The last twenty years in the legal writing community have brought increasing opportunity. Growing numbers of legal writing professors now pursue tenure, cast votes at faculty meetings, occupy high-level administrative positions, teach doctrinal courses, write in a wide range of areas, and determine for themselves what topics to cover in their legal writing courses.[1]

Accompanying these changes, legal writing professors have grappled with an array of questions about the character and the future of the field. For example:

  • Should legal writing professors focus their energies on continuing to improve their institutional status?

  • When legal writing professors publish, should they do so in areas outside of legal research and writing?

  • What are the fundamental concepts at the heart of the legal research and writing course?

  • Should legal writing professors move toward teaching more doctrinal or non-skills classes?

  • Should legal writing professors devote efforts to moving up the law school hierarchy into high-level administrative positions?[2]

Although these questions might be understood as largely separate inquiries, they are also interwoven. Rather than isolated topics, they at a higher level appear to represent facets of an overarching question: what kind of community do legal writing professors want to have? Put more personally, what kind of professionals do legal writing professors want to be?[3]

Recognizing current conversations in the legal writing field as discussions about commitments and professional values makes a difference. Casting the back-and-forth in these terms invites consideration of what other facets might belong in the scholarly conversation. Put differently, what viewpoints—besides positions on how legal writing faculty teach, research, and serve in their law schools—should have a seat at the table?

In this essay, I propose adding to the mix the topic of faculty pro bono, a public service-oriented consideration until now largely unprobed in the work about legal writing community values.

The relative paucity of in-depth discussion of faculty pro bono in legal writing articles[4] is understandable. Pro bono doesn’t fit the mold for how law faculty typically talk about their professional roles.[5] The gravity exerted by the teaching-scholarship-academic service mindset tends to downplay considerations that don’t easily slot into one of the traditional categories.

And yet serving people in need often plays an essential role in how communities define themselves and their shared values. Pro bono work in particular can operate as a way of “affirming identity.”[6] More generally, classic work on the nature of professional culture enshrines public service as a core piece of what it means to be a professional.[7]

My argument begins with a survey of the recent work raising questions about values and priorities in the legal writing field. Although some of these articles are framed as parts of distinct scholarly threads, I identify ways that the works evidence a larger questioning in the legal writing community.

This essay then interweaves into this discussion the separate literature on faculty pro bono generally. I first trace its development as a reaction to much more voluminous work on practitioner and student pro bono. I also survey the moral and instrumental reasons that commentators have marshaled in favor of faculty pro bono.

Exploring these ostensibly unrelated scholarly threads reveals a connection between the percolating questions about community values in the legal writing field and the recent scholarly thinking about faculty pro bono. I argue that there exists an array of reasons why legal writing professors in particular can benefit from faculty pro bono. Specifically, faculty pro bono can help harness and expand on some of the legal writing community’s most prominent strengths. I contend, for example, that faculty pro bono can help the legal writing community extend its commitment to equity by helping those who lack a voice and an ability to navigate the legal system.

I also argue that faculty pro bono can help legal writing professors amplify what’s most innovative about their work. For example, commentators have recognized that legal writing professors helped spearhead best practices in law school pedagogy, from summative feedback on writing, to true-to-practice writing assignments, to highly transferable strategic research approaches.[8] Scholars have identified faculty pro bono as another form of best practice for those teaching, and modeling for, future lawyers.[9] Taking up the mantle of faculty pro bono can help cement the status of legal writing professors as thought and practice leaders in legal pedagogy.

I then discuss common objections to adding faculty pro bono to legal writing professors’ already loaded plates. For example, I address how to carve out projects compact enough to work well with legal writing professors’ jammed schedules. And I demonstrate how faculty pro bono, rather than undermining devotion to scholarship, can help improve it by helping legal writing professors connect their written work to the realities of practice.

None of this is to say that faculty pro bono should be mandated or that legal writing professors can’t effectively teach without it. Rather, my thesis is simply that a rich conversation is happening now about the legal writing community’s commitments—and that faculty pro bono should be part of that discussion.

I. Literature Survey: The Intersection of Legal Writing and Faculty Pro Bono

Discussions about what legal writing professors should prioritize as professionals have taken off. For example, many papers and conference talks discuss the status of legal writing professors at their law schools.[10] And scholars have advocated for continued improvements in the status of legal writing professors.[11] For example, some commentators have proposed reform of ABA rules that require tenure for doctrinal, but not legal writing, professors.[12] Others, however, have argued that too much focus on status issues has not helped the legal writing community.[13]

Another thread of scholarship explores what legal writing professors research and write about. Some commentators have suggested that legal writing professors should focus their research on legal writing issues.[14] They argue that teachers should cultivate scholarly expertise in the subject they teach.[15] But some legal writing professors focus their scholarship elsewhere and write about topics outside of the lawyering skills area.[16]

With respect to teaching, commentators have continued to contribute to the perennial discussion about what topics legal writing classes should cover.[17] But scholars have also probed deeper questions about the core, threshold concepts at the heart of the legal writing curriculum.[18]

Some articles have also addressed the importance of surfacing contemporary social issues and viewpoints in legal writing classes.[19] Others, however, have voiced concerns about the potential impact of doing so.[20]

And, relating to the overall atmosphere of the legal writing community, some have praised the peer-to-peer supportiveness within the legal writing ranks and the collaborative tone of conferences.[21] But some scholars have expressed concerns about whether too much supportiveness might deter full throated conversations and disagreement.[22]

Some of these topics have been up for discussion for years. It is not a new development, for example, that legal writing professors are writing about status matters and curricular coverage for legal writing courses.[23]

But, as commentators have highlighted, recent developments have offered legal writing professors new opportunities, including voting rights, tenure, and chances for upper-level administrative positions.[24] These opportunities may help account for the flow of recent works discussing what legal writing professors should prioritize. And the COVID-19 pandemic may also have contributed to some of these scholarly discussions. As commentators have observed, the pandemic has caused significant reflection in legal academia about what matters and what works best for both teachers and students.[25] These reflections may help explain some of the work about commitments and priorities in the legal writing community.[26]

