Pro bono or volunteering, which one is best for international law students?

Doing Pro Bono with Pedro and Will for Oil Spill Case in Oriental North Carolina
Doing Pro Bono with Pedro and Will for Oil Spill Case in Oriental North Carolina

Our contributor, Ardianto Budi, graduated from Duke University in 2018. While finishing his master’s degree at Duke, he did extensive pro bono projects in the US.  In this article, he shares his experience. 


I did my master’s degree at Duke University School of Law majoring environmental law and policy. At first, when I arrived, my objectives were to get my master degree and go back to my home country, applying to be a civil servant but ended up not doing it. The reason is one day I saw tv news about pollution rates and how crazy the environmental situation in the U.S. and I cannot imagine if the same situation occurred in Indonesia. The news piqued my interest to do prior research on the scope of public law that I can choose if I want to do at Duke and one concentration that interests me is environmental law because I believe it will expand my opportunities to meet and learn from various figures globally.

Few months have passed, and I saw an ad from Duke Office of Public Interest related to Pro Bono activities in Durham and I decided to give a shot of my legal skills. Having no prior background of doing Pro Bono, I got a place in an organization called Church World Services with focus on Immigration Legal Services. I placed there with nine other fellows from Duke working on the separation of a child from the U.S. to Central America. As for my second Pro Bono, I work at Oriental, North Carolina for Oil Spills cases that has been long-lasting problems for residents.

Graduation means you have to start over. Before I graduated from Duke, I did enter the job search pool already since the first semester, and I got an interview for the procurement role. However, the company decided to not proceed with my application since I do not have international working experiences beforehand. After I join several Pro Bono during my study, I started to gain something that hard skills such as knowledge and degree are not enough and one thing that I learn is I need to expand my connection. Almost every week, I start to reach out to several alumni and gain new pieces of knowledge and ability to get a referral to several new people.

What Is Pro Bono?

Pro Bono is an event which means “for the public good.” The term generally refers to services that are rendered by a professional for free or at a lower cost. Pro bono services often related to nonprofit organizations. These organizations include hospitals, universities, churches, and foundations as a master student in U.S. Law school are required to do Pro bono for specific hours to be able to sit for the Bar Exam.

Duke Law School
Duke Law School

My experiences in doing several Pro Bono projects focus on public law give me an idea on who I am today. I consider myself lucky 

For some people, joining pro bono projects is just one way to sit in a bar exam in the U.S. since the U.S. Bar exam require candidates to fulfil a few hours requirement on Pro Bono. Joining Pro Bono could also give you an overview of what how working life should be. Not only teaches you how to apply your knowledge, but Pro bono also gives you skills to communicate, how to deal with working pressures also nurturing your implementation in legal skills. Personally, as someone who joins several Pro Bono during my study period in the U.S., I got tremendous information and experiences on how our knowledge could help people out there. Of course, it is not everyone’s cup of tea, because Pro bono sometimes can give you a hard time. After all, you will experience how to create legal comprehensive legal solutions to someone who really needs help.

Whittaker Creek, Oriental where lot of oil spill from boat and abandoned
Whittaker Creek, Oriental where lot of oil spill from boat and abandoned


Why should you join?

The most important reason to do Pro bono is to provide a community that might otherwise not be available. Either first year or last year students can do Pro bono depending on your interest since system of public funding is incomplete. Legal charities are also always looking for help from those with legal training. Pro bono experience, which is relevant to your desired career, may help you realize your goals. Thus students wishing to work in, for example, environmental law may find that working with environmental organizations may be attractive to potential think thank employers. More generally, however, good quality pro bono work may demonstrate a commitment to justice, dedication, flexibility, teamwork, open-mindedness, organization and other characteristics and values that are attractive to employers.

What you should look for Pro bono projects

If you haven’t got an idea which Pro Bono program you want to join, here are some tips to before choosing

  • Choose a specific subject line with your passion

Choosing a specific subject for Pro bono may seem irrelevant for some people because Pro Bono is a Pro Bono. However, I would like to suggest you that choosing a specific subject of law for your pro bono placement will not only give you experiences but will also nurture your skills in that field. Besides, you will get new connections from the organizations that may help your career in the future

  • Social media networking

Find information related to the location of Pro Bono project and try to contact your school Pro Bono administrator if they have an agreement with particular NGO. While the location somewhat subjective, it is crucial to understand where you are going to. Because if you can choose one that is close to your home, then you do not need to think about travel cost and rent a place for a while

  • Research and engage

Focus on your research during your Pro Bono Project. At first, it does seem like a boring thing to do. But, during your time by doing extensive research, you will get skills on how to provide legal solutions and learn how to console your client as a legal expert

Pro Bono or Volunteering, Which one is best for law students?

For students intents on pursuing a career in law, it makes sense to do pro bono work. Pro Bono will sharpen their skills and develop them as legal expertise. But, finding linear Pro Bono that suitable for options with studies may be challenging because there not unlimited opportunities, and you need to compete with other students. Other important factors such as work ethics and other commitments such as law concentration, other soft skills may also be considered in recruiting students for Pro Bono job. On the other side, some law student may do not wish to pursue a legal career. For all these reasons, it is essential to look at more at volunteering more generally. Volunteering can have many of the same contributions both to the community and the students as pro bono work. There are more general volunteering options and less demanding from Pro Bono because volunteer emphasizes in nurture students soft skills and Pro Bono focus on legal skills. Therefore It is undoubtedly better to do volunteering rather than give up looking because no suitable pro bono option arises.

Where Should You Start?

My objective is to encourage young Indonesia generation to not afraid of trying, become fearless. Be fearless of trying to achieve your dream, be fearless and be the first people who stand up and help change the world into a better place because everything will work out if you dare to overcome your fear. Lastly, my E-Mail ( is open if you are seeking advice or want to discuss my experiences in navigating the Pro Bono and NGO areas and my day-to-day life as a lecturer in the faculty of law.

Ardianto Budi
Ardianto Budi


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