Academic Altruism: Seattle University’s Pro Bono Programs and the Students Who Contribute

Supreme Court justice with students in Seattle University's Fred Dore Courtroom

This week marks the beginning of courses at the Seattle University School of Law.

Though law school in itself can be a daunting environment, many students go above and beyond to not only further their legal education through real-world, hands-on experience, but by contributing their newfound legal knowledge to help communities in need.

The following article provides a brief overview of some of the ways in which Seattle University and, of course, students, turns academia into service through pro bono and other public interest work.

Not long from now, legal professionals from around the state, country, and the world will pause and reflect during Pro Bono Month on the invaluable impact pro bono has on people who face dire circumstances yet are unable to access legal services. For a comprehensive overview of pro bono opportunities and the history of civil legal aid in Washington, check last October’s issue of NWLawyer. And keep an eye for this October’s issue, which will feature a variety of unique and inspiring features about Washington legal professionals who generously donate their time and expertise to make the world around them a better place.

Public Service and Pro Bono at Seattle University

Service to others is at the heart of Seattle University School of Law’s mission, and the Access to Justice Institute (ATJI) executes that mission by developing programs, as well as advising students who are interested in pro bono, public interest, and social justice advocacy. Through its programs, ATJI encourages all students to better understand and work directly with marginalized communities. Programs include Social Justice Monday sessions, the pro bono pledge of 100 hours prior to graduation for full-time students; and First Year Fellows, a one-year program designed to give select 1Ls the unique opportunity to explore and prepare for a career in public interest or social justice work, which includes monthly workshops as well as networking and mentorship from attorneys and community leaders.

ATJI also facilitates summer grants for public-interest internships, funded by the annual Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) dinner and auction. ATJI and PILF also sponsor the annual Evening with Equal Justice to connect students with local attorneys who are doing public interest and pro bono work.

ATJI accomplishes its work through collaborations within the law school and external community partners: notably the collaboration with the King County Law Library’s Self-Represented Litigant (SRL) Video Project, which won the 2019 Excellence in Community Engagement Award from the American Association of Law Libraries.

Beverly Tsai
Beverly Tsai

Beverly Tsai, a 3L who is interning this summer at the Washington Appellate Project, was one of several students who worked on this award-winning project during the school year to provide pro se litigants with general, accessible information about how to represent themselves.

Vallen Solomon
Vallen Solomon

To support ATJI in efforts to provide meaningful opportunities to law students, members can offer their time as mentors and attend events like the PILF auction (scheduled for Feb. 29, 2020). This year, the PILF auction netted more than $116,000, and funded 23 summer grants. Vallen Solomon, Vallen Solomona rising 3L and former First Year Fellow, was one of the grantees. Solomon said he came to Seattle University to be an advocate for vulnerable communities and those who have historically not been in positions to advocate for themselves. He’s turning that passion into action by working as a Rule 9 intern at the Northwest Justice Project consumer and housing unit, where he will do intakes at the debt clinic run with the King County Bar Association.

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This content was provided by the Seattle University School of Law.