Rethinking How to Promote Pro Bono in Law Schools

By Kiva Keane Zytnick

This article originally appeared in The National Association for Law Placement Bulletin, January, 2021, titled: From Persuasion to Personality Science: Rethinking How to Promote Pro Bono in Law Schools

“How can I persuade more law students to do pro bono?” I asked myself when I first began directing the Pro Bono Program at The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. I thought about how to communicate all the reasons why law students should do pro bono work. I was a cheerleader: “It’s simply the right thing to do! There’s an access to justice crisis! The law school mission! It’s your professional responsibility! Networking! Hands-on experience!

Turns out, that was not the best approach.

Why Persuasion Isn’t the Most Effective Strategy to Engage Law Students in Pro Bono

Fast forward to January 2020 as I listened to Dr. Larry Richard (see Resources: Blog) talk about “The Social Science of Doing Good” (see Resources: Social Science) and deliver one “aha!” moment after another. Dr. Richard is a leading expert on the psychology of lawyer behavior and has spent years studying what kinds of people are drawn to the legal profession. I’ve participated in two discussions featuring Dr. Richard since then and each time his research and advice have given me more clarity about how I should approach CUA Law’s Pro Bono Program and our law students. This article will convey some of my takeaways about how law school professionals can better engage law students in pro bono (even during a pandemic) by working with, not against, their particular personality traits.

The first thing to understand is that people who become lawyers tend to be outliers. I know — eye roll, lawyers think they are so special — but personality-wise, it’s true! No other profession scores outside the norm in so many ways. Using the Caliper Profile, Dr. Richard has identified seven ways many lawyer personalities (and by extension, law student personalities) differ from the average person:

  1. High Autonomy. Lawyers do not like others telling them what to do.
  2. High Abstract Reasoning. Lawyers like analyzing problems and facing intellectual challenges. That also means that when receiving advice, lawyers are more likely to argue, scrutinize, and disagree with what they are being told.
  3. High Urgency. Lawyers are impatient. They want to be where they are going, not where they are right now.
  4. Low Resilience. Lawyers tend to feel wounded when they are rejected, which means that advice can feel off-putting or make them defensive.
  5. High Skepticism. Lawyers tend to be really good at looking for problems. That’s part of what makes them great lawyers, and it is a skill that is taught and emphasized perhaps above all others in law school. Unfortunately, in many other respects, skepticism is the enemy. High skepticism relates to high pessimism, which is also detrimental to resilience. Skepticism also undercuts relationships, which are necessary for basically every other aspect of success and happiness.
  6. Low Sociability. Related to skepticism and resilience, lawyers are less inclined to initiate connections with other people. They tend to be more private, guarded, and keep relationships on a cerebral level rather than an emotional level.
  7. Low Cognitive Empathy. Lawyers (particularly younger lawyers, as this is a trait that is dropping as Millennials and Gen Z enter the profession) are less skilled at being able to take the perspective of another person.

What this means for law school professionals directing pro bono programs is that many of our go-to strategies to engage law students in pro bono are working against law students’ innate personalities. Telling students why they should do pro bono? Bad strategy. Incentivizing students to do pro bono? Bad strategy. In fact, the whole mindset of convincing law students to do pro bono is unhelpful.

Using Psychological Strategies To Increase Law Student Pro Bono Engagement

Fortunately, in addition to identifying strategies that are less likely to be successful, social science also provides insights into ways law students may be more receptive to engaging in pro bono.

