Pro Bono Service Initiative

at The University of Chicago Law School

National Lawyers Guild and the Pushing Envelopes Writing Campaign

Katie Koza and Austin Feuer with Professor Emily Buss

Katie Koza, ’23, and Austin Feuer, ’22, with Professor Emily Buss after NLG won the Student Organization Pro Bono Award at the 2022 Pro Bono Recognition Ceremony

By Emma Stapleton, ’24

Today we write to spotlight a letter writing campaign put on by the UChicago Law Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild in service of Pushing Envelopes (formerly known as Black & Pink Chicago). National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is an LSO that strives to inform and advocate for considerations of social and economic justice in the study of law, hopes to involve young lawyers in their professional and social duty to their community, and pushes for laws that protect the economic and social welfare of the people. Pushing Envelopes is an abolitionist network of LGBTQIA2S+ individuals experiencing incarceration and allies. Pushing Envelopes is dedicated to abolishing the criminal punishment system and liberating LGBTQIA2S+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS who are affected by the system through advocacy, support, and organizing.

The letter writing campaign allows students to use their legal research skills in order to help LGBTQIA2S+ individuals experiencing incarceration find answers to legal questions. Pushing Envelopes receives the initial letters from individuals with their legal queries and law students respond to these letters under the supervision of NLG student coordinators and prisoners’ rights attorneys at Loevy & Loevy.

To get a sense of the great work student pro bono volunteers are doing within the letter writing campaign, I spoke with the Katie Koza (3L) and Allie O’Connor (2L), who are two of the three co-coordinators of the campaign in this year alongside Gabrielle Seiwert (2L). Katie also served as a co-coordinator for the previous year. Here’s what they have to say about the project:

How or why did you choose to get involved with the letter writing campaign?

Katie Koza, 3L: I got involved with the project during the winter break of my 1L year. I knew precious little about legal research and writing at the time, but I refused to let that stop me. Doing this pro bono work was a great way to use the knowledge I was starting to gain in the service of others.

Allie O’Connor, 2L: I began volunteering for the letter writing campaign during my 1L year, in part because that first year made me feel disconnected from the communities I had hoped to serve when I entered law school. Beyond that, I appreciated the opportunity to communicate directly with incarcerated people and learn firsthand about their experiences and challenges. I also felt that NLG and Pushing Envelopes’ intersectional and abolitionist approach aligned with my values.

What does a typical “assignment” or correspondence process look like? How does the project function?

Katie: Typically, LGBTQ+ incarcerated people will send letters to our contact person at Pushing Envelopes Chicago, Rob Sobczak, or to our contact person at Pushing Envelopes Milwaukee. If the letters are from incarcerated people who are seeking legal information, the Pushing Envelopes contact people will forward the letters to us. Then, we co-coordinators meet and read the letters, trying to determine which aspects of the letters we will be able to have students respond to. That’s a particularly interesting step in the process, since we need to think through how the queries in the letters will map onto specific angles for legal research. Next, we solicit law student volunteers using our listserv and assign students to letters. Sometimes students work in teams, and we often try to pair more experienced writers with less experienced writers. The students usually have two weeks to write the responses, which they then send back to us. After we review the student responses, we send them to civil rights attorneys at the law firm, Loevy & Loevy, who have graciously volunteered to help us. The attorneys weigh in with any suggested changes, which the students implement. Then we send the response letters back to our contact points at Pushing Envelopes and get ready for the next batch!

What has been the most impactful part of your work with the letter writing campaign, and what have you learned from the project?

Katie: When I see my fellow students eagerly step up to write letters or become co-coordinators, I feel more hopeful about the future of the legal profession and about civil rights. Sometimes it can be daunting to confront entrenched systems of mass incarceration and homophobia, but when I have zealous advocates by my side, it energizes me.

Through this project, I have also become more acutely aware of the ways that prison environments often become especially toxic for people who are transgender. Factors like sexual harassment and the denial of gender-affirming medical care compound in ways that are unhealthy and unjust. As members of the legal community, we have an obligation not to turn a blind eye to this injustice, but rather, to use our legal skills in opposition to it.

Allie: One specific thing I’ve learned more about is the work of jailhouse lawyers and the efforts people make to teach themselves about the law and advocate for their rights. A good number of the people who write us letters are familiar with the laws applicable to their issues or have ideas about a legal strategy they want to pursue. While we as law students can’t provide them legal advice within this project, we do our best to bolster their knowledge with further research. The work of jailhouse lawyers is just one example that illustrates how important and valuable it is to center the voices and lived experiences of incarcerated people when we talk about prisoners’ rights and the prison industrial complex.

The Pro Bono Service Initiative supports students with an interest in performing pro bono work during their time at the Law School.  The Initiative encourages all students to pledge 50 hours of service before graduating to aid vulnerable groups and communities, to hone tangible and intangible skills to round out their law school learning, and to experience hands-on legal work that will truly affect others.  For more information about how to make the pledge and all things pro bono, visit the Pro Bono Service Initiative website here.

For more information about joining the Pushing Envelopes letter writing campaign, please contact Katie Koza (, Allie O’Connor ( or Gabrielle Seiwart ( They will be recruiting new letter writers this fall. Special thanks to Katie Koza and Allie O’Connor for taking the time to share more about the campaign.

