Law Students Get Pro Bono Experience with ABA Free Legal Answers

By Tali K. Albukerk, National Administrator, ABA Free Legal Answers

ABA Free Legal Answers (ABA FLA) is the first and only national online legal clinic through which income-eligible clients can post civil legal questions to be answered by pro bono attorneys from their jurisdiction. Since its launch in 2016, and increasingly during the pandemic crisis, ABA FLA serves as a valuable and convenient pro bono resource for attorneys, clients and law students as it is entirely virtual and can address many legal questions, both typical and pandemic based, including family, housing, consumer, and employment matters.

In February 2021, ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org (ABA FLA) surpassed 150,000 questions submitted and 9,000 volunteer attorneys registered since launch. To date, 39 jurisdictions, including a federal site addressing immigration and federal veteran matters, are live for client access and an additional six jurisdictions have committed to participate.

As a pro bono opportunity providing legal research and writing experience, ABA FLA has been a popular medium for law schools across the country. For instance, since 2018, the University of Nebraska College of Law has received the ABA Free Legal Answers Pro Bono Leader recognition for its active participation on the site. Under the supervision of clinical associate professor Ryan Sullivan, Nebraska College of Law students assisted in answering 127 total questions in 2020.

“Last year brought challenges that no one expected,” said Professor Sullivan. “Answering questions through the Free Legal Answers Program was one way for the clinic and our students to support our community.” Northwestern Pritzker School of Law utilizes a similar model in which the school’s legal clinic professor works with students on strategies and tips for answering questions, pairs them in Zoom breakout rooms, and then reviews their drafts with them before posting on the answer on her account.

Since July 2020, DePaul College of Law has been matching students with attorney volunteers to answer questions on the site, answering over 200 questions so far. “Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been seeking ways for our law students to help fill the justice gap through remote service opportunities that could be done safely from home,” said Lauren Worsek, Director of the Pro Bono and Community Service Initiative and Assistant Director of Public Interest Law at DePaul University College of Law.

“[ABA FLA is] a great way for our DePaul community to provide remote pro bono legal services on an ongoing basis. Our volunteers love that the program is flexible, provides the opportunity to work on a variety of legal issues, and allows them to help people throughout the state who otherwise would not have access to an attorney,” said Ms. Worsek.

Similar models can be found at University of Arkansas School of Law, University of South Carolina School of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law and at Marquette University Law School in which law students work on answers to questions and collaborate with professors and local attorneys until well-drafted responses are ready to submit back to the client through the supervising attorney’s account.

“Unlike anything we’re doing in the classroom, this is something that gives students exposure to issues they would not see otherwise,” said Kristen Anderson a former University of Tennessee law student who helped coordinate UT’s pro bono efforts.

“This keeps me sane,” Ms. Anderson said. “These issues are very centered and very real. In class, we’re dealing with big picture, federal issues. But this – this is real life. This is what we’ll face in practice every day, and it’s teaching us what to do to get answers for our clients,” said Kristen Anderson, a former University of Tennessee law student who helped coordinate UT’s pro bono efforts, in a 2019 UT online article.

Suffolk University Law has developed a different model, utilizing ABA FLA with law students in the context of legal practice skills courses. At Suffolk, students were split into small groups to research questions posted on the site and drafted responses for their professors outlining their discoveries.

Law school researchers and their students are also using the data collected from submitted questions as a learning experience, including the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School. The Legal Design Lab produced a Digital Legal Needs Analysis based on ABA FLA submitted questions, identifying the types and seasonality of legal problems for advocates to better predict access-to-justice challenges before they occur.

In addition, Stanford is partnering with Baylor Law School to research housing-related questions submitted on ABA FLA to identify which specific problem scenarios are occurring most frequently among the platforms’ users, and also to propose content and automated replies that may be provided to these users for the given scenarios.

“Working on this project allows our students to examine the practical realities of the access to justice gap,” said Stephen Rispoli, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Pro Bono Programs at Baylor Law School.  “Although we discuss the issues in law school, by working on this project students get to learn about the real-life hardships that many Americans face and how a lawyer could help them. At the same time, they get to work on a solution by providing assistance with issues that many Americans face. This work, and other projects like it, are critical to closing the justice gap,” said Dean Rispoli.

Whether utilized by law students to gain hands-on experience in a clinic setting, legal practice skills course or research program, ABA FLA is a unique program that provides students with both a taste of pro bono legal service while in school as well as continued pro bono opportunities after graduation, from wherever they are practicing. For more information on ABA Free Legal Answers and how your law school can participate, please contact me at Tali.Albukerk@americanbar.org.