  • Role Modeling. Law students are more likely to engage in pro bono activities if people in formal leadership positions at their law school are engaging in pro bono. Law students look at leaders they admire and respect, such as professors and deans, to see if they make time for pro bono. To that end, it is critical to the success of pro bono programs to encourage and spotlight the pro bono efforts of those in leadership positions at the law school. Conversely, role models who do not prioritize pro bono can have a detrimental impact on a pro bono program. A culture of pro bono at all levels at the law school will make a big difference on student participation.
  • Social Proof. (Also known as “the bandwagon effect” or simply “peer pressure.”) Law students are more likely to engage in pro bono if they see their peers volunteering their time and legal talent. This is especially true for 1Ls— when suffering from uncertainty, humans are inclined to look to the behavior of their peers to figure out what they should be doing. Make sure students know about the good works their law student peers are doing and have done in the past. Even if it is not conscious, students will think “people like me do this, I should too.” FOMO (fear of missing out) can be a big motivator for law students. What is not motivating is pointing out how they are falling short— don’t say something like, “only 10% of our students are doing pro bono, c’mon you have to do better!”
  • Tell Stories. Humans are hardwired to learn through stories, so connect to the power of role modeling and social proof by telling stories about law school leaders and peers making a difference with pro bono. Using stories to share how pro bono at your law school has helped people also allows students to meaningfully understand why they should participate too.
  • Provide Experiences. Training and other behavioral simulations help shape the identity of individuals. When law students practice certain skills, it increases the likelihood they will internalize it and tell themselves, “I am the type of person who does pro bono.” Think about partnering with law school clinics and local legal service organizations to provide these experiences. For example, at CUA Law we partnered with our on-campus legal clinic faculty for a “Pro Bono Orientation” that included role-playing exercises about how to conduct an intake interview.
  • Build on Past Behavior. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Anecdotally, many of us know that oncea law student begins doing pro bono, they are more likely to continue. Identifying students who have a history of volunteerism prior to law school and connecting their previous experiences with pro bono opportunities available to them as law students is a good use of your time and resources. Remind them that they are “the type of person who does pro bono.”
  • Generate Positive Emotions. When people are in a good mood they are more likely to exhibit pro-social behavior, such as helping others. Positive emotions can be generated by being in a “transcendent” emotional state like awe, wonder, admiration, inspiration, veneration, or reverence. Connecting with others, giving, helping, and expressing gratitude also all generate positive emotions and put people in a mindset of selflessness, making them more likely to volunteer. There are lots of ways you could try to “prime the pump” and trigger positive emotions, putting your students in a receptive mindset before a pro bono pitch. Perhaps you could show students an act of goodness in a video clip, or have them take a moment to share something they are grateful for, or ask them to turn to the person sitting next to them and say something kind. Good food helps too (as every law school professional knows), and even something as small asking students to help pass out plates generates positive emotions.
  • Restore Disrupted Needs. People have a harder time satisfying the three basic human needs — predictability, control, and human connection— in times of stress and uncertainty. These needs are especially disrupted right now in the midst of a global pandemic and political upheaval, but law school produces stress and uncertainty uncertainty in the best of years. Helping students restore these needs will put them in a better mindset to take on pro bono work. For example, you can reinforce predictability by creating clear, precise goals and expectations for your pro bono program. You can help students cultivate a sense of control by focusing on what they have discretion over and giving them a set of choices on how to participate. Most importantly, you can foster social connections with your students through listening to them, thanking them, being authentic with them— and, of course, through the pro bono work itself.

In short, instead of telling students why they should do pro bono, focus on creating a law school culture where pro bono is not just something that they do, it is part of who they are and the community they belong to. The more people at the law school who engage in pro bono, from 1Ls to the Dean, the easier and more effective this will be. Allow students to feel the
impact of pro bono through stories and experiences. And don’t forget that law students are humans, and humans struggle in times of stress and uncertainty. Generating positive emotions and helping restore their sense of predictability, control, and social connection will help them be in a better place to give of themselves to others.

Kiva K. Zytnick ([email protected]) is Associate Director, Pro Bono Program and Public Interest Law for the Office of Career and Professional Development at The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law.


Crush Your Next Virtual Presentation

By Gia Storms

This article originally appeared in The Harvard Business Review, January 06, 2021

My coaching client, an engineer named Carlos, is a magnificent in-person storyteller. He talks with his hands and tells lengthy, animated stories replete with humorous metaphors and plot twists. His wit and warmth used to be received positively.

But when giving presentations over video, Carlos’ stories tend to fall flat. His recent feedback reveals that he frequently trails on for too long, losing his audience amid unnecessary detail and failing to deliver succinct, concise communication.