UChicago Careers in Law Mentorship Program

By Rebecca Chong, ’23

When we think about “pro bono,” we typically think about working for public clients—whether that be in conjunction with a legal aid organization or even though a law firm. One activity that law students might not recognize as pro bono work is participating in mentorship programs involving students interested in pursuing a legal education or career. The Law School recognizes up to five hours of such mentorship to fulfill the pro bono pledge.

Participating as a student mentor is one of the most popular pro bono activities at the Law School. This year, 72 law students are participating in the UChicago Careers in Law (CIL) Mentorship Program. Hosted by the College’s Careers in Law office, the mentorship program pairs law students with undergraduate students interested in going to law school after graduation. Each quarter, the Office hosts a mentorship event where mentors and mentees can socialize and share experiences. Past mentorship events include: trivia night and resume/cover letter workshops. Mentors and mentees must also meet casually at least once a quarter, often over coffee or a meal. Being a mentor is not a huge time commitment, making it the perfect pro bono opportunity for 1Ls and upperclassmen alike.

We interviewed a few of our mentors to learn more about their experiences with the CIL Mentorship Program. Mary Salvi is a 2L student at the Law School and it is her first year as a mentor. Ryan Guo is a 2L student (and alumnus of the College) and a second-year mentor.

Why did you choose to be a mentor?

Mary:   I chose to be a mentor to encourage others on their path to becoming a lawyer, especially given the stress and “unknowns” the prospect of attending law school brings. Law school is not for everyone and for this reason, it sometimes gets a bad rep. However, the educational opportunity is unparalleled in graduate studies. To “think like a lawyer” is a lifelong intellectual exercise that is quite intense. But being able give advice to others so they may accomplish something great or navigate a sticky situation is a rewarding vocation. There is also a lot you can do with a law degree—you are not limited to doing litigation or transactional law.

Ryan:   Primarily, I wanted to pay all the help I’ve received forward. I have had a lot of fantastic mentors throughout college and during my career, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without each and every single one of them.

What does a typical meeting with your mentee look like?

Mary:   My mentee and I meet for coffee, and it’s laid back and fun. It’s a chance for us to get to know each other. I try to give some insight on his career goals where he has a question or is seeking recommendations for how to go about something. But my main goal is to listen and be a sounding board who has his interests in mind.

Ryan:   Generally, we sit down with a goal in mind, whether that’s to work through her resume, talk about summer internships, or chat about law school generally. She always has great questions prepared, and I try and answer them to the best of my ability while adding in details.

What is your most memorable moment as a mentor? What have you learned as a mentor?

Mary:   My most memorable moment as a mentor was the first time I met with my mentee as well as another student seeking mentorship. Though from different backgrounds, we found a common interest in a career in law and discussed what each of us hoped to contribute to the field. It was an eye-opening experience to witness the different paths being a lawyer can take you. While much of the goals discussed may fit in a 15-year plan, rather than a 5-year plan, I enjoyed encouraging them to stop at nothing to achieve their goals. I am eager to follow their careers and help where I can. As a mentor I have learned the value of encouraging others, finding ways to be helpful, and sometimes just listening to build trust. Placing another’s interest at heart is just a small way I can “give back,” as I have benefited immensely from those willing to support me in my career.

Ryan:   I think my most memorable moment is being able to meet my mentee in person after a year of speaking to her online. It was nice to be able to just grab coffee and chat, especially after such a long period of social distancing. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how much I enjoy working with people. It is gratifying to be able to see a mentee’s development, and I’m excited to be in a place in my life where I can offer others sound advice.

The Pro Bono Service Initiative supports students with an interest in performing pro bono work during their time at the Law School.  The Initiative encourages all students to pledge 50 hours of service before graduating to aid vulnerable groups and communities, to hone tangible and intangible skills to round out their law school learning, and to experience hands-on legal work that will truly affect others.  For more information about how to make the pledge and all things pro bono, visit the Pro Bono Service Initiative website here. As a reminder, the Law School recognizes only up to five hours of mentorship to fulfill the pro bono pledge.

For more information about joining the CIL Mentorship program, please contact Rebecca Chong ( We will be recruiting new mentors next Fall! Special thanks to Mary Salvi and Ryan Guo for their time during the interviews.

Pro Bono Student Panel Recap

Pro Bono panelistsBy So Jung Kim, ’23

In celebration of Pro Bono Week at the law school, three students—Rob Clark (’22, previously spotlighted), Jacqueline Horwitz (’22), and Jennifer Yang (’23)—who are actively engaged in impactful pro bono work spoke as part of a panel about their experiences getting involved with various nonprofits and legal initiatives.

To illustrate the breadth of the panelists’ early pro bono involvement, they have conducted intake at Legal Aid Chicago’s Woodlawn Clinic (pre-pandemic), just steps from the law school building; served as a live chat helper for Illinois Legal Aid Online; conducted research for the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center through Spring Break of Service; and answered legal-inquiry letters from incarcerated LGBTQ people through Black and Pink. These projects helped them to develop skills in research, writing, communicating with clients and legal counsel, as well as learn more about substantive legal systems in Illinois and across the country.

