Pro Bono Opportunities

The NIU College of Law pro bono initiative will pair students and mentoring attorneys in nearby counties who are willing to engage in legal work on behalf of persons of limited means or underserved populations, charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, and educational organizations for various purposes, and individuals or groups who wish to secure or protect civil rights. 

Definition of Pro Bono Service

Student diplomas will note your pro bono activity if you have performed more than sixty (60) hours of service while at the College of Law.

Some of the pro bono programs are available for first-year students, and most are available to second- and third-year students. All students may volunteer for pro bono activity at any time. For more information, please contact Professor Lawrence Schlam, Director of Pro Bono Initiatives, at lschlam@niu.edu or 815-753-0140.

If you are interested in this opportunity, please print and fill out the interest form and return it to Lisa Hoebing or LeAnn Baie in the Faculty Suite, Swen Parson Hall room 190. 

If you would like to search for opportunities on your own, there are two websites that discuss numerous opportunities in Illinois:

LawStudents.IllinoisProBono.org - This site gives law students instantaneous access to a statewide database of volunteer opportunities that can be filtered by county, opportunity type, practice area, and skills acquired.  Students can also download a free app from IllinoisProBono.org that offers three tools: (1) a volunteer postings search, (2) legal resources on Illinois law,  and (3) upcoming legal events, including MCLE training, regarding pro bono service. The app is available for Apple and Android devices. Its purpose is to facilitate pro bono work by offering a statewide search capability for volunteer opportunities convenient to your desired location and provide comprehensive manuals, articles–and a calendar of training sessions and events to support those opportunities.

Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) - This site is a complete listing of all participating agencies in Illinois that have been awarded grants to participate in PILI's Law Student Internship Program. You should not apply directly to any agency, but through use of PILI’s online application system.

As for other, more specific opportunities, see the following:


“Ask a Lawyer Day”

Students, especially those with Spanish language skills, may volunteer each March to plan and participate in this day-long free legal advice forum. It is usually held on a Saturday in early April under the supervision of volunteer alumni and other attorneys in the area. Clients generally have questions and concerns typical of those found in most legal services programs, such as immigration, domestic relations, consumer, landlord-tenant problems, SSA problems and the like.

LLSA at the College of Law generally assumes responsibility for organizing this event, and their members may be contacted if you are interested in participating in this project. Otherwise, contact Professor Schlam at lschlam@niu.edu.

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Immigration Detention Center Legal Advice Project (“Know Your Rights Program”)

This project is administered through the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (www.icirr.org) and the Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). Spanish-speaking students may volunteer for regular monthly visits (one weekday each month) to federal immigration detention centers in Northern Illinois to render advice and assistance to detainees. Students may travel to Chicago law schools or other sites for training (announced in the Docket when scheduled), or training can be scheduled at the law school if we have a large enough group containing at least 10 Spanish-speakers. The NIU College of Law course in Immigration Law is recommended.

Contact: Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Detention Project Supervising Attorney, National Immigrant Justice Center, 208 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 1818, Chicago, IL 60604, 312.660.1379, ewolfe@heartlandalliance.org.

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LiveHelp - Illinois Legal Aid Online

LiveHelp is an innovative service that allows people looking for legal information and self-help resources on www.IllinoisLegalAid.org to ask a remotely located LiveHelp operator for assistance in navigating that website. Volunteers will also provide direct person-to-person online help so that people in need of legal assistance can obtain the information they need to achieve more positive outcomes to their legal problems.

Volunteers can participate from any computer with internet access, making this a flexible volunteer opportunity for busy law students. You do not need to have any prior legal knowledge or experience, and you will receive training, supervision, and support from Illinois Legal Aid Online. Volunteers are expected to take one, two-hour shift per week for six months (50 hours). 1Ls are as welcome as 2Ls and 3Ls.

You can read more about LiveHelp and watch a promotional video at: http://www.illinoislegalaidonline.org/index.php?projects. The clinic schedules online webinar training for volunteers during the summer and academic year. The Director of this program also sets up “a table” at the law school each semester to explain and promote this program.