B. Faculty Pro Bono Scholarship

A distinct literature explores different features of pro bono practice. Most of this work addresses the role of pro bono for fulltime practitioners or law students.[27] However, one thread of scholarship analyzes pro bono in the context of fulltime law professors.[28]

The scholarship on faculty pro bono acknowledges the “justice gap” as a key analytical starting point. That is, nearly a million indigent people who sought legal help in a recent year-long period received no or inadequate assistance due to lack of resources.[29] According to commentators, law professors as well as practitioners have an obligation to help fix access to justice problems.[30] Law faculty benefit from attorneys’ monopoly on legal services via increased salaries pegged to pay in the legal market.[31] That benefit, in turn, triggers a duty to help address the justice gap.[32]

As commentators have also noted, however, law faculty fail to do significant pro bono.[33] Instead, what data exists suggests low or nonexistent rates of pro bono work among non-clinical law faculty.[34]

Some recent work argues that pro bono advocates should shift emphasis from moral arguments to more instrumental contentions favoring pro bono.[35] According to this work, reframing arguments for pro bono to focus on benefits to teaching and scholarship, rather than on putative moral obligations, might help improve participation rates.[36] The same work challenges one-size-fits-all approaches to faculty pro bono. Instead, it advocates more tailored, bespoke strategies to promote faculty pro bono to different segments of the law professoriate.[37] For example, “[t]he conversations needed to spark pro bono participation by members of the lawyering skills community . . . . may differ significantly from the discussions that will work to do the same for consumer law faculty or scholars researching social justice issues.”[38]

With few exceptions, scholars have not deeply explored the role of faculty pro bono in the legal writing professor community.[39] Nor have commentators sought to connect the recent discussions about commitments in the legal writing community—described above—to the literature of faculty pro bono.

II. Argument

The current scholarship reflecting concerns about commitments in the legal writing community raises a key question: what activities can align with and build on the strengths of legal writing faculty? As discussed below, pro bono representations for legal writing faculty would jibe well with existing commitments within the legal writing community and could yield an array of benefits.

A. Spearheading Best Practices

Pro bono practice would reinforce an important value for legal writing professors because it represents the cutting edge of best practices in legal education. Some of the highest impact legal academics advocate faculty pro bono as a critical part of being a professor.[40] Commentators have also described how faculty pro bono can enable law schools to achieve the goal—acknowledged in the literature of best practices—of teaching students what they need for the rigors of today’s law practice.[41] Nevertheless, few faculty groups have heeded the invitation to innovate in this area.[42]

The ethos of innovation in the legal writing community makes legal writing professors well suited to lead in the area of pro bono practice. As commentators have acknowledged, legal writing professors “are willing to roll up their sleeves and do transformative dirty work”[43] and “are often on the cutting edge of professionalism education.”[44]

For example, legal writing professors have for years heavily used detailed simulations and “multi-modal” instructional techniques in the classroom.[45] These techniques include extensive formative as well as summative feedback, in class exercises, outside-of-class exercises, and one-on-one, in-person work meetings with students.[46] The Carnegie report and the Best Practices report, both of which prescribe best practices in legal education, strongly endorse these techniques.[47] In addition to using these recommended, frontline techniques, legal writing professors have also for years focused on enhancing substantive skills, such as drafting legal documents, working in teams, conducting legal research, and interviewing clients.[48] These are the skills that practitioners say new lawyers need for practice.[49]

Admittedly, legal writing professors’ current use of best practices relates predominantly to classroom pedagogy, not representation of real clients. But leadership in classroom teaching and leadership in pro bono are not unrelated. As described below, faculty pro bono can, among other benefits, enrich the classroom pedagogy in which legal writing professors have already blazed trails.[50]

Indeed, in some instances, legal writing programs have already taken the lead in advancing pro bono projects, not just pedagogical techniques, in legal education. For example, one law school requires all first-year legal research and writing students to conduct real intake interviews with indigent clients of public interest organizations.[51] Legal writing professors have served as both the supervisors of this program and the liaisons with public interest organizations and have published work describing the benefits and challenges of these projects.[52] Although such innovative programming involves student, not faculty, pro bono, it nevertheless illustrates that members of the legal writing community already value pedagogical innovation related to pro bono practice.

Viewed in this context, the prevailing low rates of faculty pro bono are not a reason to defer to the status quo, but an opportunity for the legal writing community to continue to lead. Because most law professors have failed to engage in pro bono, legal writing professors could step up to spearhead faculty pro bono best practices.

Pro bono practice would also strengthen the legal writing community’s longstanding commitment to professional equity.

Legal writing professors have long decried inequities on law school faculties. Legal writing scholarship has published data showing differences in treatment between legal writing professors, who predominantly identify as female, and doctrinal professors, who predominantly identify as male.[53] Legal writing scholars have also criticized differences between non-tenured legal writing faculty and ladder faculty in pay, job security, professional titles, teaching opportunities, and voting rights.[54] Further, legal writing scholars have recommended reforms, including dismantling the two-track faculty model that can marginalize legal writing faculty.[55] Legal writing commentators have also argued that law schools discriminate between legal writing-related scholarship and doctrinal writing, and that legal writing scholarship should weigh just as heavily in promotion and tenure decisions.[56]

This history of work by legal writing professors to dismantle inequity helps make the legal writing community an apt fit for pro bono work. “Studies show that pro bono work is undertaken by racial, ethnic, and other disadvantaged groups as a way of ‘giving back’ and affirming identity.”[57] Similarly, legal writing professors can help affirm their values as an equity-committed community by taking up the justice gap through pro bono work.

Directing the legal writing community’s commitment to equity outward toward pro bono practice could have multiple benefits. Not only would pro bono work help serve the indigent, it could also help shape the public reputation of the legal writing field. Those outside the legal writing community might not view it as highly public interest oriented. But pro bono commitment could help raise awareness about the legal writing community’s commitment to equity and the public interest.

Furthermore, adoption of pro bono work throughout the legal writing community could help address objections made about the field’s focus on status issues. A recent article criticized legal writing conference presentations and scholarship as unproductively occupied with institutional status.[58] However, channeling some of legal writing professors’ work toward external pro bono causes could help deflate any objection[59] that legal writing professors are fixated on their own status and welfare.

C. Modeling Professionalism and Skills Through Pro Bono

Modeling is one of the core ways teachers impact students. As one legal scholar wrote, “actions speak louder than words and example works better than exhortation.”[60]

Legal writing professors are particularly well-positioned to model for their students. For one, legal writing professors often get to know their students well compared to doctrinal professors.[61] These closer relationships can result from the frequent one-on-one interactions and mandatory meetings legal writing professors have with their students.[62] Smaller legal writing class sizes can also contribute to these more robust relationships.[63] These relationships, in turn, may help make law students more open to modeling the behavior and work of legal writing professors.[64] In addition, legal writing students, as 1Ls, may be more impressionable than upper-level law students, and thus more receptive to modeling by their professors.[65]

For several reasons, legal writing professors should use their position as role models to set an example of pro bono practice for their students.

Modeling public service and professionalism. Modeling pro bono work for students, particularly 1Ls, can potentially help students build a pro bono habit.[66] A trend of increased pro bono that includes law students could help address the longstanding civil justice gap. It could also help erode the perception that the service orientation in the profession has declined.[67]

Modeling can also help add integrity to law schools’ messaging about pro bono. Many law schools encourage students to perform pro bono work[68] and broadcast student pro bono hours and successes in promotional materials. Some law schools even require pro bono for graduation.[69] Encouraging or requiring students to do pro bono to help solve problems in the legal system might ring hollow to some law students if law professors don’t follow the same advice. Thus, teachers of 1Ls modeling pro bono can help bring consistency to law schools’ messaging about pro bono work.

Even more specifically for legal writing professors, modeling pro bono reinforces legal writing-specific goals because many legal writing professors expressly teach about professionalism. Increasingly, legal writing faculty incorporate professionalism in their courses, set expectations about professional conduct, and hold students responsible for meeting those expectations.[70] These legal writing-related professionalism expectations implicate pro bono because, as commentators have said, professionalism in legal practice “includes the aspirational commitment to pro bono.”[71] By modeling pro bono commitment, legal writing professors can help bolster their efforts to acclimate students to the realities and aspirations of professional practice.

Relatedly, modeling pro bono can help law students formulate their own sense of professional identity. Many commentators have argued that law schools should do more to help law students decide what kind of legal professionals they want to be.[72] Moreover, the ABA recently revised its accreditation standards to require law schools to “provide substantial opportunities to students for . . . the development of a professional identity.”[73] As commentators have written, pro bono can be an important part of that professional identity formation.[74] For example, pro bono can help stimulate new lawyers’ development as “moral, as well as legal, reasoners and actors.”[75] Other authors have also argued that “students’ pro bono experiences can help clarify their professional identity and purpose,”[76] noting that pro bono is a “core value of the profession.”[77] Modeling pro bono for 1Ls can help contribute to students’ reflections on what kind of attorneys they want to be.

Modeling skills. Even aside from the public service-related impact of modeling pro bono, legal writing professors can have an independent modeling impact centered around skills. Students want to know that their teachers know what they’re teaching.[78] And students will less likely accept a teacher’s vision, and model the teacher’s own values and actions, if students doubt their teacher is an able guide.[79] Thus, to ensure students’ openness to modeling a legal writing professor’s pronouncements about lawyering skills, legal writing professors can exercise their own skills in pro bono cases. When students know legal writing professors possess currently relevant skills and are putting those skills to work in pending matters, legal writing students may be more likely to find their teachers credible models of skills.[80]

The flip side to this skills-modeling dynamic is that legal writing professors with no pro bono practice can over time lose their own practice-oriented legal skills, and thus may risk relinquishing some standing as a model of practice-oriented skills. Non-use, of course, can cause degradation of a skill.[81] And the use-it-or-lose-it dynamic could be exacerbated by the evolving nature of legal practice.[82] Indeed, commentators have acknowledged the importance of up-to-date practice experience given dynamic practice expectations.[83] Thus, maintaining a pro bono practice can help legal writing professors continue credibly modeling skills usage in the contemporary practice environment students will soon enter.

Beyond modeling, an even more direct impact of pro bono practice is that it can help legal writing professors improve their class assignments and lectures.

Scholars have argued that continuing practice experience can help professors ensure their instruction stays geared to practice realities.[84] Indeed, some commentators have on that basis advocated continuing practice requirements for legal academics.[85]

Such continued practice could be especially important for legal writing classroom work. In contrast to doctrinal courses, which sometimes focus discussion on general policy matters and assignments on mere issue spotting, legal writing courses typically utilize detailed simulations and require students to generate the sort of emails, memos, briefs, and contracts that lawyers actually use.[86]

Pro bono practice for legal writing professors can help them pursue that key goal of student learning that transfers to practice. For example, pro bono experiences have inspired legal writing professors to create assignments that have some of the same messy cross-over characteristics of real world legal problems.[87] One legal writing professor, after repeated exposure to the way different areas of the law intertwined in pro bono matters, created a memo assignment implicating not just tort law issues, but constitutional law issues as well.[88] Other commentators have further explored ways that current practice experience can help law professors craft problems that more realistically track the challenges of practice, including by sharpening a focus on ethical issues raised by factual scenarios.[89]

In addition to helping improve legal writing assignments, pro bono practice can help legal writing professors more effectively teach other skills in class. For example, one legal writing professor who performed pro bono work on sabbatical described how the experience changed the way she taught interviewing skills in class.[90] She observed in pro bono matters that interviewing is often conducted over the phone and also experienced ways that interviewing different people with different challenges implicates different sorts of lawyering skills.[91] As a result, her legal writing program now teaches telephonic interviewing skills and uses a more diverse group of mock clients to better reflect the reality of practice.[92] Another legal writing professor’s experience doing remote intake interviews during the COVID-19 pandemic also led to more nuanced classroom discussion of the challenges and benefits of Zoom and telephonic interviews.[93]

In addition to helping legal writing professors better teach skills, pro bono practice could help legal writing professors effectively integrate public service or social justice issues into their instruction.[94] Commentators have advocated incorporating social justice issues into legal writing assignments and classroom discussions.[95] According to that literature, legal writing professors can devise a variety of different social justice-oriented assignments, including those that directly require students to analyze legal issues raising social justice concerns; exercises that instead include a backdrop implicating social issues but that do not require legal analysis of those issues; or problems that simply provide social identities and context for the characters in a case file.[96]

Firsthand experience representing indigent or marginalized individuals in legal matters can help legal writing professors generate all these types of social justice-inspired materials. For example, insights from pro bono practice in unlawful detainer matters could contribute to an assignment requiring students to discuss and directly analyze racial discrimination as a defense in an eviction action. Similarly, consumer protection pro bono work could help teachers sketch the backdrop of predatory companies that exploit the elderly for a debt collection-related assignment. And pro bono work for non-English speaking clients could contribute to development of a case file introducing the difficulties for a non-English speaker trying to navigate the administration of federal benefits for injured workers.[97]

Classroom benefits from faculty pro bono would not necessarily compete for time in the already-stuffed legal writing curriculum. Legal writing classes are often already packed with instruction, including on memo writing, email writing, persuasive writing, research, oral argument, negotiation, interviewing, contract drafting, and professionalism.[98] But the ways that pro bono practice could benefit legal writing instruction wouldn’t necessarily require teachers to make cuts elsewhere. For one, assignments upgraded to better reflect the realities of cross-over issues wouldn’t necessarily require more class time than a more conceptually artificial assignment. For example, an assignment built on a privacy tort, such as public disclosure of private facts, presents both tort and constitutional law issues because First Amendment concerns arise in one of the elements of the claim. Thus, such a problem would not necessarily require any more class time because a teacher would only need to discuss and assign one set of cases analyzing one cause of action.

Similarly, insights from pro bono about best interviewing practices would not necessarily add significant time to existing interviewing instruction in legal writing courses. For example, sharpening classroom focus on building rapport with diverse or marginalized communities would enrich instruction about interviewing without adding significant time to discussion of other interviewing-related topics. Nor would adding social justice issues inspired by pro bono work to a case file necessarily require material additional class time. Pro bono experience can help teachers discern how legal and social justice issues arise together organically. When social justice concerns intertwine naturally with legal issues, their presentation in assignments and in class should not take significantly more time than presentation of a problem that doesn’t implicate social justice issues.

More generally, a teacher better able to respond to student questions with up-to-the minute understanding of practice dynamics doesn’t add another topic to the syllabus that could require bumping something else. Rather, these classroom benefits could instead improve the effectiveness of already existing components of the course.

Faculty pro bono would also build on the strength of legal writing scholarship. Commentators have long criticized modern legal scholarship as overly theoretical and disconnected from practice.[99] By contrast, the type of legal writing scholarship produced by many legal writing professors is practical and useful for the bar. Legal writing professors have written not just about objective and persuasive writing, but also legal research, interviewing, and other skills lawyers utilize every day.[100]

Faculty pro bono could support legal writing professors in generating more scholarship that serves lawyers and judges. As commentators have noted, one reason legal writing professors are highly qualified to produce practical scholarship is their greater practice experience.[101] As described above, however, long absence from practice can cause skill decay and obsolescence of knowledge.[102] Faculty pro bono can help fill any gap in experience for legal writing professors by providing the practice exposure to craft scholarship about up-to-date practice needs.

In addition to helping legal writing scholars produce more practical skills scholarship, faculty pro bono could also help improve non-skills focused scholarship written by legal writing scholars. For example, legal writing professors have written scholarship not nominally focused on skills, but on the nature and benefits of the pro bono experiences.[103] Furthermore, pro bono experience can help legal writing professors refine even more theoretical work by helping them analyze abstract questions and issues in light of how the law works on the ground today.[104]

F. Objections and Responses

Past work on faculty pro bono has addressed a variety of objections to law professors starting pro bono practices.[105] This section briefly discusses several objections related particularly to faculty pro bono in the legal writing community.

First, pro bono can require significant time, and legal writing professors are already extremely busy. Legal writing courses center around highly time-intensive tasks, such as providing extensive written feedback and holding mandatory one-on-one meetings with all students.[106] Indeed, “[m]ost law faculty acknowledge that writing professors may well have the heaviest workload at the law school.”[107] And the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the sense of overload.[108]

But pro bono need not be a highly burdensome extra obligation for legal writing professors. First, legal writing professors’ superior legal experience may help reduce ramp-up time for pro bono practice. Studies have shown that legal writing professors tend to have more and broader legal experience than their doctrinal colleagues.[109] Legal writing faculty’s experiential advantage may position them more fluidly to tackle a variety of different pro bono projects and do so time-efficiently.

Further, although some lawyers do manage complex pro bono representations, “compact” pro bono projects can help busy legal writing professors get involved without jumping into the deep end. For example, many public interest organizations run clinics that generate a variety of limited-scope projects.[110] Homelessness prevention clinics run by public interest organizations sometimes offer initial interviews of potential clients at homeless shelters, but with no requirement to accept any subsequent representation. Unlawful detainer clinics often operate similarly, providing client interviews and short-term drafting projects limited to one-day commitments. Expungement clinics also offer cabined assignments, training participants and facilitating expungement work for one or two clients over the course of one day.[111] Programs like these may require only three or four hours per discrete project,[112] which legal writing professors may be able to spare every few months or—during busy periods—a few times a year.

Moreover, legal writing professors could pursue certain compact pro bono projects even if they are not currently licensed to practice law. For example, staff attorneys from public interest organizations supervise pro bono volunteers at some expungement clinics.[113] Thus, for some pro bono opportunities, non-lawyers, including law students, paralegals, or unlicensed law professors, can participate under attorney supervision.[114] Furthermore, certain administrative proceedings permit non-lawyers to serve as representatives at evidentiary hearings.[115] Accordingly, unlicensed law professors can represent litigants in some limited pro bono hearings even without supervision from an outside attorney.

Critics, however, may charge that such truncated projects make minimal impact and therefore serve little purpose for legal writing professors. Admittedly, limiting pro bono to one short piece of a representation likely provides less challenge and fulfillment than leaping into a matter with both feet. But that’s not a reason to do nothing; it’s a reason to begin with modest steps.

Indeed, starting small may maximize impact for other reasons. Biting off too much pro bono to start could backfire by confirming the concern that legal writing professors lack adequate bandwidth. By contrast, beginning with a compact project for a legal aid clinic could affirm the opposite: that it’s doable. And researchers have found that dipping one’s toe in charitable work can inspire further service.[116] A compact project can ignite a zeal for volunteer work and can potentially snowball into a robust pro bono practice for legal writing professors.

A second objection is that pro bono work could impede status gains for legal writing professors. Some law schools perceive legal writing as a low-status field.[117] Arguably, engaging in pro bono work could exacerbate the problem by reinforcing the viewpoint that legal writing professors are mere legal technicians, not true legal academics. Pro bono could further worsen the problem, according to critics, by taking time away from higher-status pursuits like scholarly writing.

Concededly, if legal writing professors’ approach to boosting status is producing more scholarship, pro bono might appear counterproductive. But as described above, pro bono engagement can help generate new scholarly ideas and can anchor research more firmly in practice as it is. [118]

Moreover, pro bono activity could propel status, even assuming zero scholarly gains. As described above, some of the most high-profile legal academics in the country advocate faculty pro bono as a critical part of being a professor.[119] Legal writing professors could help lead the movement to translate this scholarly argument into reality. As described above, legal writing professors have trailblazed best practices before, having built classes around simulations and extensive formative feedback before others did.[120] Cultivating their prominence as best-practices leaders could help enhance, rather than hinder, the status of legal writing professors.[121]

In any event, even if pro bono did detract from scholarship, it would likely not do so significantly if legal writing professors use compact, time-limited projects. Nor would a small offset of time for scholarship justify wholesale rejection of pro bono work given the other significant benefits described above.

III. Conclusion

Legal writing professors today face an array of questions about what they value and how to spend their professional time. Although scholarship has addressed facets of this exploration, one question that hasn’t been deeply probed is what role pro bono should play in the legal writing community. But faculty pro bono in many ways aligns with existing strengths and values in the legal writing community. The legal writing community cares deeply about spearheading best practices in legal education, modeling professional values for students, crafting true-to-practice assignments for students, publishing scholarship informed by the realities of the legal system, and pursuing equity for colleagues and others. Faculty pro bono helps legal writing professors pursue those commitments and expand them in new and different directions.

Undeniably, legal writing professors carry heavy teaching loads and are extremely time-pressed. But compact pro bono projects do exist and can potentially jibe with existing schedules if tackled incrementally. Given its other benefits to teachers, students, and the underserved—and the synergy with key priorities in the legal writing community—pro bono work should at the least be part of the ongoing conversation about the legal writing community’s commitments and values.

  1. See, e.g., Jan M. Levine, A Curmudgeon’s View of the Multi-Generational Teaching of Legal Writing, 25 Legal Writing 79, 89 (2021). Of course, despite these new opportunities for some legal writing professors, many still have no vote and no ability to pursue tenure. See, e.g., J. Lyn Entrikin, Lucy Jewel, Susie Salmon, Craig T. Smith, Kristen K. Tiscione & Melissa H. Weresh, Treating Professionals Professionally: Requiring Security of Position for All Skills-Focused Faculty Under ABA Accreditation Standard 405(c) and Eliminating 405(d), 98 Or. L. Rev. 1, 20 (2020). As discussed infra in Parts II and III, the question of status plays an important role in the discussion of pro bono for legal writing faculty.

  2. See, e.g., Kevin Bennardo, Legal Writing’s Harmful Psyche, 105 Minn. L. Rev. Headnotes 111, 124 (2020) (advocating shifting away from status focus for legal writing professors); Levine, supra note 1, at 89 (discussing whether legal writing professors should specialize in legal writing scholarship); Amy H. Soled, The Legal Writing Community’s Bonds Enable it to Flourish, 5 Stetson L. Rev. Forum 1, 10–11 (2022) (arguing in favor of efforts to improve status of legal writing professors); Melissa H. Weresh, Stargate: Malleability as a Threshold Concept in Legal Education, 63 J. Legal Educ. 689, 696 (2014) (analyzing core concepts of legal writing instruction).

  3. Although the question of professional identity generally has spawned a voluminous literature, that scholarship primarily focuses on how practitioners think of themselves and how to help students begin forming professional self-conceptions. See generally, e.g., David B. Wilkins, Beyond “Bleached Out” Professionalism: Defining Professional Responsibility For Real Professionals, in Ethics in Practice: Lawyers’ Roles, Responsibilities, and Regulation (Deborah Rhode ed., 2000). Much less has been written in the scholarship of professional identity that explores how law faculty think of themselves. But see generally David Luban, Faculty Pro Bono and the Question of Identity, 49 J. Legal Educ. 58 (1999).

  4. But see Suzanne Rabé & Stephen A. Rosenbaum, A “Sending Down” Sabbatical: The Benefits of Lawyering in the Legal Services Trenches, 60 J. Legal Educ. 296 (2010) (describing a legal writing professor’s legal services sabbatical); Ezra Ross, Reframing Faculty Pro Bono, 70 J. Legal Educ. 3, 17–19 (2020). In addition, some papers do not focus on faculty pro bono but do discuss ways that professors can work with public interest organizations to create legal writing assignments rooted in pro bono matters. See, e.g., Rebecca A. Cochran, Legal Research and Writing Programs as Vehicles for Law Student Pro Bono Service, 8 B.U. Pub. Int. L.J. 429, 445 (1999).

  5. See Luban, supra note 3 (discussing how pro bono obligations raise questions of identity for law faculty); Ezra Ross, The Fourth Element: Pro Bono for Junior Law Faculty, 2 Proceedings 37, 38 (2022) (discussing the benefits of faculty pro bono).

  6. Fiona Kay & Robert Granfield, When Altruism is Remunerated: Understanding the Bases of Voluntary Public Service Among Lawyers, 56 Law & Soc’y Rev. 78, 80–81 (2022).

  7. See Debra Lyn Bassett, Redefining the “Public” Profession, 36 Rutgers L.J. 721, 743 (2005) (citing Eliot Freidson, Professionalism: The Third Logic 122 (2001)).

  8. See, e.g., Kirsten A. Dauphinais, Sea Change: The Seismic Shift in the Legal Profession and How Legal Writing Professors Will Keep Legal Education Afloat in its Wake, 10 Seattle J. Soc. Just. 49, 74, 103, 123 (2011).

  9. See generally Erwin Chemerinsky, A Pro Bono Requirement for Faculty Members, 37 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1235 (2004); Luban, supra note 3; Deborah L. Rhode, The Professional Responsibilities of Professors, 51 J. Legal Educ. 158 (2001) (arguing that law faculty should engage in some pro bono service).

  10. See, e.g., Mary Nicol Bowman, Legal Writing as Office Housework?, 69 J. Legal Educ. 22, 23–24 (2019); Jo Anne Durako, Second-Class Citizens in the Pink Ghetto: Gender Bias in Legal Writing, 50 J. Legal Educ. 562, 563–65 (2000); Teri A. McMurtry-Chubb, Still Writing at the Master’s Table: Decolonizing Rhetoric in Legal Writing for a “Woke” Legal Academy, 21 Scholar 255, 257, 290 (2019).

  11. See, e.g., Bowman, supra note 10, at 27–30; Entrikin, Jewel, Salmon, Smith, Tiscione & Weresh, supra note 1, at 5.

  12. See Entrikin, Jewel, Salmon, Smith, Tiscione & Weresh, supra note 1, at 5.

  13. See Bennardo, supra note 2, at 124 (“Rather than enumerating grievances against casebook faculty in an attempt to convince them to grant us equal status, we would achieve more by emulating casebook faculty in certain respects.”).

  14. See, e.g., Levine, supra note 1, at 89 (“[W]riting professors ought to write in the field in which they teach, just as a professor of contracts or torts ought to write in those areas, to inform the professors’ own teaching.”).

  15. See, e.g., id.

  16. See, e.g., Mary Nicol Bowman, Mitigating Foul Blows, 49 Ga. L. Rev. 309 (2015) (addressing prosecutorial misconduct); Bruce Ching, Attorney Referral, Negligence, and Vicarious Liability, 33 S. Ill. U. L.J. 217 (2009); Melissa H. Weresh, Geographic Inequity in Medicare Reimbursement — Effect of Geographic Practice Cost Indices on Physician Reimbursement and Patient Access, 5 Rutgers J. L. & Pub. Pol’y 361 (2008).

  17. See Adam N. Eckart, Deal Me In: Leveraging Pedagogy to Integrate Transactional Skills into The First Year Legal Research and Writing Curriculum, 21 U.C. Davis Bus. L.J. 125, 139–40 (2020); Susan E. Thrower, Teaching Legal Writing Through Subject-Matter Specialties: A Reconception of Writing Across the Curriculum, 13 Legal Writing 3, 34 (2007).

  18. See, e.g., Weresh, supra note 2, at 690–91.

  19. See, e.g., Miki Felsenburg & Luellen Curry, Incorporating Social Justice Issues into the LRW Classroom, 11 Persps.: Teaching Legal Res. & Writing 75 (2003).

  20. See David I. C. Thomson, What We Do: The Life and Work of the Legal Writing Professor, 50 J. Legal Educ. 170, 250 (2021) (“But mostly we should keep our politics out of the classroom-because we are teaching skills. If we do not, we risk compromising our relationship with our students.”).

  21. See Charles Calleros, Family Atmosphere–A Supportive Space for Creative Endeavors, Ass’n Am. L. Sch., Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research Newsletter, Summer 2019, at 15–16, cited in Bennardo, supra note 2, at 118; Soled, supra note 2, at 10–11.

  22. Bennardo, supra note 2, at 124; Levine, supra note 1, at 85–86.

  23. See Durako, supra note 10, at 563–65; Thrower, supra note 17.

  24. Levine, supra note 1, at 89.

  25. See, e.g., Shivangi Gangwar, Some Thoughts on the Corona Semester, 65 St. Louis U. L.J. 517 (2021); L. Danielle Tully, What Law Schools Should Leave Behind, 2022 Utah L. Rev. 837, 840–41 (2022).

  26. Although beyond the scope of this paper, the research about different commitments in the legal writing community may also be part of a broader movement in legal academia to consider the nature of professors’ own professional identity. For example, commentators have discussed the shift from law professors identifying more as attorneys to identifying now as university professors, and the resulting impact on law professors’ sense of professional identity. See Luban, supra note 3, at 66–67. The increasing status and opportunities for legal writing professors may also be opening up possibilities for legal writing professors’ conceptions of their professional identity.

  27. See, e.g., Scott L. Cummings, The Politics of Pro Bono, 52 UCLA L. Rev. 1 (2004) (addressing pro bono by practitioners); Leslie C. Levin, Pro Bono and Low Bono in the Solo and Small Firm Context, in Private Lawyers and the Public Interest: The Evolving Role of Pro Bono in the Legal Profession (Robert Granfield & Lynn Mather eds., 2009); Deborah L. Rhode, The Trouble with Lawyers 144 (2015) (discussing inspiring future practitioners to engage in pro bono); Rebecca L. Sandefur, Lawyers’ Pro Bono Service and American-Style Civil Legal Assistance, 41 Law & Soc’y Rev. 79 (2007).

  28. See Chemerinsky, supra note 9; Luban, supra note 3; Rhode, supra note 9.

  29. See The Unmet Need for Legal Aid, Legal Services Corporation, [] (last visited Jan. 20, 2024) (summarizing research and statistics on the access to justice gap).

  30. See Chemerinsky, supra note 9; Luban, supra note 3, at 60; Rhode, supra note 9.

  31. See Luban, supra note 3, at 67–68.

  32. See id. at 68.

  33. See Deborah L. Rhode, Legal Ethics in Legal Education, 16 Clinical L. Rev. 43, 54 (2009); Rima Sirota, Making CLE Voluntary and Pro Bono Mandatory: A Law Faculty Test Case, 78 La. L. Rev. 547, 549 (2018).

  34. See Rhode, supra note 33, at 54; Sirota, supra note 33, at 549.

  35. See Ross, supra note 4, at 13–16.

  36. See id.

  37. See id. at 16–19.

  38. See id. at 5–6.

  39. But see id. at 17–19; Rabé & Rosenbaum, supra note 4 (describing a legal writing professor’s legal services sabbatical). In addition, some papers do not focus on faculty pro bono but do discuss ways that professors can work with public interest organizations to create legal writing assignments rooted in pro bono matters. See Cochran, supra note 4, at 445.