Jacqueline HorwitzPro bono work is serious work that impacts real people’s lives, as demonstrated by a few anecdotes. This summer, Jacqueline answered a call for assistance to support intake on bases for Afghan refugees who fled the regime change after the American military withdrawal. She was deployed alongside litigators, who were also new to immigration law, to the East Coast to receive new arrivals and let them know about their rights and the resettlement process. Because of the urgency of the situation, sometimes they served as social workers providing backpacks and pregnancy tests or mobilizing other resources for families.

Rob ClarkDuring his internship with the Center for Disability and Elder Law, Rob worked directly with clients to assist with estate planning, property tax exemptions, and many other legal issues. He often worked with clients facing complex problems and was responsible for spotting and helping to resolve underlying legal issues that the clients might not have been aware were contributing to their problems.

Jennifer started volunteering with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle before law school as a translator. Her role was to ensure the accuracy of documents, testimony, and conversations—across languages—between the lawyer and the client seeking asylum. She reflected on how much of a difference it made to let the client know she believed their story, understood the cultural context, and wanted to get their story straight to be their best advocate and eventually obtain a positive outcome for the client.

Pro bono experiences are also a professional development opportunity that prepares students for summer internships and jobs in law firms or the public sector. In addition, they let students explore their own interests, realize which areas they may find less exciting early on, and focus on skillsets of best fit (e.g., transactional law, litigation, policy and/or appellate advocacy, direct services, impact litigation). It can also signal to employers that students are capable of juggling competing deadlines.

As co-president of the Public Interest Law Society, one of Jennifer’s priorities thisJennifer Yang year is to build in group opportunities for PILS members to participate in pro bono together and foster more connection across class years. Nevertheless, 1Ls should not be afraid to volunteer for work because they may feel too new to the law. Sometimes lessons from first-year doctrinal classes may appear in real life and deliver results for the clients. Host organizations are the experts and prepared to train pro bono volunteers (e.g., manuals, slide decks, shadowing an attorney, templates from past work) and give them work that they can handle. Mostly, they want students’ willingness to learn and problem-solving skills. Indeed, many legal aid organizations have dual missions to serve their clients’ immediate needs and also to integrate pro bono work into the legal profession. Regardless of the onboarding process, panelists recommended asking questions and seeking feedback early and often on assignments, but after doing some due diligence first.

Panelists encouraged 1Ls to start pursuing pro bono work and to thoughtfully balance it with their time-intensive coursework. Since 1Ls cannot join law school clinics in the first year, pro bono is the best way to start applying legal research and writing lessons from the Bigelow program. There are one-off opportunities that last a single shift or short-term remote research projects that are more flexible for students with tight schedules and on long learning curves. As in any professional environment, panelists advised that students overcommunicate their commitments and notify supervisors of any changes in bandwidth that may delay their ability to complete assignments on time. Pro bono and public interest coordinator Hannah Fine (you can reach her at is a great resource for a reality check on time commitments and can advise students on how best to succeed in integrating pro bono work into a law school schedule.

Researching Jury Pool Composition with Spring Break of Service

By Alexandra Maloney, ’23

The past year and a half has presented a host of obstacles for the world and for the Law School community, and among them was the ability to complete pro bono work while being confined at home.  However, through the resilience and creativity of student organizations like Spring Break of Service, opportunities to connect students to public interest organizations for pro bono work remotely flourished last year.  I sat down with Kendall Bryant ‘22, president of Spring Break of Service, to discuss her experience doing pro bono service remotely.

Spring Break of Service (SBOS) is a student-run organization that connects law students to week-long pro bono opportunities during the Law School’s spring break.  Last year, SBOS partnered with Louisiana Capital Assistance Center (LCAC), a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to indigent individuals charged with capital crimes.  Normally, students would travel on-site during spring break to do in-person field work, but this year, participants worked on projects from home.

Kendall highlighted her prior background in public service as a crisis counselor for the National Suicide Hotline as being an impetus for attending law school and joining SBOS.  “When I talked to callers, external circumstances and pressures would often be the reasons why people were in dire mental states.  I often gave them legal referrals but quickly became aware of how overburdened free or low-cost legal service providers are.  Now that I have this legal education and I have an ability to help people in these roles, I knew I had an obligation to ease the burden that exists.”

Students with SBOS worked 40-hour weeks during spring break and had daily check-ins with supervisors from LCAC.  During the week, Kendall worked on a data processing and research project for a report aimed at analyzing discrepancies between district censuses and jury pools.  LCAC and Kendall’s research found that the Eastern District of Louisiana had the highest differences in terms of racial composition between the district’s population and the people that ultimately made it onto juries.  LCAC’s research is being compiled into a report to submit in ongoing litigation to flag the issue for courts and argue that defendants’ rights to a jury of their peers are in jeopardy when their juries are racially imbalanced.  Kendall’s work mainly focused on combing through district court documents to find data and patterns in jury compositions throughout the country.

“The differences were often really stark,” Kendall said of her discoveries.  “It was incredibly eye-opening and often discouraging to see, but also a reaffirmation of how important it is for people that can advocate to do so,” she said, referencing literature and studies that demonstrate that balanced juries are more likely to check their own biases and evaluate cases more holistically.   On the other hand, juries that mostly consist of groups not in a defendant’s community are more likely to be disposed, whether consciously or unconsciously, against a defendant without considering other factors that might color their perceptions.

