Pro Bono Opportunities Provide Students Chance to Give Back to the Community
Pro Bono Opportunities Provide Students Chance to Give Back to the Community

Last year, the Creighton School of Law introduced new programs to extend its Jesuit mission. One of these was a pro bono program, which is under the directorship of special assistant professor Katelyn Cherney, BA’08, JD.

In the law school setting, pro bono work refers to voluntary, law-related services provided to people of limited means or to community-based nonprofit organizations, for which the student does not receive pay or academic credit.

“Pro bono service not only helps those who need but cannot afford legal services, it also helps our law students get into the habit of giving back to our community,” said Michael J. Kelly, JD, LLM, interim dean. 

“Our Jesuit mission calls on us to be women and men for others.  Pro bono work is an excellent expression of that mission in addition to serving as a wonderful experiential learning opportunity for our students,” Kelly added.

Two Creighton law students – Chris McMahon, a part-time student, and Helen Russell, a second-year law student, say that pro bono work is one of the best things about law school.

McMahon, a veteran, is treasurer of the Military Law Society at Creighton. He says he wanted to get involved simply to help others.

“When I came to law school, I didn’t even know what pro bono work was,” McMahon admitted. “When I first saw the legal clinic during my first year of law school and learned how students could gain experience and exposure and help others while a student, I was amazed.”

McMahon said his involvement with the Military Law Society led him to seek out Cherney and Mick Wagoner, JD’96, an adjunct law professor and founder and executive director of the Veterans Legal Support Network (VLSN).

“I have only attended two clinics so far and both with VLSN,” McMahon said.  “VLSN clinics are unique. There is a several-hour training session that is highly detailed and fairly technical. Once that is complete, the groups are broken out into pairs and each pair receives a veteran packet,” he added.

“These packets contain briefs, bios, forms, etc.  All of this provides the background on each case, and each case is unique.  The one that I have been working on is for a veteran who is fighting to receive mental health support for PTSD,” McMahon said.

“Helping veterans in need is very meaningful to me,” he said. “My uncle served in Vietnam. My grandfather served in the Pacific In World War II. My great uncle served in the trenches in France in World War I. My family has experienced its share of post-traumatic stress disorder. There are so many veterans in need right here in Nebraska and in Omaha and I want to do my part to give something back.”

Helen Russell, who is president of Creighton’s Women’s Law Student Association (WLSA), said she got into pro bono work this past semester after being approached by Cherney. 

“I got an email [from her] discussing the possibility of a partnership between WLSA and the Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA), a local nonprofit organization that helps women develop independence after suffering domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking,” Russell explained.

“At first, I was a bit apprehensive as I didn’t know anything about family or immigration law and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on my organization (WLSA) to provide legal advice when the majority of members are 1Ls and 2Ls in the same shoes as me,” Russell said.

“However, after discussing the program with Cherney and Katie Welsh of the WCA, the pro bono clinic is about helping amplify the effectiveness of one attorney. My first clinic consisted of five student workers, one attorney and through the students’ assistance, a single attorney was able to assist 14 clients in three hours,” she added.

“WLSA partners with the WCA to staff a walk-in clinic for people needing assistance filling out pro se legal forms. I’ve worked a couple of clinics now, and knowing that I am helping someone 
make a change in their situation is so rewarding,” Russell said.

“I came to law school to help people. One of the reasons I chose Creighton law school was the Jesuit tradition,” Russell says. “The pro bono program helps elevate Creighton’s reputation within the community and creates opportunities for students to interact with local attorneys. I am very happy Creighton is supporting this program.”