NEW ORLEANS—Tulane University’s school of law has always prized pro bono work and was the first law school in the country to require it to graduate, which helps explain why so many alumni and students were honored by the Louisiana State Bar Association, according to the school’s associate dean.
Stacy Seicshnaydre, the associate dean who oversees the school’s pro bono program, said Tulane works to instill a sense of the importance of such service.
“We were the first law school to require pro bono service for graduation,” Seicshnaydre told the Louisiana Record. “We've recently increased that requirement from 30 hours to 50 hours. When we talk to our students about pro bono work, we talk about it primarily in terms of the importance of lawyers understanding that there is a vast, unmet need for legal services in the community, that there are under-represented groups and individuals that are unable to obtain basic representation in day-to-day matters.”
In June, the Louisiana Bar Association honored four Tulane alumni for doing 50 or more hours of pro bono work and three for doing more than 100 hours.
A 2016 graduate, Stacey Michel, was given the Law Student Pro Bono Award; a 2002 alumnus, Zebulon Winstead, was given the Children’s Law Award; and two other alumni were each given the 2016 President’s Award.
Chris Ralston, a 1999 graduate and a partner at Phelps Dunbar, was honored for his service, which includes membership on the Louisiana Access to Justice Commission, serving as president-elect of the New Orleans Bar Association, vice chair of the Pro Bono Project and a board member for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services.
Kendall P. Green, who graduated from Tulane in 1977, was honored for his three decades of service as a public defender, including his work rebuilding the office after Hurricane Katrina.
Seicshnaydre said there are many more examples of Tulane students performing pro bono services, both in Louisiana and the world.
“We talk to our students about the importance of developing a professional identity that includes the requirement to contribute in some way to pro bono legal services to the community,” she said. “That will differ depending on a law student's talent, interests and inclinations, but there's something for everyone."
Seicshnaydre said there's pro bono work available to suit almost anyone's interest.
"If you look at the range of pro bono work that our students are doing, you can see the myriad ways that students can become involved," she said. "This, of course, begins in New Orleans, where students are volunteering in public school classrooms and are working for the police monitor, the DA's office and the public defender. But they're also working in rural Panama, they're working at The Hague in the Netherlands, they're working for the Rwandan Supreme Court. So there are opportunities all over the world for a student to make a contribution, and they are making enormous contributions.”
Even as the school has increased the requirements for pro bono work, Seicshnaydre said, students are exceeding those requirements.
“Many of our students are logging more than double the amount of hours required,” she said. “One third-year student has already logged 400 hours of pro bono service. I counted over 30 students in our rising third-year class who have logged over 100 hours. Many students would do pro bono regardless of whether it was required, but I think the fact that we make it a requirement communicates to students that we see this as a core professional responsibility.”