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Public Interest & Pro Bono Program

Service is core to the legal profession and central to the Duke Law experience. Whether students aspire to become public interest lawyers, to incorporate pro bono work into their practice, or to serve in other ways, they will find the resources and community at Duke to reach their goals.

Duke Law boasts a vibrant public interest community led by the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono. Starting in the fall of their first year, students may engage in pro bono volunteerism through over fifteen pro bono projects and receive one-on-one career advising from specialized public interest career counselors. Upper-level students may pursue the Public Interest and Public Service Law Certificate, earn course credit when working with public interest employers in an externship, and enroll in one of twelve clinics practicing under the supervision of Duke Law faculty.

Career Support

The Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono offers comprehensive career advising, support, and funding for students and alumni interested in government and public interest (GPI) positions. It works in close partnership with the Career and Professional Development Center to help students take the right steps to lead to their desired short- and long-term career goals. Working with faculty, student groups, and others, the office hosts educational programs and community-building events throughout the year to bring GPI-focused students together, and to inform the wider student body about GPI careers and opportunities.

Duke students are competitive in the most elite hiring programs, including post-graduate fellowships and federal government honors programs. The Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono features specialized career counselors to serve the unique needs of students pursuing these careers. In partnership with the Career & Professional Development Center, they work to ensure that every Duke Law student has assistance to pursue their career goals.

The office also administers Duke Law School funding to support public interest internships and post-graduate work, including:

  • Summer Public Interest Fellowships. Duke Law students 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 endowments set up to provide Summer Public Interest Fellowships, which are offered on a competitive basis to 1L and 2L students, and the Dean’s Summer Service Grant, which provides guaranteed funding to any student who secures summer public interest or government employment and completes fifteen hours of service during the school year.

  • Public Interest Conference Funds. The law school sets aside funding each year to sponsor students who wish to attend public interest conferences. Many students attend the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair each fall.

  • Public Interest Interview Travel Funds. The 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.

  • Post-graduate Fellowships & Bar Grants. Duke Law offers funding support to graduates pursuing public interest positions, including two, year-long paid fellowships; short term "Bridge" fellowships to assist graduates awaiting bar results and permanent positions; grants to help defray the costs of bar study; and loan repayment assistance (LRAP) for graduates in public interest or public service work.

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 between their first and second years of law school, though some students may receive permission to apply later. Enrolled students complete curricular requirements and are assigned faculty and staff 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.

Pro Bono Program

Pro bono service is a key component in the leadership development of Duke Law students. Each year, students contribute thousands of hours to organizations in the local community and nationally through pro bono projects. The Pro Bono Program offers students experiential learning opportunities through volunteer pro bono work with non-profits, government agencies, private firms, and Duke Law faculty. Under the supervision of licensed attorneys, students contribute to public service, develop their legal and professional skills, build relationships important to their future careers, and work to address unmet legal needs. The work ranges in scope from brief research to in-depth client interviewing, investigation, document drafting, or even appearance at a hearing. Students are encouraged to explore different interests and may participate in more than one group. Most opportunities are open to all JD and LLM students with options to fit personal interests and time commitments.

Group pro bono projects include the Clemency Project; Coalition Against Gendered Violence; Consumer Rights & Economic Justice Project; Duke Fair Change Project; Duke Immigrant and Refugee Project; Environmental Law Project; Guardian ad Litem; Health Care Planning Project; Human Rights Project; If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice; Innocence Project; Lawyer-on-the-Line; Lyme Disease Advocacy Project; Street Law; Veteran’s Assistance Project; and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Project (VITA). The office works with individual students or groups of students to create new projects as interests or needs arise.

The Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono also sponsors time-limited projects throughout the academic year; these may be single day projects or take place over a handful of days. Semester Break Pro Bono Trips allow Duke Law students to partner with legal services organizations to provide high-impact legal work to underserved areas of North Carolina and across the United States not usually accessible while classes are in session. The Office of Public Interest & Pro Bono organizes trips during the fall and spring semester breaks and provides funding for student participation.

Other students work with the office to identify individual placements consistent with their passions or goals; these opportunities are supervised by community attorneys or law school faculty. Students in the past have gained experience in a wide variety of pro bono practice areas including arts and intellectual property, domestic violence, and employment law. Students may also create their projects to help address an unmet need. 

Selected Programs & Events

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

Public Interest and Pro Bono Kickoff. Early in the fall semester, the office hosts a school-wide kickoff so that new and returning students can speak with students from all the pro bono groups and public interest organizations. Students can sign up to join projects or simply join a listserv to stay abreast of programs and volunteer opportunities.

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.