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The New York state bar is introducing a pro bono requirement for admission.
May 29, 2012 10:44 PM   Subscribe

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York Court of Appeals announced that beginning next year, prospective lawyers must show that they have performed at least 50 hours of law-related pro bono service before being admitted to the New York state bar.

Arguments in support of the measure include that it will help to provide legal services to the many people who cannot afford attorneys, that it will instill the value of pro bono work in lawyers from the beginnings of their careers, and that it will provide practical work experience for law students.

Arguments against the measure include that the pro bono work will be done by people not yet licensed to practice law, that this measure imposes a financial burden on already financially-struggling law students, and that there are no provisions to ensure the pro bono work's quality in addition to quantity.
posted by hypotheticole (60 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
The whole idea that lawyers should do good before they become lawyers is contrary to the practice of law, which has nothing to do with being good.

This just adds to the sentiment For pity's sake, don't go to law school. It's already too expensive to become a lawyer, and the additional burden of having to do something worthwhile for humanity isn't worth the effort.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:59 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know what counts, but as a repeated applicant for the NY State Bar, I feel like this might be finally something in my favor. (Summer spent at a New Orleans Katrina Legal Advice Clinic, Summer spent at the Migrant Legal Action Program, year spent in the Georgetown Criminal Justice Clinic, all unpaid.)
posted by Navelgazer at 11:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Driving a forklift is not inherently good either. Thereby, fuck the forklift drivers with the damnable lawyers.
posted by converge at 11:06 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The need is for qualified lawyers, not neophytes. I'll be impressed when it takes at least 50 hours a year of pro bono to keep a law license.
posted by bearwife at 11:19 PM on May 29, 2012 [40 favorites]


Whatever you do, DO NOT offer to design your lawyer's website in exchange for services. I get a "list of changes" every month and it's maddening. I should have hired a lawyer to broker this deal.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:22 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how this will work out in practice. All the legal centres here in Victoria that provide free legal advice and advocacy are already stuffed full of law students trying to pad out their resumes and the majority have waiting lists for volunteers as well.
posted by liquorice at 11:23 PM on May 29, 2012


Steven Banks, attorney-in-charge for the Legal Aid Society in New York City, endorsed the plan. He said his group uses about 1,500 legal volunteers a year, yet continues to turn away eight or nine out of every 10 people who seek assistance.

So if 10,000 law students join these volunteers, they might just be able to help everyone who turns up (assuming here that he means they are turned away for lack of time, not because they don't need/qualify for assistance). More other resources would be necessary as well, obviously - facilities/scheduling/senior mentors, etc, but it certainly doesn't sound like they have a surfeit of lawyers and law students yet.
posted by jacalata at 11:42 PM on May 29, 2012


I like the idea in general, but is 50 hours in a lifetime enough? One week and you're done forever? I would make it a certain number of hours or cases every year for as long as you want to be a lawyer in that state. If you don't do it, you are suspended.

But why just lawyers? Doctors could use a similar deal. Teachers, too. We all could. Maybe do it at a corporate level, such that the corporation's employees must average a certain amount of documented volunteering hours each year or the corporation is loses out. Every year, everyone should be out sweeping sidewalks, cleaning parks, staffing soup kitchens, teaching ESL, and so on. Some people would hate doing it, but a lot of people would discover they love it. And corporations that brag about doing things for the community would actually be telling the truth: "Our employees this year worked for X hours in local public services that fed, sheltered, and educated people in this town." (Not said: thanks mainly to government arm-twisting and the corporation's greed for big fat tax credits.)
posted by pracowity at 11:42 PM on May 29, 2012


I think this is entirely misguided, and is just going to act as another barrier to entry, ironically, for those people who this program is supposedly going to help.

First, who are the people who can afford to spend time seeking out and doing all of this pro bono work? Also, if it needs another lawyer to supervise, then that means that aspiring lawyers have to effectively "apprentice" to someone in order to be admitted to the bar.

The other thing here is that it means that pro bono work is going to be flooded with law students who may, in fact, not provide the best representation for the people this is supposed to help.

Well meaning, but completely idiotic. And also there's a good point in the article about the dubious legality of it all.
posted by corb at 11:50 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


pracowity: I know that Google does what you're suggesting
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:04 AM on May 30, 2012


So if 10,000 law students join these volunteers, they might just be able to help everyone who turns up (assuming here that he means they are turned away for lack of time, not because they don't need/qualify for assistance). More other resources would be necessary as well, obviously - facilities/scheduling/senior mentors, etc, but it certainly doesn't sound like they have a surfeit of lawyers and law students yet.

