Fordham Law School’s Pro Bono Scholar program allows participants to discover and develop their interests while working with a like-minded community of service-focused peers and mentors. By devoting their final semester of law school to real-life pro bono practice on behalf of indigent and low-income New Yorkers, Pro Bono Scholars gain practical work experience prior to graduation and embody the Law School’s ethos, “in the service of others.” PBS students typically complete their full-time practice through one of Fordham Law’s clinics, allowing them to combine their passion for service with their specific professional interests. Additionally, members of the program are given the rare opportunity to take the New York bar exam while still enrolled in law school, giving them an advantage over other members of their class as they enter their legal careers.
For many PBS alumni, public service is a natural path after graduation, but even those who enter the private sector remain inspired by their time in the program and many maintain their commitment to pro bono practice.
We caught up with five recent graduates of the program to see how their time as Pro Bono Scholars has shaped their careers and their respective approaches to legal work, whether they are working in the public sector or the private sector.
“I have always known that I wanted to be a lawyer,” said Muriel Raggi ’15. Her interest in legal practice manifested early—she was a member of her Long Island high school’s mock trial team, and as an undergraduate, she majored in legal studies. Initially, she had planned on becoming a criminal prosecutor, but her time in the PBS program and the Federal Litigation clinic made her realize that she preferred defense work.
“The Pro Bono Scholars program afforded me the opportunity to meet like-minded peers who shared the value of serving others,” she said. “It also provided many opportunities to listen to my peers about their experience working in public service-based legal practices, which showed me that there are infinite ways of having an impactful career.”
The PBS program offered several practical advantages, as well. “I was able to second seat depositions in an employment discrimination case and counsel incarcerated clients, investigate charges, and speak in court—all before graduation,” she emphasized. Achieving these professional milestones early gave her confidence while entering the workforce.
Since graduating in 2015, she has sought varying types of pro bono work, including counseling detainees at the US-Mexico border, representing victims of sexual assault in the military justice system, and defending indigent clients in federal criminal cases, a particular passion she discovered while participating in the PBS program and the Federal Litigation clinic.
Now, as a fourth year associate at Arnold & Porter, she focuses her commercial work on securities enforcement and internal investigations, but her firm offers their employees numerous avenues to continue public interest and pro bono work alongside their work in the private sector. Raggi plans to take advantage of these opportunities by continuing to work on behalf of indigent defendants in federal court.
Though public service had always been a calling for Marjorie “Jorie” Dugan ’17, it wasn’t until after college that she realized she wanted to practice law. After graduating from Barnard College with a double major in human rights and psychology, she returned to her birth country, the Philippines, to work for an anti-trafficking organization. After that, she moved to South Africa to work for an NGO working to create sustainable socio-economic change in the townships of Cape Town. These experiences abroad sparked her desire to study law in order to defend vulnerable groups and offer them tools for navigating a punitive legal system.
“I remember walking into a courthouse in the Philippines with a survivor of sex trafficking and realizing that I wanted to be the lawyer defending her against injustice,” she recounted.
She called the Pro Bono Scholars program the “highlight” of her law school experience. In her 3L year, she completed her pro bono work through the Criminal Defense clinic, which honed the skills she acquired in classes and gave her the confidence to dive directly into legal practice.
She would advise any student considering the Pro Bono Scholars program to participate, without hesitation. “There is no better learning tool than actual practice and applying what you’ve learned in the classroom,” she said.
While still in law school, Dugan interviewed with Brooklyn Defender Services and was offered a position representing parents in child welfare proceedings in Kings County Family Court. She is now moving into Integrated Defense Practice, where she will represent clients with both criminal and family court cases. When considering her future, she remarked, “I plan to make sure I am using my legal degree and advocacy to continue to represent those who cannot afford representation and are systematically marginalized, stigmatized, or oppressed.”
Like so many Fordham Law School students, Bronwyn Roantree ’18 did not attend law school directly after finishing her undergraduate degree. Unlike so many Fordham students, however, Roantree entered law school after completing a PhD in Religion at Harvard, where she also taught for several years. Her research dealt extensively with the legal treatment of religious freedom. “After a few years of teaching, I decided to pursue a law degree to really understand the law from a practitioner’s perspective,” she said.
She counted her participation in the Pro Bono Scholars program among her best decisions while at Fordham, where she was also a Stein Scholar and the president of the International Refugee Assistance Project. She completed her PBS work in the Federal Litigation clinic and remarked, “The opportunity to work directly with clients facing significant criminal charges helped me to really understand the human costs and consequences of our legal system.”
In addition to the professional experiences the program offered, Roantree found its small size perfect for fostering meaningful mentorships with her advisors, with whom she is still in contact. “The intimacy of the program makes it a great place to build and nurture lasting professional relationships.”
Today, Roantree is a law clerk to federal Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin ’78, having previously served as a law clerk to Magistrate Judge James Orenstein of the Eastern District of New York before joining Judge Chin. She plans to continue to uphold Fordham Law’s values of public service throughout her career. “My work in the PBS program deepened my commitment to work for the common good.”
Rachel Manning ’19 credits her long-standing passion for environmental health and justice for first sparking her interest in studying law. While working in public health after college, she began working with public interest lawyers. “I admired how those lawyers were using advocacy and legal skills to address structural problems in a substantive way—working towards policy changes and setting precedent on important issues.” She realized she could easily see herself practicing law in that way, and she set her sights on Fordham Law School for its emphasis on service.
As a Pro Bono Scholar working in the Consumer Litigation clinic, she and her peers attended court weekly and worked on several cases from start to finish in one semester. She cited Marcella Silverman, her clinic professor, as a wonderful mentor, professionally and personally.
Currently, she clerks for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey and enjoys volunteering for the WomensLaw hotline, which provides a refreshing contrast to environmental work, which often involves very long-term projects; “It’s rewarding to take on pro bono work where I can help people find solutions to immediate problems.”
She would recommend the program to anyone considering it, as it was not only a positive experience, but one that prepared her well for her legal career. “The Pro Bono Scholars program was extremely valuable in exposing me to the daily work of civil litigation,” she noted. “It was the first time I had the chance to apply many of the concepts we learned in civil procedure, which previously seemed quite theoretical.”
Before entering Fordham Law School, Michael Mazzullo ’19 taught high school history. Working as an educator turned his focus to his own growth, and studying law would offer the opportunity to hone his writing, critical, and public speaking abilities.
Beginning as a part-time student at Fordham, he was able to teach during the day and attend classes in the evening before moving to full-time study in his 3L year, when he joined the Pro Bono Scholars program.
In the Federal Litigation clinic, he worked closely with Professors Ian Weinstein and Michael W. Martin. “I could not have asked for better mentors,” said Mazzullo. “They approached each exercise with great care: wrestling with every word on the brief, practicing deposition questions for hours, and preparing for a routine client call.”
He would suggest that all participants make an effort to befriend other PBS members, especially those in other clinics. “Every clinic takes on interesting clients; take the opportunity to hear about what other people are working on.”
Of all the skills he learned while working on real cases, he believes the most important was empathy. “The human connection with indigent clients who have lives—and pasts—quite different from my own taught me to treat all of them with dignity, expertise, and care.”
Since graduating in May, Mazzullo has clerked for Hon. Leda Wettre ’93, a United States Magistrate Judge for the District of New Jersey. He hopes to continue dedicating his career and his volunteer work to “pursuits that create a more just world.”