Public Service FAQs

Why Public Service?
Ethical rules governing attorneys' professional obligation have recognized that all practitioners should devote time to pro bono activities. By encouraging students to perform a minimum of 50 hours of public service prior to graduation, the Law School intends to foster a student culture in which all students desire to and understand the importance of giving back to their communities.

What qualifies as "Public Service" for the purposes of the program?
For the purposes of the public service program, "public service" is broadly defined to include legal and non-legal work in community organizations, advocacy groups, legal service offices, government agencies and a wide variety of non-profit organizations. The Law School acknowledges that not all students will choose public interest work as a career, but all Northwestern Law graduates can devote time to community service.

Is it a graduation requirement to complete 50 hours of public service?
No, this is a voluntary program where every student is strongly encouraged to contribute 50 hours (30 hours for transfer and AJD students, 15 hours for LLM students) of public service prior to graduation. Students who complete the hours goal and submit the proper documentation are honored at the public service luncheon during graduation week and receive recognition at graduation.

Are there reduced public service goals for students at Northwestern Law for less than 3 years?
Yes, transfer and AJD students are encouraged to perform 30 public service hours and LLM students are encouraged to perform 15 hours.

Does work performed during the summer qualify?
Generally, summer work does not count towards your public service credit. To qualify, the public service work must be performed during the academic year. However, students enrolled in courses during the summer can count summer public service hours. Please see the Special Recognition FAQ below for limits on counting summer hours towards special recognition.

Does work performed during winter and spring breaks qualify?
Yes. Also, if you are studying abroad you may count volunteer hours performed during the academic year abroad. JD/MBA students may count volunteer hours completed while taking classes at Kellogg.

Does instructional training time count towards public service credit? 
Students may count instructional training required to perform the public service but only if they also subsequently volunteer for the public service work.  For example, if you attend a tax assistance volunteer training but never actually sign up to volunteer, you may not count the training time. 

Does work for which a student received academic credit qualify?
No, the work must be performed without compensation or academic credit.

Does the volunteer work have to be arranged through the law school or the public service office?
No, the volunteer work does not have to be arranged through the public service office or the Law School. To qualify, however, the work must be done for a non-profit organization, a governmental agency, or a licensed attorney or law firm doing pro bono or reduced- fee services. Projects need not be legal in nature.

Does the volunteer work have to be law related?
No. While volunteering to do pro bono work (generally defined as unpaid, law-related assistance to underrepresented individuals or causes) is encouraged and can be a way to get valuable legal experience, non-legal community service is also encouraged and valued as an important way to make a difference in the lives of others.

Do SFPIF hours or other work on behalf of the Northwestern Law community count?
No, the volunteer work needs to be for an organization independent of the Law School. Hours assisting SFPIF projects or helping the school's recruiting efforts do not count. Please note, however, that hours volunteering in any of the Law School's clinics do qualify(if performed during the academic year without compensation or academic credit) because the work benefits individual clients.

Do clinic or externship hours count?
Time volunteering in any of the Law School's clinics or centers counts only if performed during the academic year without compensation or academic credit. Additionally, clinical work and non-profit or government externship work performed over and above the number of hours set by the course instructors may be counted toward your public service goal. For example, if your civil government practicum course requires 156 hours and you work at the placement for 180 hours, you may log 24 hours as a lump sum total at the end the semester. Please click on the “externship or clinic extra hours” link when logging the hours.

Is there Special Recognition for extraordinary service?
Students are encouraged to perform public service work beyond the minimum required for public service recognition at graduation (JD students: 50, AJD and transfer students: 30, LLM students: 15) and special recognition is given to students who perform extraordinary service. JD students will receive special recognition for extraordinary service in the amount of 100 hours and 200 hours. Second year JD transfer students and AJD students will receive special recognition for volunteering 80 hours and 160 hours and LLM students will receive special recognition for volunteering 50 hours and 100 hours.

All students meeting the second level of recognition (JD students: 100-199 hours; Second year JD transfer students and AJD students: 80-159 hours; LLM students: 50-99) also will receive a certificate of outstanding service.

All students meeting the third level of recognition (JD students: 200 hours or more; Second year JD transfer students and AJD students: 160 or more; LLM students: 100 hours or more) will receive everything listed above and will have their name placed on a permanent plaque at the law school.

Please note that for special recognition, hours logged above those required for practica, externship, and clinic courses do not count toward the hour calculations. Special recognition is meant to honor those who provided extraordinary service to the community independent of any class. Also, summer volunteer hours only count towards special recognition if the student is enrolled in a full course load (i.e, first year AJD students, LLMK students).

How are placements identified?
Students are encouraged to initiate their own placements, provided they meet the guidelines of the program. A variety of placement opportunities are posted on the public service opportunities page. The Public Service Coordinator is available to meet with students to assist in finding volunteer opportunities of interest.

When are the Student Time Logs Due?
Students keep track of their volunteer hours on a student time log form and are encouraged to log all hours by the end of each semester.

What happens when I complete my public service hours?
Students who fulfill Northwestern Law's public service hourly goal, after submitting the appropriate documentation, are honored at the public service luncheon during graduation week and receive recognition at graduation. Your name will be highlighted in the graduation bulletin, and you will receive gold and purple honor cords and tassels to wear at the graduation ceremony.

If you have any further questions, please contact the Public Service Coordinator Maureen Stratton.