Pro Bono Scholars Program Externship/Clinic:* Litigation, Organizing and Systemic Change

LW.12518 or LW.12651 / LW.12519
LW.12518 - Clinic
LW.12651 - Externship
Professor Sarah E. Burns
Professor Deborah Axt
Professor Andrew Friedman
Professor Ezra Kautz
Open to 3L students
Maximum of 8 students
Spring semester
14 credits**
No prerequisites.


The Pro Bono Scholars Program (PBSP) is a program started during the 2014-2015 school year under special rules of the New York Court of Appeals that allows law students to take the New York Bar Exam in February of their 3L year if they commit to spending the last semester of law school working full time on pro bono work through the law school for credit. After law students take the Bar Exam in February, their entire course load in the Spring semester (March through May) will consist of this clinic. During the 12 weeks of this reconfigured semester, students will be expected to spend approximately 50 hours each week participating in the externship’s/clinic’s fieldwork and seminars.  

In this complex world, how can public and private institutions be inspired to recognize and respond to the needs of diverse communities? How do members of communities make their voices effectively heard? Clearly neither elections nor the free market make this happen in the absence of organized and effective communication and leveraging by communities – whether the community be one of individuals, groups or organizations. Increasingly lawyers need a wide range of knowledge and skill to help their clients identify and achieve needed change. This is the learning that the PBSP: Litigation, Organizing & Systemic Change Clinic presents and explores, while supporting aspiring lawyers in acquiring key skills to represent their clients expertly, under difficult circumstances

Clinic Partners

This Clinic partners with several different fieldwork partners.

Make the Road New York (MRNY), an organization devoted to providing quality legal service and advocacy in the context of community building and organizing. MRNY is a membership organization of low-income and recent immigrant New Yorkers.*** Students working with MRNY will have the option of focusing on providing direct legal services in immigration, fair wage employment work, housing, health policy and will have exposure to organizing being done in connection with the substantive fields in which MRNY provides direct legal services. Spanish language ability is helpful to a student working with MRNY since the organization’s members and clients often speak Spanish as a primary, and sometime only, language. Students lacking Spanish proficiency but interested in the lawyering model represented by organizations like MRNY can opt to work with Center for Popular Democracy CPD), which is a legal and policy backup center serving MRNY and similar organizations nationwide.

Education Advocacy Clinic:  Students from low-income backgrounds often face barriers to receiving a high-quality education in New York City public schools. There are laws to protect the educational rights of certain populations of students, including students with disabilities, but many of these children do not receive the services and supports they need to succeed in school. Clinic students work on special education cases, working closely with families from low-income backgrounds to help their public school students get supports and services to address their educational and behavioral needs. Fieldwork will likely be done in partnership with Advocates for Children of New York. Law students choosing this option will participate in a weekly Education Advocacy Clinic seminar, including during the time they are studying for the Bar Exam. Because the fieldwork is done under the supervision of Professors with the Education Advocacy Clinic, students opting to do Education Advocacy fieldwork will be enrolled under the LW.12518 “Clinic” designation.

Developing Partnerships: The New York City PBSP LOSC offering also explores, on an ad hoc basis, developing other fieldwork partnerships with the aim of enabling students interested in a career in public interest to participate in a specially developed field opportunity that enables the student to engage with legal work and a particular community of interest. PBSP students interested in an exploratory fieldwork partnership should contact Professor Sarah Burns early in the application process and will need to be an active partner in developing any ad hoc arrangement.

The options for a developing partner placement are numerous, although the program can only support a few such placements in a given year because the development and supervision planning demands more from the Program. Many organizations in New York City delivering legal services to poor or disenfranchised clients are already accustomed to accepting Pro Bono Scholars and have a process for doing so; a candidate should inquire early to ensure complying with that organization’s process, which may be competitive. A few examples will illustrate what partnerships have been done at NYU Law in past years. In Spring 2017 the community development division of the Urban Justice Center was a fieldwork partner. In Spring 2018, NYLAG was a partner and a private plaintiff’s side environmental law firm will be a partner for work on its sizeable pro bono practice addressing legal and governmental solutions to lead poisoning in NYC, Flint Michigan and elsewhere around the country. NYLPI has expressed interest in hosting a PBSP scholar in their health, disability or environmental justice projects.  A Washington, D.C. based consumer-side energy lawyer has expressed interest in partnering with PBSP for pro bono work in opposition to gas pipeline buildouts in the Northeast.

Students opting to work with MRNY, CPD or a developed partner (e.g., Urban Justice, NYLPI, NYLAG, etc.) will be enrolled for fieldwork under LW.12651 “Externship” designation because the primary field supervision will not be conducted by a member of the NYU Law faculty.

