Public Interest Center

What We Do

For over 10 years, the Public Interest Center at St. John's Law has been dedicated to fostering a commitment to service by supporting and expanding various initiatives in line with the University's Vincentian mission. The Center provides a range of opportunities for students to explore and engage in public interest law and pro bono work, underscoring the legal professional’s duty in promoting social justice and serving the public good.

Whatever your career path, we encourage you to use your law degree to serve justice.

Lawyers have a professional and ethical duty to ensure that the justice system is fair and equitable for all individuals, regardless of their background. In New York and across our nation, attorneys play a critical role in safeguarding fundamental human rights, advocating for underrepresented groups, driving policy change, and working with communities on legal education. 

Guided by the University's Vincentian tradition, we prepare the next generation of lawyers by creating an environment where students can embrace and promote the ethos of serving others. Explore our students' journeys, experiences, and stories.

We invite you to learn more about our initiatives below. 

Our Initiatives

During spring break week in March, students commit 20 to 40 hours of pro bono work to local and out-of-state public interest organizations, gaining hands-on experience in various activities such as:  

  • Legal research and writing 
  • Accompanying attorneys to court proceedings and conferences, whether virtual or in-person
  • Participating in client intake meetings
  • Reviewing and compiling executive orders or legislative updates
  • Assisting with legal articles and publications

With partnerships spanning over 15 organizations, our students tackle a diverse array of issues, including civil rights litigation, protecting the legal rights of elder citizens and undocumented residents, advocating for LGBTQ+ youth, and defending tenants against eviction.

Our annual Public Interest Auction brings hundreds of students, faculty, alumni, and friends together virtually and in person at the Law School to bid on wonderful items and experiences. The auction, coordinated in partnership with the Public Interest Law Students Association and with generous support from our alumni community, is one of our most popular events. Proceeds from the virtual and live events fund the Summer Public Interest Fellowships and other initiatives.

The Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program seeks to encourage and facilitate participation by St. John’s Law students in the delivery of legal aid services and legal advocacy. 

Fellowships are awarded to eligible students for full-time summer positions in non-profit organizations and governmental agencies. These positions focus on providing legal assistance and advocacy to traditionally underrepresented clients, groups, or interests. 

The number of fellowships available each year, and the award amounts, are based on available funds. Fellowships are funded by proceeds from our online, silent, and live auctions, endowment funds, alumni donations, as well as law school Center-specific and foundation-supported fellowships. 

Every year, the Center awards fellowships to four exceptional students who support key programs and initiatives throughout the academic year. Fellows engage in specific projects, including the Spring Break Service Program and the annual Public Interest Auction. This fellowship offers invaluable opportunities for professional growth, connecting fellows with experts and peers dedicated to public interest law, and providing access to specialized resources and opportunities.

Coordinated by St. John's Law and the New York State Unified Court System, the statewide Pro Bono Scholars Program allows eligible students in their last year of law school to take the February New York Bar Exam in exchange for completing 12 weeks of full-time, supervised, pro bono work from March through May of their final semester and completing an academic component. The character-and-fitness process is fast-tracked for Pro Bono Scholars seeking admission to the New York State Bar.

The first of its kind in the country, the program is designed to reinforce the legal profession’s commitment to, and St. John's Vincentian mission of fostering, a culture of service while generating countless hours of pro bono work each year on behalf of New York's most underserved communities.

The Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office (CLARO) Project is an innovative pro se advice project sponsored by the New York City Bar Association and the Queens County Bar Association. Law students work with volunteer attorneys to advise individuals on self-representation strategies when they are sued in consumer debt cases. The project operates as a walk-in clinic every Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. in Queens Civil Court.

Before volunteering, students  attend a training at St. John’s Law on substantive and procedural law relating to consumer debt cases. As CLARO volunteers, students greet clients, gather basic intake information about their legal matter, accompany volunteer attorneys at litigant interviews, and assist with and review follow up tasks, such as completing and filing court papers, with the litigants. 

Each CLARO session requires approximately a three-hour commitment. CLARO does not require a regular weekly commitment. Students can volunteer according to their availability.

About the Public Service Award 

The Public Service Award is given to graduates who have completed at least 500 hours of qualifying service and pro bono work. Students who demonstrate an exceptional level of pro bono service, including dedicated service to specific pro bono projects, will be eligible for additional awards at Commencement.  

How to Record Pro Bono Hours for the Public Service Award

Students are required to record their pro bono hours if they wish to qualify for the Award. Graduating students must submit all pro bono hours by May 1 of their graduation year. To report hours, please complete the Pro Bono Reporting Log.

