Pro Bono Program
St. Mary’s University School of Law takes seriously its responsibility to develop a culture of public service in its students and alumni, and to foster a student body engaged with its communities. Our students, and our graduates, are justice-ready: tenacious, skillful, compassionate advocates, ready to create a more-just community from day one.
The Pro Bono Program, as a distinct project within the School of Law, dates back to at least 1998. The program has roots in the work of both of Law Ministry—with its longstanding commitment to community service, engagement, and the Marianist commitment to justice and peace—and the work of the Center for Legal and Social Justice.
In 2020-2021, St. Mary’s University School of Law students recorded over 11,000 pro bono and community service hours.
As a professional staff-directed effort, the Pro Bono Program maintains working relationships with a range of legal services and community-based organizations across Texas, and the country. These organizations include American Gateways, Beacon Law, Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, San Antonio Legal Services Association, Texas Legal Services Center, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and other organizations.
Through these relationships, the Pro Bono Program identifies potential opportunities for student volunteer support. From there, the Pro Bono Program promotes these opportunities within the student body, facilitating sign-ups, training, onboarding, and ongoing support to both students and host organizations.
Through these collaborations, students:
- draft documents that empower clients with disabilities to live without
- interview clients experiencing homelessness and assist with obtaining
- identifying documents
- prepare tax returns for working-class taxpayers
- assist immigrants in detention
- guide returning citizens seeking expunctions and orders of nondisclosure
- provide services to clients facing eviction.
With the start of the School of Law’s fully-online evening program, the Pro Bono Program will grow a robust set of online offerings as a permanent feature of our Pro Bono Program. The Pro Bono Program will fulfill ABA Standard 303(b)(2) and “provide substantial opportunities for . . . student participation in pro bono legal services” to our online cohort, as well as our on-campus cohort.
Whether through continued remote placements during our Alternative Winter and Spring Break program; virtual tax preparation with the VITA program; and fully remote offerings with Texas Legal Services Center, the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, and other partners, we are excited to facilitate public service opportunities for all students for years to come.
Awards and Recognition
The School of Law, its students, and its staff have received statewide and national recognition for its contributions to public interest work during this period. In 2020, St. Mary’s Law received the Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Law School Commitment to Service Award bono efforts. In 2020, Director of Pro Bono Programs Greg Zlotnick also received the State Bar of Texas Pro Bono Coordinator Award. From 2019-2021, Prof. Zlotnick also served on the National Advisory Committee for Equal Justice Works, a national organization supporting law students and attorneys pursuing public interest careers.
St. Mary’s Law students have also received numerous accolades in recent years. In 2019, Hannah Cramer received the Texas Access to Justice Commission Law Student Pro Bono Award. In 2020, Leslie Alvarez received the prestigious Equal Justice Works postgraduate fellowship to begin her career with Disability Rights Texas; received the Texas Access to Justice Commission Law Student Pro Bono Award; and the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award from the National Association of Law Placement (NALP). In 2022, Lydia Harris also received an Equal Justice Works postgraduate fellowship to begin their career with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Also in 2022, Leslie Espiricueta was chosen as a student member of the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee.
For more information on pro bono activities, and for information regarding careers in public interest law, please contact Director of Pro Bono Programs, Gregory Zlotnick.
Note: The St. Mary’s University School of Law Pro Bono Program does not provide legal representation to the general public. The Clinical Program, which accepts a limited number of cases in specific practice areas for qualified individuals, can be contacted by calling 210-431-2596. Please be advised that Clinical Program staff conducts an income and asset screening prior to providing information, advice, referral or representation.
The Veterans Event was developed to address the many legal needs of our veterans. Lawyers are available from all areas of practice to answer general questions, prepare documents and provide other legal information services to pre-screened veteran clients. The event is held at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital, and law student volunteers shadow the lawyers as they advise veterans on the legal matters presented. This event is offered approximately once a month.
This event focuses on drafting wills and ancillary documents. Client attendees have been pre-qualified based on income levels. Law student volunteers will either assist with the drafting of the documents or shadow the lawyer as they prepare them. The law student volunteers will also serve as the witness to the will’s execution. This event is offered once a quarter.
People’s Law School
People’s Law School is an annual event, co-sponsored by St. Mary’s University School of Law and the San Antonio Bar Foundation, which invites the San Antonio community to the law school to attend seminars led by lawyers from various practice areas. Law student volunteers assist with welcoming participants and operating the event. Additionally, law student volunteers will have the opportunity to attend the seminars and to aid the lawyers with their presentations. This event occurs once a year in the spring semester, and takes place either in-person or virtually.
St. Mary’s Hosted Opportunities
St. Mary’s needs volunteers to assist with the ID Recovery Project at Haven for Hope, San Antonio’s largest homeless service provider. Obtaining identification is particularly important to people experiencing homelessness, as some type of photo identification is required for employment, housing and more. Volunteers work with student attorneys and supervising attorneys at their office located in the Haven for Hope Courtyard on Friday afternoons. After training, volunteers conduct interviews with clients to assist them in acquiring the necessary documents to obtain valid identification. This project operates year-round. For more information about volunteering, please contact Director of Pro Bono Programs, Gregory Zlotnick.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
St. Mary’s needs volunteers to assist with tax preparation. Through this program, the University leverages its strengths and talents to make a substantial, positive impact on the surrounding community.
St. Mary’s VITA site is jointly supervised by the School of Law and the Greehey School of Business. Our VITA site has been recognized by the American Bar Association for its “faithful and professional execution of public service by providing tax preparation assistance to low income and underserved communities.”
The St. Mary’s VITA Site operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays from late January through mid-April, and training begins in early January.
If you are interested in volunteering or for more information, please visit the VITA page
Public Service Graduation Requirement
J.D. students are required to complete 30 hours of community service during law school. This requirement does not apply to M.Jur. or LL.M. students.
Full-time students must record at least 10 service hours within 12 months of matriculation. Part-time students must record at least 10 service hours within 18 months of matriculation.
Full-time students must record at least 20 service hours within 24 months of matriculation. Part-time students must record at least 20 service hours within 30 months of matriculation.
No more than 15 hours of the required hours may be general community service hours. These hours may be performed with any non-profit or public entity. The volunteer may not be paid or receive credit for the work performed. General community service hours should fall outside of the student’s familial responsibilities.
At least 15 hours must be law school-approved, or law-related, hours. Law school-approved hours are defined as services provided by law students, without compensation or credit, performed under attorney supervision, to non-profit organizations that primarily address the needs of individuals and families of limited financial means; public agencies engaged in legal work, including courts; or services performed in connection with activities and organizations approved by Director of Pro Bono Programs.
Examples include the Community Justice Program; the Public Defender Offices; the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office; the St Mary’s University School of Law Alternative Spring Break Program; the St. Mary’s University Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program; Lone Star Legal Aid; MALDEF; and the offices of General Counsel within federal agencies.
Other services which primarily address the needs of individuals and families of limited financial means will be accepted if the student requests and receives approval from the Pro Bono Program Director prior to the provision of law student services.
The Pro Bono Program cannot guarantee law school approval of law-related service hours submitted without such prior approval.