To find out more about the LiveHelp Program or to sign up for a training, please contact Adenike Kadri, LiveHelp Program Coordinator, at akadri@illinoislegalaid.org or 312-977-9047 ext. 22.

NOTE: Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) has recently made Illinois the first state to offer a mobile application specifically for pro bono attorneys. The App is available for Apple and Android devices; go to IllinoisProBono.org from your mobile browser to download.

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The Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission

This agency protects and enforces the rights of individuals with mental illness, developmental disability, or physical disability through three separate divisions, the Office of State Guardians, Legal Advocacy Services (LAS) and the Human Rights Authority.

The staff attorneys of LAS provide advice and representation to thousands of persons with disabilities, including minors and adults as well as residents of the community and treatment facilities. Their services include but are not limited to: 1) serving as court-appointed counsel, in the trial and reviewing courts, in hearings for involuntary mental health commitment and treatment; 2) responding to requests for information regarding the legal rights of persons with disabilities: and 3) investigating alleged violations of those legal rights and providing advocacy to remedy substantiated violations.

Volunteer law students would have the opportunity to assist a senior LAS attorney representing respondents in civil commitment and/or treatment hearings and to assist senior attorneys in research and writing appellate briefs from an order for civil commitment or involuntary psychotropic medication. Prior student LAS volunteers have conducted research, handled involuntary civil commitment and treatment hearings, participated in mental health law training and provided information to persons in treatment facilities who have questions about their legal rights. They have also assisted in drafting Advanced Directives for healthcare, property and mental health treatment.

The Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission has 9 offices located around the State of Illinois including Chicago, Des Plaines, Peoria, Rockford, and Maywood, and three satellite offices in Tinley Park Mental Health center, Read Mental Health Center and Elgin Mental Health Center.

Legal Advocacy Services would prefer 3Ls and 2Ls but would not rule out any competent, dedicated and hard working 1L. If you need any additional information or have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact:. Veronique Baker, Director, Legal Advocacy Services, Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission, (312) 793-5914. For additional information, contact Prof. Lawrence Schlam at lschlam@niu.edu

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Legal Services Program at Hesed House (Homeless Shelter, Aurora, IL)

As part of the program, NIU students are paired up with attorneys (some alumni) from the area to help them with their pro bono work among the residents of the shelter. The attorneys lessen their workload with the assistance of volunteer pro bono students, those in need are given services, and NIU students get some practical experience. There are four lawyers currently serving as supervisors and mentors who will rotate evening on-site service twice a month (at first) at the Hesed House Homeless Shelter in Aurora (average nightly population of about 425 persons). These volunteer attorneys will supervise 4 or 5 law students (preferably with 711 licenses) in intake, interviewing, counseling, litigation research and representation (or referral where appropriate).

Student experiences will involve a variety of substantive legal areas of concern to their target population, which will be the shelter constituencies as well as those under-represented and qualified persons in the surrounding community. Clients have questions and concerns typical of those found in most legal services programs, such as immigration, domestic relations, consumer and landlord-tenant problems and the like. This opportunity will be available this summer and during the academic year. To apply for this pro bono internship please contact: Glenn Myers, Esq., Volunteer Legal Services Coordinator, at (630) 743-3319, or email him at: gmyers@hesedhouse.org.

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T. Jordan Gallagher Legal Services Program at Hope Haven (Homeless Shelter, DeKalb IL)

The number of attorneys, pro bono interns needed, substantive areas handled and service constituencies for this program are somewhat less than the aforementioned Hesed House Program. This is because the average nightly population at Hope Haven is only approximately 75 persons. This opportunity will be available summers and during the academic year. To apply for this pro bono internship please contact: Tait J. Lundgren, Esq. ('04), Volunteer Legal Services Coordinator, at 815.758.6616.

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Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, Illinois Youth Center Chicago

The Superintendent of the Illinois Youth Center of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, Chicago, wishes to ensure that youth in custody fully understand the records expungement process before they leave the facility. They are looking for students who would be interested in meeting with detainees once a month or once every 2 weeks to explain this process to the detainees prior to exit. The Center is located at 136 N. Western Ave. in Chicago at the intersection of Western and Lake. Volunteers are required to undergo background checks. Contact: Angela Wartowski, Superintendent, Illinois Youth Center, 136 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60612, 312-633-5219 X4090 (facility), angela.wartowski@doc.illinois.gov.