I agree, but I think resourcing that kind of number would be a major obstacle. Many places, although they want to help out more people, don't have the funding/time/facilities to do so. Having more law students keen to help out isn't really going to change that.
posted by liquorice at 12:14 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about this idea - instead of privileging well-connected junior lawyers yet further by creating a requirement which is both financially burdensome and hard to fulfill outside a major law firm, why not pay real lawyers to help poor people? The lawyers can pay for the system through their taxes, so that the burden is spread throughout their working lives.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:21 AM on May 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


Wouldn't it be better to say you must do x amount of pro bono work as a requirement for staying a member of the bar; that way, once someone was dong pro bono work somewhere they'd be likely to continue and provide consistency. And even that's got its issues: unmotivated, unhappy volunteers who don't want to volunteer are frequently more work for organisations than they're worth and surely if you're being forced to volunteer, you're not actually a volunteer in any real sense of the term? And how are organisations going to supervise a sudden large influx of possibly resentful law students?

There's a real need for more equitable access to lawyers everywhere, but this does not seem like a good way to solve that problem.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:27 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is merely instituting a requirement that prospective lawyers demonstrate they know how to lie about hours worked before certification. It's a core skill.
posted by srboisvert at 1:04 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Law student volunteers need supervision to do anything at all. Anyone who's been trying to volunteer to pad out their resume while they seek permanent employment in the law already knows that most legal services organizations are already at their limits when it comes to the supervisory staff available to oversee such volunteers. Hell, I'm a licensed attorney and one of the local legal services orgs that works in my field, in law I already know how to practice, didn't have the capacity to deal with me as a volunteer attorney. What will happen to law students? Where will they go to get this notional experience?

For me this is easy. I did a single case this year that, by itself, meets this requirement (should I ever need it). But for a law student who desperately needs paying summer work to make ends meet, this is unfair.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:24 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Joe in AustraliaHow about this idea - instead of privileging well-connected junior lawyers yet further by creating a requirement which is both financially burdensome and hard to fulfill outside a major law firm, why not pay real lawyers to help poor people? The lawyers can pay for the system through their taxes, so that the burden is spread throughout their working lives.

I don't know if the taxes lawyers would pay would be enough to entirely fund a system like that, would it? I have no idea how things work in New York but I would assume that something like the Legal Aid Society does exactly this, it pays for lawyers through state and federal funding to help vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the community. But there's never enough funding to help them all, so you have to rely on volunteers and the rest you have to turn away.
posted by liquorice at 1:31 AM on May 30, 2012


The whole idea that lawyers should do good before they become lawyers is contrary to the practice of law, which has nothing to do with being good.

Don't most US states have a requirement for a prospective lawyer to demonstrate 'good moral character'? This isn't an entirely new or unprecedented thing.

I foresee the definition of 'law-related pro bono work' being expanded considerably, as a lawyer who can't weasel their way out of this requirement shouldn't be offering legal advice anyway.
posted by Garm at 1:52 AM on May 30, 2012


Wouldn't it be better to require, like 5h/year of pro-bono work to maintain your license? Or you could get a temporary license and have 3 years to get the work in. By requiring work prior to licensing, you're going to be prevented from helping where help is actually needed. You cannot, for example, represent criminals on trial. All you could do, I guess, would be to assist 'lead' lawyers.

My guess is that this is really more about winnowing the herd of 'would be' lawyers in NY. They think the numbers are too high, and salaries are going down, so they want fewer lawyers and are trying to think up roadblocks to reduce the numbers (and therefore, keep salaries high)

This is, of course, exacerbated by the law-school scam. Meaning law-school in general where people take on hundreds of thousands in debt in order to get a law degree that won't actually help that much in terms of making money.
Driving a forklift is not inherently good either. Thereby, fuck the forklift drivers with the damnable lawyers.
Forklift drivers move stuff around that needs to be moved. Without them, it can't be moved easily and would take far longer to do so. I can think of a lot of good reasons to move stuff around and not too many bad ones (perhaps they're working at a chemical weapons plant?)

Lawyers, on the other hand, create nothing. They only make money when other people come into conflict over something. The more honesty and integrity there might be in the world, the less money lawyers would make. Of course, lawyers don't create the lack of honesty and integrity, they just make money off it.
posted by delmoi at 1:58 AM on May 30, 2012


But the alternative is I shoot you.
posted by ryanrs at 2:11 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lawyers, on the other hand, create nothing. They only make money when other people come into conflict over something.