Note: Students interested in participating in the NY Court Pro Bono Scholars Program may also do so by taking the Equal Justice and Defender Externship which is separately described in the Clinic Description Packet. Students in this program would work and take a separate course of study at EJI in Alabama after taking the February New York Bar exam. Please apply to this program as directed in that clinic's description

Course Description

Seminar Components

The clinic begins after New York State’s late February bar examination with an intensive two week training seminar to orient students to the substance of their planned fieldwork and to engage in social justice lawyering on behalf of diverse communities with a focus on organizing and power-building to support client-centered advocacy (co-taught by Profs. Sarah Burns, Deborah Axt and Andrew Friedman). During this period students will learn about the work of our partner organizations and meet leading practitioners in diverse fields of public interest law and community client-centered lawyering. This seminar credit also includes training in key substantive and procedural law determined by the student’s particular fieldwork assignment. This seminar earns 3 of the clinic’s 14 credits.

The Clinic will also include two intensive simulation courses:  Civil Litigation, a 2-credit course  (co-taught by Profs. Burns & Ezra Kautz, Axt who helped design the course may join in); and Negotiation, a 2-credit course (co-taught by Profs. Burns & Friedman). Under the current design, these courses are primarily taught during the same 2 week intensive training period as the PBSP 3-credit seminar, except the final mock trial and trial review for Civil Litigation are held on separate part days later in the semester.

Students who opt for Education Advocacy fieldwork get 2 credits from the Education Advocacy Clinic instead of taking Civil Litigation credits.  


Fieldwork represents 7 credits of the externship (LW.12651) or the clinic (LW.12518), depending on the student’s chosen fieldwork placement. Fieldwork assignments will be made based on students’ expressed interest in particular experience and career directions, and students should include information concerning these in their application to ensure that planning for fieldwork starts during the application process. Students assigned to work with MRNY will work on immigration, fair wage employment work, housing, or health policy in the relevant court(s) or other venue(s) with MRNY attorneys specializing in that particular practice as an externship model. Students assigned to work with the Education Advocacy Clinic will work with Professors Randi Levine and Matthew Lenaghan on special education cases in the EAC. Students assigned to developing partners will work as an extern with one or more partner professionals in the particular partnership, in consultation with Professor Burns.

Qualifications for Applicants

The clinic is open to 3Ls who will complete all other coursework required for graduation prior to Spring semester and will take the Bar Exam in February, if the student so desires. A student who is not planning to practice in New York State may apply to take the NYU Law PBSP course and fieldwork credits even if not taking the New York State Bar exam but that student will not be acknowledged by the New York Court of Appeals as a member of the New York Pro Bono Scholars Program. States other than New York rarely, if ever, allow pre-bar graduation exam taking or early admission; students hoping to take other state bar exams pre-graduation and/or to seek early bar admission are responsible for determining whether the state in question makes allowance for such choice.

Application Procedure

Students should submit an application, resume and transcript on-line via CAMS.  Applicants should indicate in the application whether they have a preference for fieldwork experience with MRNY/CPD, Education Advocacy or a developing partnership (specifying which, if known).  Applicants will be contacted during the clinic application period for an interview during which the topic of fieldwork and planned training will be discussed in greater detail.  For questions regarding the application process, please contact Megha Dubal. If you have questions about the externship/clinic itself, you can direct them to Sarah Burns or Randi Levine.

Student and Recent Graduate Contacts

Student experience depends heavily on the student’s fieldwork choices.  The faculty would be happy to facilitate contacts with prior students whose fieldwork resembles the field experience being contemplated. 

* Under ABA/AALS rules, the term “externship” is used when a law school program includes fieldwork for credit that is supervised by an attorney who is not the professor in that program; “clinic” applies when the professor directly supervises the fieldwork.  Because PBSP’s model for fieldwork is mixed, depending on the particular fieldwork to which the student is assigned, this program is designated as both.


** 14 credits include 7 clinical credits and 7 academic seminar credits for the Clinic; and 7 clinical credits and 7 academic seminar credits for the ExternshipStudents may not take more than one of the 14-credit, semester-long clinics (Education Sector Policy and Consulting Clinic and PBSP: Litigation, Organizing and Systemic Change: Education Advocacy).

*** MRNY is part of a nationwide network of community-based organizations that provide a range of services, including legal service. It is backed up by a sister national policy center, The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), which builds organizing power and works to transform the local and state policy landscape through deep, long-term partnerships with leading community-based organizing groups nationwide.