Carlos is not alone. While virtual platforms help us connect with one another across distance, they also pose a challenge for leaders accustomed to presenting in person. Reading the room online requires more focus, and a digital environment makes it harder to comprehend nonverbal cues like tone, pitch, and body language. For example, when connecting with people in person, the human brain relies on microexpressions of the human face to interpret receptivity and inform judgment while communicating. In a virtual meeting platform, a presenter may only have access to a few faces (or none at all). Add to that remote work’s myriad distractions and inconsistent internet connectivity interfering with video and audio quality, and it can feel impossible to gauge your performance and reception in real time.

Leaders must tap into a different skill set to effectively deliver their messages and be engaging in a remote environment. Virtual venues require you to transition from reading nonverbal cues in the moment to getting curious about your participants before, during, and after presentations to ensure your message lands. Here are six ways to deliver well-received presentations when you and your audience are bound by the limitations of virtual communication.

Use the tech’s features. While certain video platforms can limit a presenter’s ability to engage with audience members’ faces in real time, built in-features like polls, chats, whiteboards, thumbs-ups, or raised hands can help you get and keep people’s attention. Incorporate these engagement tools early in the presentation to get people in the mood to participate.

Open with a story that speaks to your audience. Gather some information about your participants beforehand and build in a personal story that will resonate with them. Keep it short and specific to avoid meandering and losing them. Stories, anecdotes, and metaphors are proven to increase engagement — as long as they’re delivered with authenticity and vulnerability and clearly reinforce your desired message. If you’re not sure if your story is relevant, consider running it by a trusted colleague as you prepare for your presentation.

Solicit participation in advance. Research shows that facilitating meetings in an active way, including calling on participants to share, is key to increasing engagement and effectiveness. Give your audience an early heads-up that you’ll be asking for two or three volunteers to share during the meeting — this will help people stay attentive and poised to participate, and it will minimize their likelihood of multitasking or checking out. Also, before the presentation, ask a few selected people to contribute, then call on them early.

Be clear, be brief, and be quiet. Keeping your message concise, simple, and clear has never been more important than when battling the many distractions inherent to a virtual room. Keep lengthy monologues to a minimum, and don’t avoid silence. When you ask a question, wait confidently for someone to answer, rather than automatically interpreting silence as a lack of engagement. It can take longer for participants to digest and respond to information over video, so use the extra seconds as an opportunity to listen deeply before asking a follow-up question or calling on a volunteer.

Don’t discount nonverbal cues entirely. A 2007 study found that people can read information and emotions better if their body language and facial expressions are also on display. Before you present, encourage participants to have their cameras on, and identify one person to whom you’ll aim your delivery throughout your presentation. Watch that person’s face and body language for signals of how they’re receiving your talk. Head nodding, smiling, sustaining eye contact, and leaning in are good signs, while yawning, crossed arms, a stoic look, or eyes cast downward or sideways can signal disengagement and that you need to change your approach.

Follow up for feedback. After your presentation, solicit feedback from one or two trusted participants to see if you delivered your intended message successfully. If the meeting was recorded, watch the video, paying special attention to how participants responded to your attempts to engage them. Identify two or three techniques you can incorporate next time to improve your connection with the audience.

Before his next 200-person, virtual all-hands meeting, Carlos decided to take a new approach to engaging the room. In advance of the presentation, he asked three senior staff members he could count on to participate and contribute within the first five minutes. He asked his team for topics ahead of time in order to curb his tendency to deliver unilateral storytelling, and during the meeting, he opened up the floor for shares and chats, which led to an active discussion of the team’s concerns. As a result, his audience was more engaged and participatory than normal, and he got feedback that it was his best presentation so far.

Gia Storms is a leadership coach and member of The Boda Group. She facilitates team and executive coaching from Los Angeles.


Book Review: No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

By Rachel Louise Snyder – Reviewed by Eve Ross*

Bloomsbury, 2019. 320p. $25.20, hardcover. Also available as e-book or e-audiobook. Find it at a local library through worldcat.org. If purchased through bookshop.org, sales support independent bookstores.