Kendall and SBOS are now working on finalizing its roster of partner organizations for this year, which as of now includes the ACLU of Tennessee, the LCAC, and General Legal Services of Eastern Missouri on issues ranging from domestic violence to civil liberties.  The board is hopeful that projects can take place in person this year if COVID-19 rates permit, although final decisions regarding traveling will be announced closer to March.  Even in the case of another remote SBOS, however, Kendall underscored how valuable the experience was to her even working from home: “meeting with a team every day made me feel truly integrated on a project that will hopefully alleviate inequalities for people that need it the most.”

Many 1Ls demonstrate interest in engaging in pro bono opportunities but find a dearth of positions available for first-year students or feel (understandably) spread thin between adjusting to law school and joining student organizations, a sentiment Kendall emphasized was familiar to her.  She assured, however, that “even as 1L you can make a difference and do work relevant to the legal field.  I felt overwhelmed a lot of the time during my first year, but SBOS was a great way to ease into pro bono work for 2L and 3L,” explaining the convenience of not having to juggle classes during the week to fully sink into her work.  Kendall also recommended checking the Law School pro bono page for current opportunities for students at all levels, including LLMs.

The Pro Bono Service Initiative supports students with an interest in performing pro bono work during their time at the Law School.  The Initiative encourages all students to pledge 50 hours of service before graduating to aid vulnerable groups and communities, hone tangible and intangible skills to round out their law school learning, and experience hands-on legal work that will truly affect people.  For more information about how to make the pledge and all things pro bono, visit the Pro Bono Service Initiative website here.

Hands-on Experience at the Center for Disability and Elder Law: A Conversation with Rob Clark

By Caitlan M. Sussman, ’22

Rob Clark ’22 spent nearly 500 hours volunteering for the Center for Disability and Elder Law (CDEL) during the pandemic. I recently had the opportunity to sit downRob Clark with Rob to learn more about his pro bono experience with CDEL.

CDEL, founded in 1984, has two primary missions. It offers free legal services to low-income seniors and people living with disabilities in the greater Chicagoland area, and encourages pro bono participation in the community.

Rob began the internship during the last six weeks of summer 2020. He found the work so rewarding that he extended it through the Autumn and Winter Quarters of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Rob’s desire to gain “hands-on experience solving complex problems” first drew him to law school. Having done his undergraduate work in math and economics at SUNY Binghamton and his master’s degree in economics at the University of Pennsylvania, Rob founded and ran a private tutoring business in Philadelphia before deciding on the University of Chicago Law School. “I felt that law would give me a way to have a more immediate impact on the world,” he explained.

Coming into law school, Rob thought he might be interested in public interest work in the long term. Running the tutoring business, however, convinced him that he “wanted to also use the entrepreneurial skills [he] had developed while tutoring.” He decided on BigLaw as a way to combine entrepreneurial skills with legal practice.

The experience with CDEL was an “incredibly diverse internship.” During his six-month internship, Rob spoke with hundreds of clients and developed many ongoing client relationships. In some cases he was their main contact at CDEL and had his own private phone line where they could reach him directly. He was in charge of relaying legal advice from the organization’s attorneys to its clients.

During the internship, Rob drafted adult guardianship pleadings, assisting in matters in which adults were unable to handle their own personal or financial affairs, often due to living with a disability. He also helped with estate planning matters such as simple wills, transfer on death instruments to handle property, and power of attorney documents. In addition, he worked on matters relating to other issues that elderly individuals or persons living with disabilities might encounter, such as collections, banking, or private landlord-tenant issues.

“The clients are always so thankful and appreciative of the effort we put in,” Rob said. “It really means a lot to them.”

The internship helped Rob continue to develop fundamental legal skills, the basic “nuts and bolts of lawyering.” It allowed him to try his hand at the various stages involved in litigation. He drafted complaints, responses to motions to dismiss, and discovery responses. He also had the opportunity to work on transactional pro bono matters.

Rob particularly enjoyed working on property tax matters, helping seniors and people living with disabilities in Cook County obtain the property tax exemptions and recover the property taxes they deserve. Through CDEL, Rob was able to “help[ ] one client recover several thousands of dollars in overpaid taxes.”

Rob highly encourages students to get involved in public interest and pro bono work while in law school and throughout their career. As he explained, it is a unique opportunity to gain familiarity with client work and learn what it is like to be a lawyer prior to starting a legal career. The experience, he said, “developed my ability really to be a legal educator, which is part of our role as a lawyer – we need to explain to clients what is going on.” Speaking about his experience with both litigation and transactional drafting work at CDEL, Rob said: “That type of drafting experience I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.” It allowed him during his 2L summer to “go to my firm and draft entire motions and responses and get really good feedback because I wasn’t drafting something for the very first time.”

Pro bono work is also an important way to give back to the community, both in law school and in a professional capacity. No matter the practice area, Rob emphasized the importance of incorporating pro bono experience into legal practice. He considers it “an ethical obligation and my way to give back for all the opportunities that have been afforded me to get where I am now.”

