Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Pro Bono Research Group: Idealism in Action

Founded in 1996 in response to federal budget cuts to legal services providers, PBRG provides legal research assistance to legal aid and legal services attorneys throughout Ohio. Completely student-run, PBRG is comprised of second- and third-year student volunteers in good academic standing who demonstrate the ability to perform sophisticated legal research. Students conduct research on a variety of civil law topics including consumer protection, housing/property law, civil rights, and public benefits/welfare law. Collectively, more than 50 students provide approximately 1,500 hours of legal research annually.

An Executive Board of third-year students manages and oversees the work of research fellows. All research is subject to multiple levels of review. The review process guarantees the integrity of the work product and provides students with feedback that sharpens their professional skills through practical experience.

PBRG representatives
2001-2003 PBRG Representatives at OSBA Awards Ceremony in 2002

Whether working to qualify foster children for special services or protecting the elderly from unscrupulous contractors, students interact with attorneys on a professional basis and learn how to use their legal skills to help real clients. Says Kimberly M. Skaggs '93, executive director of the Columbus-based Equal Justice Foundation, "PBRG advances equal justice by successfully harnessing the idealism of students and the resources of a premier law school while providing an invaluable resource to legal services attorneys and the clients they will serve."

Not all student volunteers will go on to careers in legal services. Executive Director Kerstin Sjoberg – Witt will join Jones Day in Columbus upon graduation. She believes working on real issues for real clients creates greater investment in the research process and helps leverage the time of legal services attorneys so they can serve more clients. Like other students in the program, Kerstin believes professional responsibility begins in law school.

Other PBRG students successfully pursue public interest careers. Two 2002 graduates, Paul Wilkins and Mike Deemer, won highly competitive national Equal Justice Works post-graduation fellowships. Paul and Mike are working with Equal Justice Foundation and Ohio Legal Services Association respectively.

PBRG also works to raise consciousness about public interest practice and values. On April 7, PBRG will host the Third Annual Conference on Poverty Law at the Moritz College, "Serving America's Poor: Combating Multiple Injustices with Action and Advocacy." It will focus on the multiple injustices that America's working poor face and the ways in which legal activists can address poverty through action and advocacy. For more information, contact Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt at kerstinsjoberg@aol.com. The symposium is part of the Woodside Speaker Series made possible through the generosity of Frank G. Woodside III, '69.