  • Handwriting sample
  • Law school registrar provision of a Certificate of Law School Attendance
  • Completion of PBSP Application
  • Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed from placement
  • Supervisor’s resume or biographical equivalent
  • Pro Bono Scholar Resume
  • Transcript

Additional Resources

Please contact Director of Pro Bono Services and Externships Michaela K. Rossettie Azemi with any questions

Here are some additional resources for interested students as well as participating Pro Bono Scholars: