June 03, 2009
TULANE LAW SCHOOL AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST
During this past year alone, Tulane Law School students logged more than 19,000 pro bono hours. This brings the documented total hours contributed since the Community Service Program officially began 20 years ago to an amazing 185,715. While the majority of contributions occur in local communities, placements are scattered across the United States and as far away as Italy, Thailand and South Africa. In the 2008-2009 academic year, more than 100 different organizations and placements benefitted from Tulane law students’ generous volunteer work.
As Assistant Dean for Public Interest Programs, Julie H. Jackson’s principal responsibility is administering the law school Pro Bono Program, which she implemented in 1988 when the Tulane Community Service Program became the first mandatory pro bono program in the nation. In the fall of 1987, prior to Dean Jackson’s putting the program into practice, the Tulane Law School faculty had voted unanimously on a student requirement of a minimum 20 hours pro bono work on behalf of indigent clients. Then in the fall of 1988 Dean Jackson and Program Coordinator Eileen Ryan launched this unique program. Two decades later law students across the nation have followed in Tulane’s footsteps as 34 other law schools have added a public service/pro bono requirement.
Jackson has continued to oversee the Pro Bono Program as it has grown in size and scope to encompass a wide range of public interest legal opportunities in various locales. While the program’s development over the past two decades brings Jackson a personal level of satisfaction, she says the concept of a pro bono requirement, “which would instill in every Tulane law student the duty of the lawyer to serve the community,” belongs to her mentor, Dean John Kramer (1986-1996)
“It has been my privilege to be the one charged with the responsibility of taking this inspiring idea and running with it,” Jackson states. “Over the past twenty years it has been my role to establish at Tulane the first mandatory pro bono program in the nation and then to guide its growth into a major source of free legal assistance for those in need as well as experiential public interest education for our students.”
Following Hurricane Katrina, the faculty voted in 2006 to expand the definition of qualifying pro bono service and to increase the number of service hours each student must contribute. As a result, each graduating student as of the Class of 2009 must complete a minimum of 30 hours of pro bono service in order to graduate. Qualifying public interest service includes legal assistance provided to persons of limited means; work performed in the public sector on behalf of most local, state or federal government entities; work on behalf of qualifying public interest non-profit organizations; and contributions to qualifying student-led organizations serving public interest law-related goals. But the Class of 2009 went far beyond the minimum requirement. In fact, 76% of the class exceeded the requirement.
Role Model Walks the Walk
For some students, such as Holmes E. Rackleff (L ’09), 30 hours of pro bono work is like a “walk in the park.” Upon graduating this past May, Rackleff had reported an extraordinary 507.5 hours of pro bono service.
Rackleff decided to attend Tulane Law School while gutting houses in the 9th Ward of New Orleans in December of 2005. Since moving to New Orleans in April of 2006, Holmes helped to create the Tulane chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, coordinated annual efforts in the National Student Day Against the Death Penalty, spent a year volunteering at the Saturday free legal clinic at Common Ground Relief, spent three years volunteering at Entertainment Law Legal Assistance (ELLA), and participated in social justice events and demonstrations in and around New Orleans.
“Throughout her law school career, Holmes has demonstrated the utmost dedication to providing legal services to the poor,” says Jackson. “Through her contributions on so many pro bono fronts, she has provided a role model for all.”
Since graduating, Holmes has moved to New York City with plans to design a grant-funded legal aid program in Brooklyn. She thanks her parents for teaching her the value of compassion and good citizenship, and her brothers for helping her maintain a sense of humor.
Students do not earn academic credit for their pro bono work. Instead, individual transcripts reflect the total number of certified pro bono hours performed by the individual student.
For more information on Public Interest Law at Tulane Law School,