  40. See Chemerinsky, supra note 9; Luban, supra note 3; Rhode, supra note 9.

  41. See Chemerinsky, supra note 9, at 1238–39.

  42. See Rhode, supra note 33, at 54; Sirota, supra note 33, at 549. Law school clinicians, of course, already represent real clients. The scope of this paper, however, is limited to the role of faculty pro bono for professors whose work in legal education does not already require legal representations.

  43. Dauphinais, supra note 8, at 74 (quoting John A. Lynch, Jr., Teaching Legal Writing After a Thirty Year Respite: No Country for Old Men?, 38 Cap. U. L. Rev. 1, 4 (2009)).

  44. Alison Donahue Kehner & Mary Ann Robinson, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Accomplished or Mission: Underway? A Survey and Analysis of Current Trends in Professionalism Education in American Law Schools, 38 U. Dayton L. Rev. 57, 67 (2012).

  45. See, e.g., Dauphinais, supra note 8, at 103.

  46. See id. (discussing the importance of tailoring pedagogy to benefit different types of learners through simulation exercises and other techniques that go beyond the “case method” of teaching).

  47. See id. at 69 (citing William M. Sullivan, Anne Colby, Judith Welch Wegner, Lloyd Bond, Lee S. Shulman, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (2007) & Roy Stuckey et al., Best Practices for Legal Education: A Vision and a Road Map (2007)).

  48. See id. at 104.

  49. See id.

  50. See infra at Part II.D.

  51. See Rachel Croskery-Roberts & Ezra Ross, Creating and Administering an Interviewing Project for 1Ls: Benefits, Challenges, and Lessons Learned from COVID-19, 29 Persps.: Teaching Legal Res. & Writing 9 (2022).

  52. See id.

  53. See, e.g., Ruth Anne Robbins, Kristen K. Tiscione & Melissa H. Weresh, Persistent Structural Barriers to Gender Equity in the Legal Academy and the Efforts of Two Legal Writing Organizations to Break Them Down, 65 Vill. L. Rev. 1155, 1161–65 (2020); Kristen K. Tiscione, Gender Inequality Throughout the Academy: A Quick Look at the (Surprisingly Limited) Data, 69 J. Legal Educ. 116, 117–19 (2019).

  54. See Durako, supra note 10, at 563–65.

  55. See Entrikin, Jewel, Salmon, Smith, Tiscione & Weresh, supra note 1, at 5.

  56. See, e.g., Kristen K. Tiscione, The Next Great Challenge: Making Legal Writing Scholarship Count as Legal Scholarship, 22 Legal Writing 50, 51–53 (2018).

  57. Fiona Kay & Robert Granfield, When Altruism is Remunerated: Understanding the Bases of Voluntary Public Service Among Lawyers, 56 Law & Soc’y Rev. 78, 80–81 (2022).

  58. See Bennardo, supra note 2, at 116.

  59. This assumes the criticism has merit. As commentators have written, however, legal writing scholars’ work on status issues should be viewed as a strength, not a weakness. See, e.g., Soled, supra note 2, at 10–11.

  60. Deborah L. Rhode, Cultures of Commitment: Pro Bono for Lawyers and Law Students, 67 Fordham L. Rev. 2415, 2429 (1999).

  61. See Maureen J. Arrigo, Hierarchy Maintained: Status and Gender Issues in Legal Writing Programs, 70 Temp. L. Rev. 117, 162 (1997).

  62. See id.

  63. See id.; Emily Grant, Toward A Deeper Understanding of Legal Research and Writing as a Developing Profession, 27 Vt. L. Rev. 371, 392 (2003).

  64. See Gerald F. Hess, Improving Teaching and Learning in Law School: Faculty Development Research, Principles, and Programs, 12 Widener L. Rev. 443, 446 (2006).

  65. See Suzanne J. Schmitz & Alice M. Noble-Allgire, Reinvigorating The 1L Curriculum: Sequenced “Writing Across the Curriculum” Assignments As The Foundation For Producing Practice-Ready Law Graduates, 36 S. Ill. U. L.J. 287, 289 (2012) (describing the first year of law school as “a time in which students are most impressionable and eager to learn”).

  66. See Rhode, supra note 60, at 2431; see also Robert R. Kuehn, A Normative Analysis of the Rights and Duties of Law Professors to Speak Out, 55 S.C. L. Rev. 253, 298 (2003).

  67. See Melissa H. Weresh, Service: A Prescription for the Lost Lawyer, 2014 Prof. Law. 45, 58 (2014).

  68. See Robert Granfield, Institutionalizing Public Service in Law School: Results on the Impact of Mandatory Pro Bono Programs, 54 Buff. L. Rev. 1355, 1370 (2007).

  69. See id.

  70. See Kehner & Robinson, supra note 44, at 87.

  71. See Luban, supra note 3, at 66.

  72. See generally, e.g., E. Scott Fruehwald, Developing Your Professional Identity: Creating Your Inner Lawyer (2015); Neil W. Hamilton, Roadmap: The Law Student’s Guide to Preparing and Implementing a Successful Plan for Meaningful Employment (2015); David I. C. Thomson, ''Teaching" Formation of Professional Identity, 27 Regent U. L. Rev. 303 (2015).

  73. See Am. Bar Ass’n Section of Legal Educ. & Admissions to the Bar, Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools § 303(b) (2023).

  74. See, e.g., Linda F. Smith, Professional Identity Formation Through Pro Bono Revealed Through Conversation, 68 Clev. St. L. Rev. 250, 255 (2020).

  75. Neil Hamilton, Fostering Professional Formation (Professionalism): Lessons from the Carnegie Foundation’s Five Studies on Educating Professionals, 45 Creighton L. Rev. 763, 790 n.160 (2012) (quoting William M. Sullivan, Anne Colby, Judith Welch Wegner, Lloyd Bond & Lee S. Shulman, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law 138 (The Carnegie Found. for the Advancement of Teaching 2007)).

  76. Carole Silver, Amy Garver & Lindsay Watkins, Unpacking the Apprenticeship of Professional Identity and Purpose: Insights from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, 17 Legal Writing 373 n.21 (2011).