In addition to his internship with CDEL, Rob has engaged in other pro bono work through the Law School’s Pro Bono Service Initiative. He has worked with “Know Your IX,” a Title IX advocacy group, to gather data on “reverse Title IX” cases. Prior to the 2020 general election, Rob volunteered with the nonprofit organization, the Advancement Project, “creating resources to aid responses to voter intimidation on the ground.” Rob has also worked with Legal Aid Chicago at the Woodlawn Clinic a few blocks away from the Law School, which allows students to volunteer on a monthly basis to conduct client intake for the organization.

After graduation, Rob will be returning to Cozen O’Connor, the firm where he spent both his 1L and 2L summers, in their Philadelphia office. Rob will start in Cozen’s litigation practice and hopes to pursue appellate litigation while maintaining a pro bono practice. He would especially like to continue working on matters similar to those at CDEL, such as assisting clients with adult guardianship matters.

CDEL is currently seeking interns for the academic year. Rob emphasized that the organization is extremely accommodating of the law student schedule, especially around exam time. CDEL still allows for fully remote internships if the student chooses. For students entering their 3L year, Rob also explained that CDEL provides opportunities to obtain a Rule 711 license to directly represent clients in court. More information about the CDEL internship can be found on Simplicity. Students looking to get involved in other impactful pro bono work may visit the Law School’s Pro Bono Service Initiative page.

Students may draw on a variety of funding sources to allow them to participate in public interest work. In addition to the $5,000 summer stipend the Law School provides, students may receive funding from the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI). PILI, one of the external public interest funding sources available, supports internships for law students at public interest organizations in Illinois during both the summer and the academic year. Students seeking summer funding for public interest work and/or external funding may visit the Law School’s Public Service and Public Interest page.

Hear From Big Law Associates and Pro Bono Counsel About Their Pro Bono Efforts


Interested in both working for a firm and public interest law, or already planning on working for a firm and concerned with balancing pro bono work with billable hours? Click on the link here to view a panel discussion with associates from Sidley and Katten and pro bono counsel from Kirkland discussing how you can take advantage of pro bono opportunities in big law.

Ensuring Transparency in the Justice System

Lanie Yeames, ’21, is working to get law students involved in court watching projects throughout Chicago.

By Robert DeNunzio, ’21

Lanie Yeames ’21 has always felt lawyers have a responsibility to give back to their communities. After visiting a Cook County criminal courthouse for Criminal Law as a 1L, Lanie discovered court watching projects as a means of improving the legal system that was especially accessible to younger law students. As a result, Lanie was inspired to get involved with the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, a non-profit that seeks to promote best-practices and transparency in the justice system. “Court watching is a great pro bono opportunity, especially for 1Ls looking for a way to get involved,” Lanie says, “because you don’t need a 711 license or extensive legal experience. You can get plugged in right away within your own community.”

Working at Appleseed during her 1L summer, Lanie participated in a court watching program for immigration bond hearings. The project sought to shine a light on problematic practices in immigration proceedings. “Law school implies the system works how it is supposed to, but in practice that’s not often true,” Lanie says. “On the ground, justice systems are frequently deeply flawed.”

In total, Appleseed and its partners have observed over 200 immigration bond hearings as part of the project. Describing some of the project’s most troubling findings, Lanie said judges sometimes made bond determinations before hearings occur, or made decisions based entirely on the detainee’s criminal record rather than factoring in ability to pay (as required by law). Despite many detainees being self-represented, some hearings for non-English speaking detainees lack a translator. Appleseed has compiled a set of recommendations and best practices for immigration bond hearings based on the project. Lanie has also worked with Appleseed’s Criminal Justice Reform Committee, researching issues related to discretionary parole and compassionate release of inmates and assisted with the implementation of the Early Resolution Program at the Daley Center, an administrative hearing process to streamline domestic relations cases for unrepresented litigants.

After the summer, Lanie remained involved at Appleseed as the Law Student Board Member. She has also begun the process for creating an Appleseed chapter at the law school, which she hopes to be able to resume when COVID-19 conditions improve. Lanie said she has particularly enjoyed working with Appleseed because the organization brings together Chicago lawyers with diverse backgrounds to work on collective social justice issues and reform the courts.

At the law school, Lanie is a member of the Pro Bono Board, the University of Chicago Legal Forum, and has previously been involved in the Exoneration Project clinic. While she is going into corporate practice, Lanie plans to continue partnering with Appleseed after graduation.

Pro Bono in Big Law

What opportunities are there for pro bono work at a big law firm? Should you be working on pro bono cases as a summer associate? Does pro bono count towards the billable hour requirement in big law? We spoke with two attorneys who currently work in a big law setting to find out answers to these questions and more!

Meet the panelists:

Chris Bobby


Chris Bobby ‘18, is a tax associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in Chicago.





Shehnaz Mansuri


Shehnaz Mansuri is the pro bono manager at Mayer Brown in Chicago, responsible for coordinating the office’s pro bono program.




Q: Can you tell us about your career path to your firm and, in general, the type of pro bono work you focus on?

Chris Bobby: I knew fairly early on (starting somewhere during my first year of law school) that I wanted to practice tax work. I chose Skadden initially because of the strength of their tax work and the group but also because of the culture and people at the firm. Within pro bono, I focus on a lot of transactional work, specifically the tax aspects of charitable organization 501(c)(3) formation and operation, as well as offer in compromise actions with state and federal tax authorities (a program which allows for individuals with unpaid tax debt to negotiate a settled amount that is less than the total owed to clear the debt). However, I also enjoy working where the need is highest, and have recently taken on several asylum and naturalization cases.