Rachel Louise Snyder had traveled internationally as journalist, noting domestic violence as incidental to several stories she had written in Afghanistan, Niger, Honduras, and elsewhere, never quite connecting it as part of the same global epidemic as domestic violence in the United States.

She had believed a number of prevalent falsehoods about domestic violence. Among them: if it’s serious, there will be visible injuries; if it’s bad enough, victims will leave; restraining orders and shelters are adequate responses; and domestic violence is a private matter that only affects the people in a few unlucky households. Her research—interviews of victims and abusers, as well as statistical research—both counters those myths and reveals that domestic violence is profoundly connected to other societal problems, including homelessness and mass shootings.

Section One interrogates why domestic violence victims stay in abusive relationships. Section Two asks whether abusers can learn to be nonviolent. Section Three examines advocates and initiatives working to interrupt domestic violence. Along with the book’s sociological and journalistic underpinnings, legal topics both broad and specific are mentioned—criminal domestic violence courts, sentencing guidelines, the Violence Against Women Act, the O.J. Simpson trial, Crawford v. Washington, and more.

*Eve Ross, 2020. Reference Librarian, Law Library, University of South Carolina School of Law, Columbia, South Carolina.



Dear Pro Bono and Public Interest Section Members,

2020 – What a year. This year has been everything – full of challenges and opportunities. It has brought home to many of us how important our work is to those in need. Our clients have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and its economic impact. Their problems have forced us to confront social and political injustices that communities of color and other disempowered communities have faced for years, decades, centuries. It has been hard. At the same time, the pandemic’s unavoidable realities have led many of us to redouble our commitment to meeting our clients’ needs. We must look forward to the new year with hope and optimism.

I want to encourage everyone to attend – virtually of course – the AALS annual meeting. You will need to register beforehand, but please note that many schools have paid a flat fee to allow members of their faculty to attend at no additional cost.  The Pro Bono Section’s amazing program is scheduled for Wednesday, January 6, 2021, 11:00 – 12:15 PM EST (8:00 – 9:15 AM PST): Pro Bono & Public Service Opportunities, Co‐Sponsored by Clinical Legal Education, Leadership, and Poverty Law, Calling Out and Leaning In to Racial and Class Inequities in Experiential Learning Opportunities  

Immediately following the substantive program, at 12:15 – 1:15 PM EST (9:15 – 10:15 AM PST), will be our Section’s Awards Program.  This year, Dean William Hubbard will be giving the Father Drinan Award to Pam Robinson, and Professor Deborah Rhode will be giving the Deborah Rhode Award to Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. Both honorees have done so much to help our law schools expand their pro bono services and work towards a more just legal system.

Our work, of course, continues. I want to encourage everyone to get involved. The wonderful Sue Schechter will assume the Chair in 2021; I know she has great plans for the Section. I encourage everyone to join her to help make our Section more meaningful, diverse, and impactful for all of us. What we do has real consequences for real people.

I wish everyone the best possible end of 2020 and the most hopeful New Year. Take care of yourselves and your families, your nonhuman companions, and your communities. With gratitude for all you do,

– Sande


Summary of January Program

By Angela Schultz

Racial and Class Inequities in Experiential Learning Opportunities 

As you build your AALS Annual Conference plans, make sure to add our section’s session to your agenda set for Wednesday, January 6th at 8AM Pacific, 11AM Central, 12PM Eastern. The session panelists will discuss who are we, why we do this work, what we bring to this work, and the need and importance of providing students with chances to consider the larger context within which pro bono, field placements, clinical, and public service work generally are done. This context includes the great need for free legal aid being due, in part, to laws and public policies that have been direct contributors to high levels of concentrated poverty, particularly among communities of color. Panelists will talk about how they are currently contextualizing this reality with students, what some of the hurdles are, and provide some resources and tools to support others taking on this critical work. As we move into 2021, our students and our institutions need and demand more facilitated conversations about racism and the realities of other inequities. While we acknowledge these important conversations need to take place, how can we move into them while acknowledging our fear and lack of expertise? How can we support each other to be brave and to learn while knowing we will make mistakes? How will we keep moving forward?  Come learn from some ‘experts’ who are doing and trying things we can all learn from and take back to our own work. Join us.

