Pro Bono Stars: Grace Saalman

Editor’s note: While American Bar Association rules state that all lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide pro bono services, there is no such mandatory rule for law students. Still, law students provide far more hours than the average attorney.

The Class of 2019 performed more than 4.38 million hours of legal services, an average of around 221 hours per student. That totals more than $111.5 million in free legal services. 

In celebration of these efforts, we profile students who’ve gone above and beyond.


By Sherry Karabin 

Students at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland are required to participate in some type of volunteer intake clinic as 1Ls and complete 12 credits of experiential education, including six credits in their 3L year. They can also choose to perform an additional 50 hours of service for which they don’t receive school credit or pay and earn a pro bono certificate as 3L Grace Saalman is doing.

In high school and college, the Columbus native watched her father do pro bono work on a regular basis, taking on cases that were unrelated to his commercial litigation practice at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.

“I was inspired by my father’s dedication to providing free legal services to people in need. I decided to become a lawyer to follow his example of serving others,” Saalman said.

So when her Criminal Justice Clinic at Case Western wrapped up last fall before her client could go to trial, she decided to stay on the case.

“My client was wrongly accused of threatening his wife during a custody battle,” Saalman said.

Throughout the course, she worked closely with Clinic Director Ayesha Bell Hardaway to have the case dismissed, but they were unsuccessful. Now she was determined to prove her client should never have been charged with aggravated menacing.

As a certified legal intern, Saalman is allowed to try cases under the supervision of a licensed attorney and that’s exactly what she did this past January.

After spending her winter break preparing for trial, she served as first chair in the bench trial, which took place in Cleveland Municipal Court, securing a not guilty verdict for her client.

“It was an important outcome for my client,” said Saalman. “An unjust conviction would hurt his custody case and possibly separate him from his six-year-old son for years.”

When Saalman began preparing for the trial, she had already fulfilled all the requirements for graduation and worked over 100 pro bono hours to earn the certificate. She has now put in more than 60 additional hours to see the case through.

“When Grace decided to take the case to trial, she had already received her grade in the clinic and could easily have walked away,” said Hardaway. “Yet she stayed on, prepared diligently and walked into the courtroom undaunted. She handled everything masterfully and got a great result for her client.”

“Grace is a wonderful example of a student who takes advantage of all our experiential education program offers and then keeps going by providing pro bono services to members of our community who need legal services but lack the financial resources to acquire those services,” said Laura McNally-Levine, associate dean for experiential education at the school.

When Saalman graduates, she will serve as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr., where she was a judicial extern during her 1L summer.

“I would love to work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office or become a judge one day,” Saalman said. “My undergraduate degree is in environmental science so I am especially interested in how environmental laws negatively impact underprivileged and minority communities. Many people cannot afford basic legal services. Wherever I end up I know that pro bono work will be an important part of my career.”