Shehnaz Mansuri: For 13 years, I was a trial attorney at a small boutique law firm in Chicago that focused on police accountability cases. I enjoyed working with students and wanted to be challenged professionally and got a job at the University of Chicago undergrad running the UChicago Public Interest Program. Shortly thereafter, a position opened up the law school for a Pro Bono Manager and I applied for the job and got it. After working at the Law School, I worked at DePaul University College of Law as the Director of Pro Bono and Community Service. As much as I enjoyed working with students, I wanted to get back into a law firm setting where I could work with lawyers more directly on pro bono projects.


Q: What caused you to become involved in pro bono?

Chris: I started getting involved in pro bono work my first year of law school following a career in education. Having worked in low-income school districts as a special education teacher and a dean of discipline, I initially focused on education-related pro bono work. During law school I specifically worked on representing kids in suspension hearings with Chicago public schools and also worked for an organization which represented children in guardian ad litem cases. Pro bono work gave me the opportunity to experience the work I did previously in a legal setting, while also gaining an appreciation for the broad array of issues facing at-risk adolescents beyond the educational setting.


Q: In your opinion, can students ask about pro bono work in an interview? If so, how and when?

Shehnaz: Yes, most big law firms have robust pro bono programs. You can talk about the pro bono work you do as a student and how it allows you to both help vulnerable communities and to develop important professional skills. You can ask questions about how pro bono work is integrated into the firm culture and if the firm has any signature causes or practices.

Chris: In my personal view, it is completely acceptable to ask about pro bono work in an interview. In fact, I would view it as a positive if a candidate were to ask about pro bono during a Skadden interview. To gain a sense of pro bono work at a given firm, I think the candidate should ask what kind of pro bono work the interviewers have engaged in at the firm and what kind of pro bono work is offered. Additionally, I think the best way to learn the extent to which a given firm supports pro bono is to ask the interviewers about their own experiences with pro bono at the firm, and what kind of projects they are working on or have worked on recently.


Q: Do you recommend summer associates/first year associates seek out pro bono work? How should they do so?

Chris: I definitely think summer and first year associates should seek out pro bono work in the firm setting. Not only does it provide for a rewarding community service experience, but it also offers young attorneys and attorneys-to-be a legal experience outside of the context of their normal firm work. Additionally, it provides greater insight into the culture of the firm and an opportunity to work with colleagues across practice areas and experiences.

Shehnaz: We host a pro bono orientation for summer associates where we discuss how to get involved in pro bono work. I encourage summer associates to reach out to me with any questions, and to discuss particular projects they want to work on.  We also ask partners and associates to include pro bono projects in the case list/database that summer associates use during the summer.


Q: Do you see any trends in pro bono work (in general or at your firm?)

Shehnaz: Under the current circumstances, firms are looking for remote opportunities for attorneys and finding creative ways to serve vulnerable populations.

Chris: I think there has been a big trend towards immigration work following many of the executive actions by our current presidential administration. I think these will continue at least while the current administration is in office, but one may see the trend continue following another executive’s tenure. For example, in my own practice I have seen a rise in asylum, naturalization, and other immigration status related cases. In one specific case, a client’s officer-in-compromise request with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance was spurred by his desire to apply for naturalization. I think it is likely that we will see more trends, at least in the short-term, caused by the current coronavirus pandemic. For example, we may see more transactional work aimed at helping small businesses, charitable organizations, and other thinly capitalized groups given the current financial stressors caused by the fallout from the virus.


Q: Can you describe one recent (or most memorable) pro bono project? How did that project build your skill set or connections within the firm/legal community?

Chris: Recently I worked on an offer in compromise case for an individual seeking to apply for U.S. citizenship. The individual didn’t realize that he had to file state income tax returns for years 1988 and 1990, which, due mostly to the accrued interest and penalties, amounted to over $500,000 in unpaid taxes. The individual could not apply for citizenship until he paid his tax liability, but unfortunately, being on a fixed income, could in no way afford to do so. Typically, we would work with the state tax authorities on his behalf to come to an agreed-upon settlement amount that would satisfy both parties. However, after researching the state collections statutes in further detail, we were able to determine that the statute of limitations on collection of the unpaid taxes for both years was about to run. Thus, the individual was able to eliminate his outstanding tax liability without having to pay any amount. This was great for the client, as he could now apply for citizenship and did not have to worry about exhausting his means of supporting himself in the process. The experience of entering the project expecting to write an offer in compromise letter but finding a more efficient and cost-effective solution for our client was an invaluable lesson on the value of creative legal thinking, and that sometimes the best solution may exist outside of the usual confines one expects to use to fix a given problem.


Q: May summer associates work on pro bono matters at your firm?

Shehnaz: Yes, we encourage summer associates to work on pro bono projects at Mayer Brown. These projects help associates develop key professional skills and help them continue pro bono work when they come on full time.

Chris: Yes, summer associates are encouraged to work on pro bono matters at Skadden. The firm tries to provide as many opportunities as possible to get summer associates involved in pro bono.


