Pro Bono Mandate Gains Steam

California mulls joining New York in linking law licenses to unpaid work.

, The National Law Journal

   | 7 Comments

California state bar leaders are poised this fall to adopt a rule similar to New York's 50-hour pro bono requirement for new attorneys; meanwhile, a task force of ­judges, legal educators and attorneys in New Jersey is weighing the merits of following course.

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What's being said

  • David Sizemore

    These days nearly half of law graduates don't get a job requiring a law degree or passing the bar. It seems what New York wants to do is reduce the number of new lawyers. The ABA Model Rule and many states already recommend 50 hours pro bono for everyone each year. A noble idea especially in the aftermath of Gideon v. Wainright. But dictating the requirement merely adds to an already stress laden profession and won't increase competence automatically.

    However, if the state supplies a supervised clinic and gives academic credit to the student then perhaps a win/win solution is possible. The student burden is lightened and in some cases marginal students re-think the idea of working as a lawyer altogether.

    Perhaps it would be wiser to lenthen the time requirement to 150 hours over a three or four year period since not every one will be similarly situated- particularly if they don't end up in big firms .

  • stevelaudig

    How is this not involuntary servitude and/or a violation of minimum wage laws? In addition is will create vast opportunities for fraud in the performance of. Your pro bono work for the Nazi party couldn't be constitutionally forbidden if asked for by the group. It is always the politically powerless [here law students] that have onerous burdens placed on them by the powerful. Coercing 'ethical' behavior seems ethically unsound. This is a failure of the state to protect the poor from the ravages of the legal system. Compelling law students make up for governance failure is a sign of failure of the the legislature. Make the legislature's members do the work. they can solve the problem of their creation. make the judges do the work, they can solve the problem.

  • Kaye Wolf

    What a crock! I'm not a lawyer but I am offended by this.

    Electrical Engineer

  • Publicus

    What an absolute crock. Forcing law students to do charity work in areas they have no intention of practicing in so the profession's Brahmins can have bragging rights at wine and cheese parties. As for the idea of expanding such a requirement to already practicing attorneys, as espoused by penny0314 - I didn't go into law to be forced to perform charity in practice areas I neither practice in nor have any desire to become involved in - and the overwhelming areas of pro-bono work are family law, charity divorces, immigration and criminal misdemeanors. Pro bono for some is involuntary servitude for others - and spare me the feel-good doggerel about an ethical obligation. Neither the profession nor that class of people put me through law school - I did it by myself before law school with several years of military service during that little war in Southeast Asia several decades ago. I owe nothing - especially since the self-annointed gate keepers in our profession denied me the opportunity to practice in the area I wanted to because the name on my law school diploma wasn't prestigious enough. Make the silk-stocking Big Law partners do charity divorces - they owe the profession.

  • legaltruth

    *Edited: So $150,000 worth of debt acquired and now you must work for free for at least 50 hours. I thought indentured servitude would be looked down upon by the legal profession, clearly I am wrong.

    Maybe in a few years when there is still an access to justice issue they will multiple it by 5 again, 250 hours of pro bono. Then 5 years after that 1250 hours. The problem isn't the hours of pro bono work being done, its that lawyers charge too much.

    If lawyers lowered their prices significantly and advertised this price lowering there wouldn't be an access to justice issue. The lawyers business wouldn't suffer either because the volume increase would make up for the decrease in prices, dependent of course on effective management as well.

    The only real benefit this might bring is that Law School will seek to increase/expand the externship progams they offer.

  • legaltruth

    So $150,000 worth of debt acquired and now you must work for free for at least 50 hours. I thought indentured servitude would be looked down upon by the legal profession, clearly I am wrong. Maybe in a few years when there is still an access to justice issue they will multiple it by 5 again, 250 hours of pro bono. Then 5 years after that 1250 hours. The problem isn't the hours of pro bono work being done, its that lawyers charge too much. If they lowered their prices significantly and advertised this price lowering their wouldn't be an access to justice issue. The lawyers business would suffer either because the volume increase would make up for the decrease in prices, dependent of course on effective management as well. The only real benefit this might bring is that Law School will seek to increase/expand the externship progams they offer.

  • penny0314

    The pro bono work for new lawyers is a plus on many sides. With a different ethical take, do you suppose that could also be applied to those who are already practicing? A small amount of time each year or two would go light years to improving the profession's public image.

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