Book Review- Focus on Kamala Harris

By Sue Schechter, Berkeley Law

The Truths We Hold:  An American Journey, by Kamala Harris, Penguin Books, 2019

Kamala’s Way:  An American Life, by Dan Morain, Simon & Schuster, 2021

Having lived and worked in the SF/Bay Area since 1990, I make no claim to be objective about Vice-President Kamala Harris.  While I never had the good fortune to cross paths or work directly with VP Harris, I have known a good handful of people who have – and she does have loyal friends, fans and colleagues.  And quite honestly, while I always wished she were more progressive on criminal justice issues and did more on the left-side of the spectrum, I realized I knew little about her background, her values, and her motivations before she became our U.S. Senator in 2017.

Having just finished my second book about VP Harris, I can honestly say I am a fan now.  I am guessing we are all realistic enough to understand why she took the path she did to get to where she is now and I know we are all excited to see what she will be able to do to make progress on racial, economic, and criminal justice issues, to name just a few issues we can only hope she will work on.

For my Field Placement Workshop class, we ask the students to pick a biography and this spring. Several students picked her autobiography – The Truths We Hold, and one student picked Kamala’s Way, written by a California-based journalist who covered issues for the LA Times and the Sacramento Bee.  The students use the book as a jumping off point to reflect on the lawyers in their books, the lawyers and legal work in their placements, and themselves.  It has been a fun and revealing exercise to see what books they pick and what they glean and relate to (and not) from the books – and I loved when one student compared their supervisor to Nelson Mandela – you cannot beat that!  (Happy to share on that exercise, if anyone is interested).

I started with The Truths We Hold and I loved it – I plowed through in a couple of evenings.  Given that it was a political autobiography written by someone who clearly wanted more than a U.S. Senator seat, I thought it was well-written, inspiring, and each chapter addressed a different current issue – immigration, health care, housing/banks, criminal justice and more.  She had some great and strong quotes in there, including (this is just one I picked, but there are many):

“One thing we must do is take on, head-on, the racial bias that operates throughout our criminal justice system.  And that effort starts with our stating clearly and unequivocally that black lives matter – and speaking truth about what that means.” (p. 68/paperback)

While you learn some about her personal background – mostly about her mother and what an amazing strong woman and role model she was – I was eager to learn more.  She does touch on meeting, courting, and marrying her current partner – Doug Emhoff, the Second Gentleman, and other members of her family.  And as if the world were not a small enough place, she talks about mentoring an up and coming criminal justice advocate who was referred to her by a Career Services colleague (when do Law Career Services folks ever get a shout out in a major NY Times bestseller!) – Venus Johnson, and coincidentally and wonderfully, I finished the book the day before she came to one of my law school’s courses to talk about her path and her views on criminal justice to inspire the next generation of law students to pursue public service!

Dan Morain’s book, Kamala’s Way, is arguably more ‘objective,’ and it was helpful to read in conjunction with her autobiography, although I was struck by how many times he quoted VP Harris from her own book.  I guess he thought it was best to use her own words.  Mr. Morain may not have been as impressed as others about VP Harris’ political nature and he seemed to think there were issues she could have been more forceful and less forceful about – but it was clear that even he had a respect for her desire to serve without ever questioning her motivations.  It was interesting to read about something in VP Harris’ autobiography and then to see how Mr. Morain spun it in a different, albeit less personal way. 

Several chapters do weave in stories about her personal life and he makes a point to highlight something she does out of the press’ limelight to recognize or support someone in her circle – and calls it Kamala’s way.  I thought it was certainly worth reading, but I think it is was enhanced because I had just finished her autobiography.  To his credit, Mr. Morain provided some great political and historical context for California politics and the issues that VP Harris has worked on – on a regional, statewide, and in the end national (and even international) level.

I finished both books with a real belief that VP Kamala Harris is a true public servant – motivated solely by her caring for people – and wanting to make the world a better place for children, for families, for communities, and more.  Given what we have just lived through (and continue to live through), these books were a refreshing re-centering of being able to see and hold up government officials who pursue their path to empower and get resources into the hands and feet of those who need them to live their lives.


Remote Supervision of Law Students and Interns Webinar

The American Bar Association hosted a free webinar entitled Remote Supervision of Law Students and Interns on January 11, 2021.