What constitutes qualifying pro bono service?

For purposes of the Award, pro bono is defined in New York Court of Appeals in 22 NYCRR 520.16. Pro bono work is law-related work performed under the supervision of an attorney, judge, or law faculty including:

  • All St. John’s Law clinical programs (excluding seminar time)
  • Government placements (legislative, executive, or judicial)
  • Placements that assist in the provision of legal services without charge for:
    Persons of limited means
    Non-profit organizations
    Individuals, groups, or organizations seeking to secure or promote access to justice, including, but not limited to, protection of civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights
  • Most summer public interest fellowships
  • Pro bono work as a summer associate at a law firm
  • Any of the above, even if for compensation or for externship credit (excluding seminar time)

What does not constitute qualifying pro bono service?

  • Community service
  • Mock trial coach for high school or college students
  • Partisan political activities (even if law-related)
  • Not supervised by an attorney or judge (e.g., student-run projects)

Resources & Opportunities for Students

The Public Interest Center and its affiliates offer students a range of opportunities to gain practical knowledge and skills while advocating for underrepresented individuals and communities.

Students gain experience doing real legal work for New Yorkers in need through our 10 in-house and partner clinics:

  • Bankruptcy Advocacy Clinic

  • Bread and Life Immigration Clinic

  • Child Advocacy Clinic

  • Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic

  • Criminal Defense Clinic

  • Domestic Violence Litigation Clinic

  • Economic Justice Clinic

  • Prosecution Clinic

  • Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic

  • Securities Arbitration Clinic

The public interest placements available to students through our externship program include:

  • District Attorney's Offices

  • Environmental Protection Agency

  • Federal Trade Commission

  • National Labor Relations Board

  • New York City Law Department

  • New York State Attorney General's Office

  • U.S. Attorney's Offices

  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

The Public Interest Center affiliates with the Public Interest Law Students Association (PILSA). Part of the Law School's Student Bar Association (SBA), PILSA is made up of law students dedicated to supporting and enhancing the Law School's public interest endeavors. In the past, PILSA has worked with various public interest organizations, the Center, the Law School Administration and the Career Development Office to coordinate on-campus activities, including panel presentations, fundraising and social events. Additionally, PILSA encourages students' involvement in off-campus public interest organizations where they can assist, under practice order or attorney supervision, in helping real world clients. 

The Law School incorporates a public service component into our first-year orientation program. Building on the core value of service embodied in St. John's Vincentian mission, as well as the annual University Service Day, we offer incoming 1Ls the opportunity to participate in pro bono service and/or trainings and learn firsthand about the Law School’s commitment to public interest. In this experiential learning forum, students may work with children and the elderly, refurbish building sites, and address hunger and homelessness issues. They also receive training in various pro bono opportunities.

Job Opportunities 

  • Public Service Jobs Directory (PSJD): A unique online clearinghouse for law students and lawyers to access public interest job listings and career-building resources. PSJD also has Practice Area Guides to explore career options.
  • A job search board where some public interest organizations, such as legal aid providers, post jobs for attorneys. 
  • Students should also check Symplicity and the Career Development Office newsletter for additional information. 

Career Fairs 

  • Public Interest Legal Career (PILC) Fair: Hosted by NYU Law, the PILC Fair provides a forum where employers and students can connect during interviews and information tables. 
  • Equal Justice Works: A national nonprofit, Equal Justice Works creates opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. Each fall, Equal Justice Works hosts its annual Career Fair, bringing together hundreds of law students and public interest employers for prescheduled interviews and table talk discussions. 

Pro Bono  

Our Leadership

Portrait of a woman standing outdoors with a soft-focused greenery background. She has long, straight dark hair, is smiling gently, and is wearing a black top with lace detailing at the collar.

Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz
St. John's University School of Law | 3-41
8000 Utopia Parkway
Queens, NY 11439
Tel: 718-990-6948 | Email: [email protected]


Gina M. Calabrese
Professor of Clinical Legal Education
Associate Director, Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic

Ann L. Goldweber
Professor and Director of Clinical Legal Education
Director, Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic


Support Our Work

Don't hesitate to reach out to us to learn more about the Center and get involved in our efforts. You can email Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, the Director, at [email protected] or by calling 718-990-6948. For general inquiries, please email [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you! 

Your support is crucial in driving forward the initiatives at the Public Interest Center. To contribute, please consider: 

  1. Making an online donation or 

  2. Feel free to contact Brian Woods at the Law School Development and Alumni Relations Office by emailing [email protected] or calling (718) 990-5792 for more ways to support our work.

Every contribution, big or small, makes a significant impact.