Law students must complete 50 hours of qualifying public service as a prerequisite to graduation. Transfer students shall complete a number of hours prorated to the number of semesters they will spend at the law school. All other members of the law school community (administrators, faculty, and staff) are strongly encouraged to complete 50 hours of qualifying public service every three years.
The Public Service Program (Program) exists for three reasons: 1) to ensure that law students remain members of the broader community with all of the accompanying responsibilities; 2) to foster students’ commitment to pro bono work throughout their legal careers; and 3) to fulfill the law school’s commitment to service as articulated in its Vision Statement.
A. Guidelines for Qualifying Public Service
The scope of public service that will qualify for public service credit is broad and includes virtually any type of uncompensated work that addresses the need of another and is consistent with the missions of the University of St. Thomas and its law school.
“Uncompensated” means that the student receives neither monetary nor academic compensation for work done in satisfaction of the public service requirement.
a. Monetary: Public service completed under the auspices of an employer may not qualify for public service credit unless the student performs the activity in addition to work expected during a compensated time period. Students who receive grants or stipends for work within the public service sector may petition for partial exemption from this rule by submitting a one-page letter to Public Service Board explaining any disproportionality between the compensation received and the work performed.
b. Academic: Public service completed under the auspices of another educational requirement (i.e. course, clinic, upper-level paper, or mentorship hours) may not qualify for public service credit unless the student does not receive credit toward the other educational requirement.
2. Addresses the Need of Another
The Program broadly interprets the law school’s Vision Statement, which articulates the school’s dedication to “promote and participate in service programs designed to address the needs and improve the conditions of the disadvantaged and underserved.”
a. Need. The Program encourages service for the relief, defense, and liberation of “those who are oppressed by poverty[, who] are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 2448). However, qualifying public service may address the holistic needs of a person or community, including non-legal, spiritual, emotional, educational, environmental, and physical needs.
b. Another. Qualifying public service should benefit those outside of students’ immediate social spheres (i.e. family, friends, and the law school). Any exceptions require consultation with the Public Service Board (PSB).
3. Consistent with the Missions of the Law School and University
The Program will not provide public service credit for activities that conflict with the respective missions of the University of St. Thomas or its law school.
a. Catholic Social Teaching. Catholic social teaching encompasses the Church’s principles regarding the welfare of humanity. Among other themes, Catholic social teaching promotes the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, the stewardship of creation, preferential option for the poor, promotion of peace and disarmament, the role of government and subsidiarity, economic justice, and the common good. Activities that conflict with Catholic social teaching, including those activities aiding organizations whose missions conflict with Catholic social teaching, may not qualify for public service credit.
b. Moral Responsibility. The University dedicates itself to educating “morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advanced the common good.” The Program may refuse or revoke public service credit for service activities in which a student acted irresponsibly, disrespectfully or unethically.
B. Logging Qualifying Public Service
Upon completion of qualifying public service, a student must submit a Public Service Log Entry (Log Entry) via the Public Service Logging System (Logging System). All public service activities should be logged contemporaneously. The PSB will review the Log Entry and ascertain whether the service performed meets the Guidelines for Qualifying Public Service. If the service qualifies, the logged hours will be credited to the student. The number of approved hours will be displayed within the Logging System.
1. Direct or Administrative Service
A student must distinguish between direct and administrative public service in his or her Log Entry. Direct public service helps individuals or communities in need. Administrative public service enables an individual or organization to help individuals or communities in need. Administrative service includes time spent 1.) organizing or administering organizations dedicated to providing direct services to underserved populations; 2.) organizing or administering specific direct service projects on behalf of such populations; and 3.) completing training or clerical work ancillary to qualifying public service projects. No more than 10 administrative hours per academic year, up to a total of 25 hours over three years, will be credited toward a student’s 50-hour graduation requirement.
2. Travel Time Exclusion
Time spent commuting to and from the site where public service is to be performed will not qualify for public service credit absent extraordinary circumstances. The PSB will determine the circumstances that justify awarding credit for commuting time.
3. Time Period of Completion
Each student must complete his or her 50 hours of qualifying public service between the beginning of his or her first semester of law school and the end of his or her last semester of law school. Qualifying service may be performed at any time during this period, including any semester in residence at another law school, any semester in residence at another school that is part of a joint degree program, any vacation, and any summer. Students may also log service completed as incoming students through pre-orientation projects sponsored by the Minnesota Justice Foundation or the law school.
4. Hours Exceeding the 50-Hour Requirement
Fellowship programs, employers, and the law school itself may consult a student’s aggregate number of public service hours before awarding honors or making employment decisions. Therefore, the Program encourages to students to report for all direct and administrative public service exceeding the 50-hour requirement.
5. Hardship Exception
A student who has a special need for relief from the public service requirement shall petition the Dean no later than the end of the student’s fifth semester at the law school. The Dean may accommodate a student’s special needs and, in exceptional circumstances, may waive the requirement entirely.
C. Determinations of Qualifying Public Service
1. Approved Service
The PSB will maintain a list of service opportunities presumed to constitute qualifying public service projects. This list is not intended to be exclusive but rather intended to illustrate the types of public service for which credit will be given. If a student performs any other type of public service, the PSB will determine whether it meets the Guidelines for Qualifying Public Service. The PSB shall consult with the advisor and the Dean to resolve novel issues.
2. Appealing a Determination
A student who has requested approval of a public service activity may appeal a PSB decision to reject an activity as qualifying public service. The student may appeal an activity’s rejection as qualifying public service by submitting a typewritten letter no longer than five pages to the PSB within two weeks of the date of the decision being made public to the law school community.
After reviewing the appeal letter, the PSB will provide the student a date for an informal hearing at a PSB meeting. The PSB will provide the student with a formal written determination after this meeting. These determinations will be made available to members of the law school community upon request. The Dean or the Dean’s designee may review any PSB determination. The determination of the Dean or the Dean’s designee will be final. Determinations will be made public to the law school community.
Appeals regarding activities listed as presumptively qualifying public service may be submitted in the same manner at any time. In the event that a presumptively qualifying public service activity is removed form the list, students who have completed public service hours in good faith reliance upon the list shall be entitled to retain that public service credit.
The Board may, in its discretion, reconsider a decision to accept or reject an activity on its own motion or upon suggestion from a law student, staff member, or law school faculty member.
1. Public Service Board
The Public Service Board (PSB) administers the Program. The PSB consists of two first-, five second-, and six third-year law students in good academic standing. The PSB maintains and distributes information about public service opportunities; oversees the maintenance of the Logging System; determines whether particular activities constitute qualifying public service; and maintains records of qualifying public service performed by law students.
The PSB receives applications for membership each spring from current students and each fall from incoming students. The PSB nominates applicants and presents them to Student Government for approval. Members of the PSB serve renewable one-year terms.
The Dean appoints a member of the faculty or administration to advise the PSB. The advisor is responsible for general oversight of the Program, including assuring the Program’s compliance with the Program policy; advising the PSB on policy issues; and considering (and, where appropriate, recommending to the faculty) revisions to the Program policy. The advisor provides the faculty with an annual Program report. The responsibilities necessarily entail attendance at PSB meetings and events.
3. Staff Administrator
An administrative staff member will initially review all Log Entries in accordance with Program precedent. This staff member will direct all novel or questionable Log Entries to the PSB and perform other administrative tasks as requested by the PSB or Dean. The staff administrator also will certify satisfactory completion of the Program requirements by law students.
Adopted by the Law Faculty, May 1, 2002
Revised, April 23, 2007
Revised, April 23, 2009