  77. Id. (quoting Neil Hamilton, Assessing Professionalism: Measuring Progress in the Formation of an Ethical Professional Identity, 5 U. St. Thomas L.J. 470 (2008)).

  78. See Kristen K. Davis, Building Credibility in the Margins: An Ethos-Based Perspective for Commenting on Student Papers, 12 Legal Writing 73, 75 (2006).

  79. See id.

  80. See Rabé & Rosenbaum, supra note 4, at 305–06.

  81. See generally Winfred Arthur, Jr., Winston Bennett, Jr., Eric Anthony Day & Antoinette M. Portrey, Individual and Team Skill Decay: The Science and Implications for Practice (2013).

  82. See Emily Zimmerman, Should Law Professors Have a Continuing Practice Experience (CPE) Requirement?, 6 Ne. U. L.J. 131, 138 (2013).

  83. See id.

  84. See, e.g., id.; Martin H. Pritikin, The Experiential Sabbatical, 64 J. Legal Educ. 33, 44–45 (2014).

  85. See Zimmerman, supra note 82, at 144.

  86. See Lucia Ann Silecchia, Legal Skills Training in the First Year of Law School: Research? Writing? Analysis? Or More?, 100 Dick. L. Rev. 245, 250 n.19 (1996); Debora L. Threedy & Aaron Dewald, Re-conceptualizing Doctrinal Teaching: Blending Online Videos With In-Class Problem Solving, 64 J. Legal Educ. 605, 609 (2015).

  87. See Pritikin, supra note 84, at 45–48; Ross, supra note 5, at 38.

  88. See Ross, supra note 5, at 38.

  89. See Pritikin, supra note 84, at 48–50.

  90. See Rabé & Rosenbaum, supra note 4, at 305.

  91. See id. at 310–12.

  92. See id. at 312.

  93. See Croskery-Roberts & Ross, supra note 51, at 13.

  94. Though similar to the modeling benefits of pro bono practice, described supra, this direct instructional impact is an additional benefit.

  95. See generally, e.g., Beth D. Cohen, Helping Students Develop a More Humanistic Philosophy of Lawyering, 12 Legal Writing 141 (2006); Felsenburg, supra note 19.

  96. See, e.g., Pamela Edwards & Sheilah Vance, Teaching Social Justice Through Legal Writing, 7 Legal Writing 63, 71 (2001); Felsenburg & Curry, supra note 19.

  97. Each of the preceding examples in the text draws inspiration from pro bono unlawful detainer, consumer protection, and federal benefits matters on which I worked.

  98. See Denitsa R. Mavrova Heinrich & Tammy Pettinato Oltz, Legal Research Just in Time: A New Approach to Integrating Legal Research Into the Law School Curriculum, 88 Tenn. L. Rev. 469, 490 (2021); Terry Jean Seligmann, Beyond “Bingo!”: Educating Legal Researchers as Problem Solvers, 26 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 179, 181 (2000).

  99. See, e.g., Harry T. Edwards, The Growing Disjunction Between Legal Education and the Legal Profession, 91 Mich. L. Rev. 34, 35 (1992); Seth P. Waxman, Rebuilding Bridges: The Bar, the Bench, and the Academy, 150 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1905, 1906–07 (2002).

  100. See, e.g., Linda L. Berger, Linda H. Edwards & Terrill Pollman, The Past, Presence, and Future of Legal Writing Scholarship: Rhetoric, Voice, and Community, 16 Legal Writing 521, 543 (2010) (describing legal writing scholarship that influences judges and practitioners).

  101. See, e.g., Mitchell Nathanson, Taking the Road Less Traveled: Why Practical Scholarship Makes Sense For The Legal Writing Professor, 11 Legal Writing 329, 349 (2005).

  102. See supra text accompanying notes 81–83.

  103. See Rabé & Rosenbaum, supra note 4.

  104. Pro bono experience could arguably have additional benefits related to scholarly placements. Most journals in which legal academics publish papers are run by students. Critics have roundly challenged this arrangement, primarily on the ground that students lack the expertise to select articles. See, e.g., Barry Friedman, Fixing Law Reviews, 67 Duke L.J. 1297, 1307-08 (2018). By contrast, most journals that primarily publish work on legal education, legal skills, or legal writing are peer edited. By assisting legal writing professors in crafting and publishing practical work in these peer edited journals, faculty pro bono can help support best practices in legal scholarship publication.

  105. See Luban, supra note 3, at 70–74.

  106. See Dauphinais, supra note 8, at 94.

  107. See id. (quoting Jo Anne Durako, Dismantling Hierarchies: Occupational Segregation of Legal Writing Faculty in Law Schools: Separate and Unequal, 73 UMKC L. Rev. 253, 270 (2004)).

  108. See Ross, supra note 5, at 19.

  109. See Nathanson, supra note 101, at 339–40.

  110. See Ross, supra note 4, at 38.

  111. See Pro Bono Training Institute, Expungement Clinic, [] (last viewed January 22, 2024) (“Volunteers meet with 1-2 petitioners and assist them with the record expungement petition . . . .”).

  112. See, e.g., id. (“The time commitment for the volunteers is approximately 2-3 hours at each clinic with no follow-up legal assistance required.”).

  113. See id. (describing volunteer work “under the guidance/supervision of a LAFLA [staff] attorney”).

  114. See id. (noting that the pro bono opportunity is available to lawyers, law students, and paralegals).

  115. See, e.g., California Dep’t of Indust. Relations, Policies & Procedures For Wage Claim Processing, [ (last viewed Jan. 22, 2024) (noting that each party has the right “[t]o be represented by an attorney or other party of his or her choosing”).

  116. See Rhode, supra note 60, at 2431.

  117. See Susan P. Liemer & Hollee S. Temple, Did Your Legal Writing Professor Go to Harvard?: The Credentials of Legal Writing Faculty at Hiring Time, 46 U. Louisville L. Rev. 383, 384–85 (2008).

  118. See supra Part II.E.

  119. See Chemerinsky, supra note 9; Luban, supra note 3; Rhode, supra note 9.

  120. See supra Part II.A.

  121. Ross, supra note 4, at 19.