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County State’s Attorneys

Positions, paid and unpaid, are available for interns or SCR 711 students. See, eg., Eric C. Weis, Esq., State’s Attorney ('97), Kendall County, Illinois, 807 W. John St., Yorkville, IL 60560, at (630) 553-4157. However, please note that, generally, state's attorney work does not qualify for pro bono certification unless it involves work exclusively in child support enforcement, victim's support, a domestic violence unit, drug diversion or veteran's courts, and the like. Most County State’s Attorney Offices will offer these sorts of programs for pro bono student assistance.

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County Public Defenders

Most work for these agencies qualifies as pro bono work and our students are volunteering pro bono in many of these Illinois county offices, e.g., DeKalb, Kane, Winnebago, DuPage, Cook.

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Domestic and International Adoptions

Alumni in Cook, Winnebago and DeKalb County have mentored several students over the past year in this sort of pro bono work. Contact Professor Schlam at lschlam@niu.edu for information about current opportunities.

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Prairie State Legal Services

Annual summer openings are often available in the St. Charles, Rockford, Ottawa and Peoria offices. Waukegan, McHenry and Wheaton may have also have openings. Pro Bono Interns will work under staff or volunteer attorneys in handling the full complement of civil problems typically seen in legal services offices (request specific offices when you make contact). These opportunities are available during the academic year as well as the summer. The training this agency provides students, however, requires significant time commitment, perhaps equivalent to that required for an externship.  Last summer, for example, PSLS asked students for a commitment of approximately 300 hours.  These are quite valuable internship learning experiences.

As soon as you determine that you (2L or 3L students only) are interested, send a cover letter (noting offices of interest), resume, short writing sample (3 to 5 pages) and a list of three references to the Director indicated below. She generally conducts a short initial interview by phone and then speaks with the local managing attorney if the student seems appropriate for a given office. Send applications and materials to:

Ms. Linda A. Rothnagel
Director of Advocacy Training
Prairie State Legal Services, Inc.
5320 West Elm Street
McHenry, IL 60050
815-344-9113 Ext. 212
lrothnagel@pslegal.org

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Kane County Lawyer in the Lobby Program

Legal advice provided at the Kane County Courthouse under attorney supervision every Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. For more information, visit: www.kanecountybar.org.

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Kane County Lawyer in the Library Program

Legal advice provided at the Kane County Courthouse Library under attorney supervision. For more information, contact: the library director, Halle Mikyska, at mikyskahalle@county.kane.il.us or 630-406-7126.

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Administer Justice, Inc.

Among their programs is a Tax Controversy Clinic. The agency will instruct students in “Tax Controversy” litigation and the representation of low income citizens before the IRS and Tax Court. Their lawyers, with student intern assistance, also help pro se taxpayers with their cases when Tax Court meets. Accountants are also needed to help non-filers with back taxes and to negotiate with the IRS for settlements. Contact: Judith R. Berndt, Tax Controversy Director, jberndt@administerjustice.org.

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GoEco: International Pro Bono Legal Volunteers

GoEco is providing global volunteering opportunities for university or law students and faculty. Volunteers can choose from a variety of placements focusing on animal and environmental conservation as well as humanitarian aid, using their knowledge and skills to provide a personal contribution. Join the South Africa Tiger and Lion Park for a hands on wildlife experience, explore Cambodia while contributing to Teaching and Community Development, or discover Israel with the Sustainable Agriculture Program.

Volunteering with any program includes: Accommodations, full board, full pre-departure & in-country assistance, training, and support.

Contact information:

Phone - (917) 477-3931
E-mail - info@goeco.org
Website - www.goeco.org

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NOTE: Additional Opportunities, several of which are in development for the upcoming academic year, will be added when they are confirmed. Please contact Prof. Lawrence Schlam, Director of Pro Bono Initiatives, at lschlam@niu.edu for more information or with questions.

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