Q: Does your firm provide institutional support for pro bono? (designated pro bono counsel/partner, pro bono managers/coordinators?)

Chris: In our New York office, our firm has a designated pro bono counsel that runs the pro bono program for the entire firm. In the Chicago office, Skadden has a pro bono coordinator, as well as other professional staff that aid in pro bono management and coordination. Furthermore, Skadden has developed partnerships with pro bono organization in the various locations where offices exist. Another significant factor in Skadden’s institutional support for pro bono is the unlimited amount of hours that can be used to hit an associates’ yearly billable goal.

Shehnaz: At Mayer Brown, we have a Pro Bono Director and Pro Bono Coordinator, both based in DC, and a Pro Bono Manager (me) based in Chicago.


Q: Does your firm have a written pro bono policy?

Shehnaz: Yes, we define what work qualifies as pro bono, and also have a process to run conflicts and open pro bono matters.

Chris: Skadden has written policies and procedures for common issues relating to pro bono matters, including taking on new matters, opening and closing matters, using the firm name, expenses, etc.


Q: Does your firm credit pro bono hours on the same basis as billable hours? Cap on how many hours can count towards billable goal (if any)?

Chris: At Skadden, pro bono hours can be billed on the same basis as billable hours. There is no cap on how many pro bono hours can count towards an associate’s billable goal.

Shehnaz: Attorneys get credit for their pro bono hours at Mayer Brown.


Q: Does your firm offer transactional pro bono opportunities?

Shehnaz: We offer a range of pro bono opportunities, including transactional opportunities. These opportunities often involve work that our associates do for paying clients so they are comfortable and confident taking it on for pro bono clients.

Chris: Yes, I’ve personally worked on transactional pro bono opportunities, including helping an organization incorporate as a 501(c)(3), offering advice on the tax status of various real estate transactions for a charity, and helping fixed-income clients compromise with the IRS on outstanding tax liabilities.


Q: How have you personally benefited from doing pro bono work?

Chris: Engaging in pro bono work at my firm has been invaluable in terms of collaborating with individuals outside of my usual working groups and also expanding my skill set as an attorney. Pro bono has allowed me to meet individuals in my office in other practice groups as well as collaborate with other tax attorneys in the various Skadden offices. This experience has allowed me to build connections that have resulted in future work with attorneys I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to engage with. Additionally, pro bono has given me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the tax code, specifically with regard to charitable contributions, deductions, and organizational formation and operation. However, the most important benefit of engaging in pro bono at my firm has been the opportunity to engage in work that is meaningful and fulfilling in ways much different than the work I typically provide for the firm. Pro bono has been a natural means to participate in work I find socially meaningful, and a supportive firm provides ample opportunity to engage in such work.

Building Bridges to New Places

Christy Crouse, ’21, has been passionate about serving others since childhood.

By Hunter Hovenga, ’21

Service to others has provided a foundational source of meaning for Christy Crouse since day one.

Crouse, ’21, developed an acute sense of empathy at a young age. This would later become a motivational force, leading her through a vast range of service experiences up to and throughout her time at the law school.

Crouse attributes her drive to help others to her early life in the Dominican Republic, where she lived until she was eight years old. Raised by parents working for service organizations, Crouse notes her tailwinds originate in an upbringing that instilled in her the maxim that “life doesn’t mean much if you aren’t giving back and supporting the people around you.”

Before law school, Crouse—fluent in Spanish and conversational in Mandarin and French—cultivated her passion for international human rights and immigration through work and service spanning numerous government and nonprofit organizations. Most notably, she taught English as a Fulbright Scholar in Tunja, Colombia and worked for the U.S. Embassy in Nepal.

Crouse’s commitment to volunteerism had only intensified by the time she arrived at the University of Chicago Law School.

Crouse hit the ground running her 1L year as a volunteer for the Chinatown Pro Bono Legal Clinic, where she would spend Saturdays assisting Chinese-speaking clients with their legal needs and conducting legal research for volunteer attorneys. This program operated through the Chinese American Service League.

For her 1L spring break, Crouse and the Immigration Law Society helped organize a pro bono trip to a detention center for women and children in Dilley, Texas. Partnering with the School of Social Service Administration, Crouse spent her break alongside volunteer attorneys, law students, and social work students providing asylum counseling and informing detainees of their legal rights.

“I really care about people who are struggling and trying to adapt to a new place, especially a new country. It’s not easy and if there’s anything I can do to make it easier, I want to help.”

Crouse brought her passion for serving the underrepresented to two internships in a split summer after 1L.

At the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, she conducted research evaluating the capacity of a local immigrant legal services organization and created actionable recommendations for how it could improve its efficacy. For Crouse, the experience compelled a realization that “there simply are not enough lawyers to do all of the necessary work to help people.” She notes that the experience taught her the meaning of “legal empowerment,” which she describes as the process of “finding creative strategies to support regular people to help others with legal issues.” Towards that end, Crouse notes that the experience taught her that seemingly simple strategies, such as having someone accompany immigrants to court to observe proceedings and provide emotional support, can go a long way in producing positive outcomes.