The lack of in-person programming and reliance on remote supervision presents challenges for the supervision of law students and remote interns. Learn strategies and best practices for remote supervision of law students so that you can continue the important work of access to justice during times of uncertainty.




Southern Legal Counsel, Orientation Manual for Interns/Clerks

Remote Supervision Midpoint Survey Question Examples

2020 Remote Supervisor Training

Tips for Supervising Remote Externs, Fall 2020

Principles for Working with Students from Historically Marginalized Populations in the Field, June 2020

Supervising Resources


New Members of the Section

Maha Ayesh, Director of Experiential Learning and Assistant Professor of Law, Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law

Bridget Fuselier, Professor of Law, Baylor University School of Law

Lauren  Lofton, Associate Director for Student Life & Inclusion, University of California, Hastings College of the Law

Jim N. Mayua, SJD, Suffolk University Law School

Vahid  Shahmohammadi, JSD Candidate, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law

Shawna Smith Thornton, Program Coordinator, Texas A&M University School of Law

Lauren Worsek, Assistant Director of Public Interest Law Director of the Pro Bono and Community Service Initiative, DePaul University College of Law

Solmaz Firoz, Legal Practice Skills Visiting Senior Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Mark E. Steiner, VP, Associate Dean and Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law Houston



Be Good.     Be Kind.     Be Gentle.     
Make the World a Better Place.

This is a phrase I used to say to my kids when I dropped them off at school, and yes, it lasted through their high school years, and yes, I was the embarrassing mom.  They are now 20 and 21 and making their way through their remote college years and figuring out who they are, and as they are both relatively healthy and interested in learning, I feel quite lucky.  I share that to emphasize the theme from the AALS Annual Virtual Conference some of us attended – The Power of Words.  While I thought I was just throwing out a corny phrase, I am struck that my daughter used it in her college application essay and my son just made me greeting cards with this saying on them (he is a Graphic Designer, if anyone has a lead on a job after he graduates, he and I would be eternally grateful!).  Our words matter, our intentions matter, our impact matters.

As we begin 2021, and can you believe we are just beginning 2021? It feels like it has been going on for about a year already…this is a moment, a semester, a year and a time when we need to take care of ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world, perhaps more than ever.  This year, we will be working to expand the work of our Section and we hope you will join is if you are able and want to connect.

The Section will be setting some ambitious goals through the work of the following Committees:

• Annual Program/Service Project
• Awards
• Collaboration
• Educational Enrichment
• Membership
• Newsletter/Communications
• Nominating Committee

If any of those sound interesting, please reach out and we will put you in touch with the Committee leaders.  They welcome your help as we aim to grow some new leaders and emphasize the importance of our work – supporting and strengthening our pro bono and public service programs at our law schools.  By learning and sharing what we are doing at our schools, we can collaborate to meet more unmet legal needs and advocate for more resources to bolster our students interested in pro bono and public service.

I am grateful to get to work with a great team on our Section Leadership. Please join me in welcoming/welcoming back:


The 2021 Section Officers are:

• Chair, Sue Schechter, UC Berkeley School of Law
• Chair-Elect, Kiva Zytnick, The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law
• Secretary, Tonya Jupiter, Tulane Law School
• Treasurer, Bridget Fuselier, Baylor University School of Law
• Newsletter Editor, Stephen Rispoli, Baylor University School of Law
• Past-Chair, Sande Buhai, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

The incoming and continuing to serve Executive Board members in 2021 (listed alphabetically):

• Tara Casey, University of Richmond School of Law
• Katelyn Cherney, Creighton University School of Law
• Anna Davis, UC Irvine School of Law
• Glory McLaughlin, University of Alabama School of Law
• Darcy McLean Meals, Georgia State University School of Law
• Nadine Mompremier, Columbia Law School
• Kelli Neptune, Howard University School of Law
• Pam Robinson, University of South Carolina School of Law
• Meredith Schnug, University of Kansas School of Law
• Angela Schultz, Marquette Law School
• Shawna Smith-Thornton, Texas A & M Law School 
• Jennifer Tschirch, Georgetown University School of Law
• Eliza Vorenberg, Roger Williams University School of Law
• Lauren Worsek,  Depaul Law School

And finally, a big thank you to Sande Buhai, Loyola Law School (LA), for her 2020 Chairperson-ship. Janet Heppard retired from the University of Houston Law Center to become judge of the 387th State District Court in Fort Bend County, Texas, a family court.  Go Janet!  Thank you and congratulations.