Panelists are Alexi Freeman, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Director of Social Justice Initiatives; Amanda Rivas, Externship Director, St. Mary’s College of Law; and Michele Storms, Executive Director, ACLU of Washington. Moderated by Angela Schultz, Assistant Dean for Public Interest Law, Marquette University School of Law.


Rhode and Drinan Award Recipients

Each year, the AALS Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities recognizes two outstanding law school professionals who have dedicated themselves towards increasing access to justice through the law school environment and inspiring similar efforts from others. The Deborah L. Rhode Award is awarded to a full-time faculty member or Dean who has made an outstanding contribution to increasing pro bono and public service opportunities in law schools through scholarship, leadership, or service. The Father Robert Drinan Award is presented to a full-time faculty or staff member at a law school who has forwarded the ethic of pro bono service through personal service, program design, or management.

This year, the Section is thrilled to honor Dean Erwin Chemerinksy with the Rhode Award and Pamela DeFanti Robinson with the Drinan Award.

 Rhode Award

Erwin Chemerinsky is Dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. Prior to his position at Berkeley, Dean Chemerinsky taught at University of Southern California Gould School of Law and DePaul University College of Law, as well as served as a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law and Duke University School of Law, before becoming a tenured professor at Duke. In 2008, he was hired to start University of California, Irvine School of Law. Throughout the establishment and early years of running the law school, Dean Chemerinsky was instrumental in creating a culture of pro bono service. Thanks to Dean Chemerinsky, UCI Law now has one of the most robust pro bono programs in the country.

Dean Chemerinsky’s support of pro bono and public service in the law school setting is extraordinary. As Dean, he stresses the importance of pro bono and public service before students even arrive at Berkeley, telling them “if you are not interested in doing pro bono or public service work, do not come to this law school.” He expects every student to engage in pro bono every year. And he puts money where his mouth is by prioritizing the school’s pro bono and public interest programs. Upon arriving at Berkeley, he made the Pro Bono Program Director a full-time position. He has strengthened the school’s summer funding program and ensured that every 1L is awarded $5,000 for summer public interest work, and every 2L student who received a grant their first summer may receive $6,000 their second summer. He has also increased funding for post-grad public interest fellowships to $55,000 and created a travel fund for students to attend public interest career fairs and interviews—despite budget deficits in the wake of COVID-19.

Dean Chemerinksy is not only a well-known legal scholar and advocate, he is also a treasured classroom teacher. He exposes students to public interest ideals and then provides experiential opportunities throughout law school for them to develop the tools to carry those ideals forward. He engages in significant pro bono work himself and includes students in these efforts. In the words of a former student, “I can think of no one who embodies Berkeley Law’s public service mission like Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.” Many others agree, reiterating “It is impossible to imagine a Dean being more supportive of pro bono.”

Last but not least, Dean Chemerinsky is a true ‘mensch’—humble, sincere, honorable, and kind.

Drinan Award

Pamela Robinson has been the Director of the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program since she founded it thirty-one years ago as the nation’s first voluntary pro bono law school program. She is a visionary, a leader, and a counselor to countless students and peers. Her lifetime of achievement forwarding the ethic of pro bono service is unparalleled.

Throughout the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program’s history, Pam has established a number of pro bono projects that have provided significant hands-on experience for law students and greatly benefited the community. She nurtures projects over the years while also constantly embracing change, ensuring the Program remains relevant for students and the community. Her latest innovation is the Palmetto LEADER—aka a “justice bus.” A few years ago, Pam had the idea to create a bus that would provide much needed legal services to rural South Carolina communities. In particular, Pam wanted those communities to have access to pro bono assistance for creating simple wills. And once Pam has a plan, according to her students, “she is unstoppable.” She found funding, figured out everything else the bus would need, and now it is on its way to serving South Carolinians. (Editor’s note: see the article in this newsletter about Pam’s bus for more information and pictures!)