Crouse spent the second half of her 1L summer at LatinoJustice PRLDEF (Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund). She researched and analyzed legal questions surrounding immigrants’ civil rights, including assisting with amici curiae for the DACA case before the US Supreme Court and a class action case concerning driver’s licenses for undocumented persons.

Crouse has also made significant contributions to the law school pro bono community through her involvement in multiple student organizations.

As a Committee Chair of the Law Students Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Crouse played an integral role in organizing the inaugural Impact Initiative Dinner. In an effort spanning “a year of intense work and planning,” she helped bring together twenty-five South Side community organizations and speakers to attend a dinner to “connect with students, talk about issues of race and inequality, and discuss how we can be better neighbors to the South Side.” She emphasizes that she and her peers are just getting started, with plans to organize a bias training to help students enter and exit communities responsibly, which they hope will open up channels for students to partner with South Side community groups and participate in events.

As President of the Immigration Law Society, Crouse organized a group of students to attend a training with the Instituto del Progreso Latino, where the students learned how to assist individuals with the U.S. naturalization process. She also serves as the Vice President of the Human Rights Law Society, where she assists with communications and organizes lunch talks.

Crouse is also active in the International Human Rights Clinic, where she is currently researching migrant pay gaps overseas for the International Labor Organization. She has already dedicated this year’s Spring Break to conducting fact-finding in Spain and interviewing migrants, policymakers, and employers.

Crouse has no plans to slow down on pro bono and public service moving forward into 3L and beyond. She will be spending half of this upcoming summer working for a public interest organization in Colombia and she hopes to work for an immigration or international human rights organization in Latin America after law school.

Power in Solidarity

During Spring Break 2019, three University of Chicago law students traveled to Tijuana to assist asylum seekers at the U.S. – Mexico border.

By Morgan Daves-Gehrls, ’20

Over Spring Break in 2019, Jacob Hamburger, ’21, Anna Porter, ’20, and Mariah Garcia, ’19 travelled to Tijuana, Mexico to lend their support to migrants seeking asylum in the United States.  The trip was co-sponsored by National Lawyers Guild and the International Refugee Assistance Project.  “We were working with Al Otro Lado, a group that does daily border monitoring and know your rights presentations in Tijuana for those about to cross into the United States and seek asylum,” explains Garcia.   The three volunteers helped with Al Otro Lado’s daily workshops, which inform asylum-seekers about the asylum process.  They also helped conduct legal intake interviews, which allow volunteer attorneys to give advice to those seeking asylum.  “The organization tries to help people think about how to tell their story in a way that is accessible to an officer conducting a credible fear interview, which is the first step in the asylum process,” explains Porter.  In addition to these legal tasks, the volunteers also helped with routine work needed for the project, like cleaning, preparing food, and babysitting.  The project operates out of a borrowed community center in downtown Tijuana.

Al Otro Lado also does legal observations, where lawyers and law student volunteers observe the actions of United States and Mexico border officials to assess their compliance with international and domestic law.  It was during one of these legal observations that Garcia was most impacted.  Al Otro Lado volunteers were observing “La Lista,” a process in which asylum seekers gather in a plaza, sign up for the United States’ tedious numbering system, and wait to hear the numbers called for those who will be interviewed that day.  Mexican government officials removed all migrants from African countries (in this case, Cameroon), alleging that their papers were out of date.  The volunteers later learned that this is a well-known racist tactic that these Cameroonian individuals had experienced many times at other Latin American border crossings.  Al Otro Lado volunteers tried to intervene, but were met with hostility from border officials.  Garcia explains, “they even attempted to claim our simple act of standing near the border crossing was illegal, which is false, and threatened to deport several volunteers. This is apparently a frequent threat that volunteers with Al Otro Lado face.”

Like Garcia, Hamburger was deeply moved by what he experienced while volunteering.  After hearing of highly traumatic events in migrants’ past, Hamburger saw the terrible experience they had while trying to navigate the asylum process. “Regardless of how clearly someone meets the criteria for asylum, they still have to endure arbitrary waiting periods in Tijuana,” said Hamburger.  Migrants are also “subjected to inhumane conditions, family separation, and long detention at the hands of our own government. Seeing this up close is something I’ll never forget.”

Although their week of service illuminated the plight of asylum seekers at the border, the sense of cooperation among asylum-seekers provided a bit of optimism.  “One thing that struck me was the information sharing between the asylum seekers, some of whom had crossed and been returned under the Remain in Mexico program,” explains Porter. “Although the information they are sharing is often scary, it can be powerful. I saw a lot of solidarity between everyone crossing, which often reflects the journey many of them have had to travel to get to Tijuana. It can be dangerous, and the asylum seekers often look out for one another.”

These three volunteers pursued a broad range of professional opportunities after their service in Tijuana, but each is committed to serving those in need.  Hamburger worked at Larry Krasner’s District Attorney’s Office over the summer, in addition to Community Activism Law Alliance (now Beyond Legal Aid), which works extensively with immigrant community groups.   Over the summer, Porter worked at Katten in Chicago, working on a pro bono project with the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic.  She also worked in the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights over her 2L year, and has continued to work in a volunteer capacity.  Garcia is now a Justice Fellow at Loevy & Loevy, a firm that focuses on police brutality, wrongful conviction and prison litigation, and hopes to continue pro bono immigration work.

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