Bono Services and the Miller Center at Penn State-Dickinson
With the need for pro bono
escalating and the constantly busy schedules of attorneys, what better way to
ensure representation for Pennsylvania’s impoverished population than to enlist
the cooperation of those who are willing to do most anything in order to gain
experience and connections within the legal profession?
Through the Miller Center
Public Interest Advocacy program, students at the Pennsylvania State University
Dickinson School of Law are aiding area attorneys and beginning to represent
both underrepresented and unrepresented clients before their career even begins.
The center, which was founded through a gift to the law school by Judge G.
Thomas Miller and Anne G. Miller, originated in the spring of 2001. The central
goal of the Miller Center is to foster students’ understanding of and commitment
to their obligation to serve the underrepresented. Students performing at least
sixty hours of public service work over the course of their law school careers
are then formally recognized as Miller Center Public Interest Advocates upon
graduation. In its first semester, the Miller Center certified eight people as
advocates. The class of 2003 graduated 39 advocates, nearly one-quarter of the
graduating class. Twenty-seven students of the class of 2005 have qualified to
Students have many
opportunities to serve the public interest including: Pro Bono Projects, which
include volunteering to aid public defenders and legal services; the IOLTA Grant
Program, which is a school-sponsored program wherein students work full-time in
legal services during the summer; and Public Interest Organizations, which
includes providing assistance to the ACLU and the Immigrant Resource Center in
Through the Miller Center and
the Miller Advocacy Chair, Professor Gary Gildin, attorneys can enlist the help
of students for a variety of tasks such as researching topics, writing
memorandums and briefs, and attending pro se clinics. MidPenn Legal Services,
for example, often assists students in becoming more familiar with the needs of
those who cannot afford the hourly rates of an attorney.
Pro se custody clinics are one
of the services that MidPenn Services provides for Dickinson students can
attend. While students often can aid lawyers in their researching needs without
ever meeting either the lawyer or the client, these clinics give the students an
opportunity to meet the people whom they are helping. Both attorneys and law
students partake in the clinics, aiding people in the completion of their
custody forms. The students and lawyers help to answer any questions, and the
attorneys then review the file before the papers are taken to be filed. Only
limited knowledge of custody law is needed to contribute in the clinics, making
this a great way for students to perform public service work.
Through the Miller Center, I
have begun my pro bono services one-year-and-one-half before graduation. In the
middle of my second year, I was looking for opportunities to build my resume and
obtain legal experiences. I decided to volunteer for the Miller Center so I
could use my spare time to help those without the financial means to help
themselves. Since then, I have assisted area attorneys in a variety of projects
ranging from researching Pennsylvania’s laws on the competency of defendants to
the Fair Housing Act to attending the pro se clinics. Through my research, I
have helped six attorneys in their representations and expect to lengthen that
list throughout my final year at Dickinson.
Pro bono service is a
tremendous way to gain both legal experience and an appreciation for the needs
of those who cannot afford legal counsel. And who better to instill the need for
pro bono services into than the people who someday soon will be expected to
offer such services?