Imperfectly and gratefully yours,

– Sue Schechter


Tribute to Deborah Rhode

By Sande Buhai

Many people and organizations have been writing about the passing of Professor Deborah Rhode this month. Our section would not exist without her.

Professor Rhode was the embodiment of all of the virtues that those of us who care about social justice and public service hold dear. We will miss her inspiring leadership. During her term as President of the AALS in 1998, she created a Commission on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities to help law schools improve their pro bono programs. One of its recommendations was the formation of our section. Professor Rhode was the embodiment of life-long learning and leadership. Not only did her efforts result in the birth of our AALS section, she also was founding chair of the AALS Section on Leadership and founding president of the International Association of Legal Ethics.

Professor Rhode was one of our most important leaders in the fight to improve pro bono participation in law schools and throughout the profession. She was also a leader in the fields of legal ethics, women and gender, and most recently on leadership training for lawyers and law students. She authored 30 books and an uncountable number of articles in the fields of professional responsibility, leadership, and gender, law and public policy. Her extraordinary scholarly and policy work was matched only by her character and commitment to social justice. 

Over the course of her career, she received many awards: our first Rhode Award, the American Bar Association’s Michael Franck award for contributions to the field of professional responsibility, the American Bar Foundation’s W. M. Keck Foundation Award for distinguished scholarship on legal ethics, the American Foundation’s Distinguished Scholar award, the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award for her work on expanding public service opportunities in law schools, and the White House’s Champion of Change award for a lifetime of work in increasing access to justice.

The world will miss her and her many contributions. In her honor, we should all strive to step up and be the role model that she was.

Photo of Sande Buhai, Loyola Law School

Sande Buhai (sande.buhai@lls.edu) is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Public Interest and Pro Bono Programs at Loyola Marymount University, Loyola Law School


Successful Conference Session Gives Food for Thought

By Angela Schultz

Over 200 people joined our January 6th conference panel, Calling Out and Leaning-in to Racial and Class Inequities in Experiential Learning Opportunities. The 90-minute session, moderated by Angela Schultz of Marquette Law School, featured discussion among three panelists:

  • Alexi Freeman, associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Denver Law;
  • Amada Rivas, director of externships at St. Mary’s School of Law; and
  • Michele Storms, executive director of the ACLU of Washington and former assistant dean for public service at the University of Washington School of Law.

Panelists discussed matters ranging from the personal to the professional, including sharing bits of their own life stories, personal identities, and on-the-job learning experiences when teaching about racism, intersectionality, and cultural humility.  Attendees used the chat to weigh in with questions, comments, and to share relevant resources. Comments included:

  • This panel is certainly helping engage my brain on how I can better raise diversity and inclusion issues with my students.
  • Georgia State University has a resource list intended to bring discussions of race and racism into core law school courses. See www.law.gsu.edu/racialjustice
  • Another great resource if the deans’ anti-racist clearinghouse page: www.aals.org/antiracist-clearinghouse/
  • I love the idea of including discussion about imposter syndrome in class. A great resource on this topic is Neha Sampat: http://www.genlead.co/
  • This is the most powerful and useful discussion on this topic I have ever heard.

Questions raised by the group pose some potential for future programming. For example:

  • How can we “reach across the aisle” and work with students who might think of diversity, equity, and inclusion as code for “liberal-leaning perspectives only”?
  • Can we find a place to share content of training and materials we use to raise these issues with our law students? Where do you make room for these sessions during the semester?
  • How do we keep conversations about racism from turning into “pity” for others? I sometimes worry my students perceive others’ trauma (the trauma of racism) more as their own various trauma. How are you talking about vicarious trauma with your students?

Members of the section board met for a business meeting after the session when the Chair of our section, Sande Buhai of Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, commented that in her 18 years on the section, this was our best conference session to-date.

Kudos to all involved.


Angela Schultz (angela.schultz@marquette.edu) is Assistant Dean for Public Service at Marquette University Law School


AALS Section on Pro Bono Awards

Congratulations to Dean Erwin Chemerinksy, recipient of the Deborah L. Rhode Award and Pamela DeFanti Robinson, recipient of the Father Robert Drinan Award.

The Rhode and Drinan Awards were presented virtually on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at 12:15 PM. Professor Seth Davis of Berkeley Law presented the Rhode Award to Dean Chemerinsky. Pamela Robinson received the Drinan Award from Dean William Hubbard, Dean of The University of South Carolina School of Law.

 Rhode Award – Dean Erwin Chemerinksy

Drinan Award