Pam is a role model for her law students and pro bono professionals nationwide. She participates in all the Pro Bono Program’s projects alongside her students and she also engages in public service outside of the Program. For example, she has been a Court Appointed Special Advocate since 1988, and she also arranged for the county to conduct guardian ad litem training at the law school, successfully training many law students. Over the last three-plus decades she has relentlessly worked to improve access to justice throughout South Carolina. As Betsy Goodale, Director of the South Carolina Bar’s Pro Bono Program, noted, she is “one of the most—if not the most—well-respected and well-informed pro bono advocates and practitioners in the State of South Carolina.” She is also a leader in countless associations and organizations, including the AALS.

Pam always makes time to help you, whether you are a client, student, or colleague. She consistently demonstrates compassion and empathy. Regardless of what career path they choose, “[i]t is a rare alumnus of the University of South Carolina School of Law’s Pro Bono Program who does not credit Pam with providing crucial guidance during law school and beyond,” said Goodale.

The Rhode and Drinan Awards will be presented virtually on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at 12:15 PM. Professor Deborah Rhode will be presenting the Rhode Award to Dean Chemerinsky. Pamela Robinson will receive the Drinan Award from William Hubbard, Dean of The University of South Carolina School of Law.


The Palmetto LEADER (Legal Advocacy and Education Resources)

University of South Carolina School of Law’s fully operational mobile law office.

University of South Carolina Law School Dean Robert Wilcox had a big donation coming, so he asked for a big idea. The one he got is 43 feet long — and is on its way.

The big idea belonged to the school’s pro bono program director, Pamela Robinson: Why not have a bus that takes legal help out to the parts of the state where they have little or no resources.

So the USC School of Law will receive a fully outfitted bus designed as a mobile office.

Why? The Palmetto LEADER will provide legal advocacy and
education resources to the rural, underserved populations in SC.
This expands the ability of the law school to serve the state while
increasing opportunities for law students to gain valuable hands-on
experience and skills development.

Who? …will provide these services? The core service providers
will be law students from our Pro Bono Program and Clinical
Department working with attorneys from the SC Bar Pro Bono

Where?… will the bus go? Our goal is to reach out to low-income
rural communities with limited access to legal services. The
Palmetto LEADER is fully equipped with wifi and internet access;
increasing the availability of online resources.

How? The Palmetto LEADER has become a reality due to not
only a generous donation but also the wisdom of that donor who
sought a project that “provided further dimension and depth to
the experiences” available to law students.

For more information, news or to sign up to join us:
www.PalmettoLEADER.sc.edu or


Interview of Tom Schoenherr

Asst. Dean Tom Shoenherr recently retired after 25 years at Fordham Law.

During his tenure at Fordham Law, he founded the Public Interest Resource Center and advised countless students about their pro bono careers and opportunities. But there is so much more to his story! Earlier this year in the summer, Stephen Rispoli and Jen Tschirch sat down (virtually) with Tom to discuss life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and pro bono service.

You can watch the video (and/or read the interview transcripts) here: https://baylor.box.com/s/f0esq6gabj28e1w8p1up1xx4ycc8lmpu


Book Review: Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

By Monique W. Morris – Reviewed by Eve Ross*

Cover of PUSHOUT: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris.

New York; London: The New Press, 2018. 304p. $17.43, paperback. Also available as e-book or e-audiobook. Find it at a local library through worldcat.org. If purchased through bookshop.org, sales support independent bookstores.

Monique W. Morris, co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, has written the first book for a general readership demonstrating how Black girls are wrongly perceived and unjustly treated by authority figures starting in school and ending in police, court, and detention systems.

Morris provides detailed insight into the lives and education environments of specific Black girls. The girls’ narratives are interwoven with statistics showing how often similar patterns are replicated across the US.

Morris recommends a multifaceted approach—more than changes of law and policy alone—to center the experience of Black girls, increase cultural competence and gender responsiveness, and make the education of Black girls the nurturing and uplifting experience that the adults in charge should provide.

Appendix A provides straightforward answers to questions that Black girls, their families, and their teachers are likely to have. Appendix B discusses alternatives to punishment, including positive behavioral intervention systems and restorative justice.

*Eve Ross, 2020. Reference Librarian, Law Library, University of South Carolina School of Law, Columbia, South Carolina.