Public Interest & Pro Bono Programs

Programs that supplement and enrich the curricular learning for students are sponsored by many departments at Duke Law School, including the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono. Some of the public interest and pro bono programs and events are described here. For more information, visit law.duke.edu/publicinterest.

Pro Bono Project. The Pro Bono Project provides Duke Law students with an opportunity to hone their legal and professional skills and build relationships important to their future careers, while also providing an important public service to the community. Each year, students contribute thousands of hours to organizations in the local community and nationally through pro bono projects. Students may choose individual placements supervised by community attorneys or law school faculty or join a student-organized group project. Group pro bono projects include:Coalition Against Gendered Violence; Guardian ad Litem; Environmental Law Project; Health Care Planning Project; Lawyer-on-the-Line; Innocence Project; Duke Immigrant and Refugee Project; Semester Break Legal Service Trips; Street Law; Veteran’s Assistance Project; and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Project (VITA). The Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono also sponsors time-limited projects throughout the academic year.

Public Interest Retreat. The Public Interest Retreat, started in 1998, is an annual weekend retreat for members of the Duke Law community who are interested in public interest or public service as part of their legal careers. The retreat provides an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to reflect on their public service aspirations and career-planning. Distinguished speakers, including alumni working in public interest, are invited each year to address the participants as well as to participate in small group activities and workshops.

Summer Public Interest Fellowships. Duke Law students who meet the requirements are guaranteed summer funding to enable them to accept otherwise unpaid employment with government and nonprofit employers in the United States and abroad. Funding comes through a variety of sources, including a number of endowments set up to provide Summer Public Interest Fellowships, which are offered on a competitive basis to 1L and 2L students. The Dean’s Summer Service Grant provides guaranteed funding to any student who secures summer public interest or government employment, and also completes twenty hours of public service during the school year, which consists of ten hours working with the Public Interest Law Foundation (PIFL) and another ten with PILF or an approved pro bono project. The Alumni and Development Office, the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono and PILF all work to raise funds for the Dean’s Summer Service Grant program.

Public Interest Conference Funding. The law school sets aside funding each year to sponsor students who wish to attend public interest conferences. This funding is limited so students are encouraged to seek other funding. A large number of students attend the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair each fall.

Public Interest Interview Travel Funding. The law school provides some funding for third year students who need to travel for interviews for post-graduate public interest or government positions, as in many cases these employers are unable to pay interview travel expenses. This funding is limited and students must apply for it.

Certificate in Public Interest and Public Service Law. This JD Certificate program is for students committed to a legal career in public service. Students typically apply and enroll in the spring of their first year, though some students may receive permission to apply later. Enrolled students complete curricular requirements and are assigned faculty, alumni and peer mentors to assist them in selecting academic, clinical and experiential courses that will help them develop competencies necessary to achieve their professional aspirations. Students in the program benefit from a community of peers, faculty, administrators and Duke Law alumni committed to supporting them as they pursue careers in public interest and public service.