Most lawyers work in areas other than litigation. In fact, most lawyers make money out of preventing conflict. Ensuring honesty and integrity is a significantly less stressful job than dealing with the aftermath of a lack thereof.
posted by Skeptic at 2:27 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't really get the lawyer hate. I've used lawyers many times, and I've always had good results. Heck, it's been pretty fun at times (more so as a plaintiff).

You really need to be engaged, though. When I am involved in litigation, I make it my full-time job to understand what's going on. Spend 50-100 hours reading and researching before you meet with your lawyer. Then you can have some useful conversations and not waste each other's time.
posted by ryanrs at 3:08 AM on May 30, 2012


FWIW, my law school required 30 hours of public service/pro bono to graduate back in the 90s and still does, and it didn't seem to cause much difficulty even while much of the work was confined to one city.
posted by dilettante at 3:16 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My school requires 50 hours, and provides options: you can go off and find your own opportunity, there are programs affiliated with the school, or there are actual classes that are in fact pro bono clinics (run by profs, in conjuction with outside groups, or both.)

I'm in SoCal, where there's certainly no shortage of lawyers. It still works just fine, and I think it's a good thing.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:57 AM on May 30, 2012


Lawyers, on the other hand, create nothing.

WTF? There are a lot of professions that "create nothing," and exist to deal with the messes human beings create in living their lives around each other.

Although if I wanted to get all testy about it, I might point to the Constitution. 35/55 signatories were lawyers, IIRC my trivia.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:01 AM on May 30, 2012


This is a terrible idea.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:16 AM on May 30, 2012


Yes, it's terrible that law students get some measure of apprenticeship that they really need, legal aid organizations get workers they could otherwise not pay for (who can at least function on the paralegal level after 1st year) and the indigent get more assistance--in fact, they probably get some of the most dedicated advocacy there can be.

For instance, I'm sure my schools juvenile justice clinic is just terrible for the communities it works in. Similarly, the disability rights clinic. The veteran I'm trying to get benefits for? Just terrible what I'm doing to him.

ITT: baseless and ill-considered comments are baseless and ill-considered.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:28 AM on May 30, 2012


All the naysayers realize that an unlicensed law student is going to have to fulfill this obligation though volunteering at existing public interest organizations or other pro-bono programs run by actual lawyers or law firms, right?

I'm sorry, but there's no way that this is a bad thing when the Legal Services Corporation is getting gutted by Congress.

Previously on Metafilter: The Justice Gap

Shakespeare isn't the final authority on the social utility of lawyers, people.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:36 AM on May 30, 2012


The whole idea that lawyers should do good before they become lawyers is contrary to the practice of law, which has nothing to do with being good.

This is, with all due respect, bologna. Being a lawyer is a service profession just like being a doctor, landscaper, barber, architect or whatever. You take the time to learn a complicated skill in order to help others with their problems.

The law is ALL ABOUT being good. It's just a certain kind of good. If the state is going to try to throw a lawyer's client in jail, that lawyer needs to make sure the state proves their case. Or the poor sap trying to buy a house and the seller mischaracterizes something. It's about helping people stand up for their rights and making other people live up to their obligations.

Anyway, this rule seems troublesome on first glance because of many of the reasons given above. But, I think the intended effect is to kick-start an ecosystem of more pro-bono services throughout law. If a law firm needs lawyers, they will need to get law students to intern with them, and that means they need to give those interns something pro-bono to work on. Which means they need to take pro-bono cases.
posted by gjc at 6:39 AM on May 30, 2012


Aside from the fact that it's not an uncommon thing to require already, I think the supervision problem is huge here. Volunteer law students need to have all their work supervised by an attorney. Volunteer attorneys do not. Legal Services Corp, which is a major source of the funding for Legal Aid groups nationwide, got cut like 14% for 2012. That does mean that they need more help than before, but it's the paid staff who largely end up being the ones training and supervising the interns. The paid staff who're already stretched more thinly than ever before, with increasing numbers of people to help. This isn't necessarily a bad idea, but I think it needs cash to go with it to have any hope of being really helpful.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:45 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the supervision requirements vs. funding would be an issue if this were supposed to magically happen all on its own. I'm not sure that's the expectation.

Since everyone would have to do this to get their ticket, law schools would have to accommodate the requirement themselves: more in-house clinics, some in the form of classes you can simply register for.

To make this happen, outside orgs can be invited in to run clinics as visiting profs, taking advantage of school resources. Students discharge their obligation over a semester, the orgs get a dependable stream of what amounts to capable paralegal temp-workers subsidized by the school. To me, this seems especially helpful in that it has the potential to provide assistance for the kinds of work that its hard to get lawyers to do pro bono, but law students may be interested in (for experience). Wills, bankruptcies and non-DV divorces were mentioned in the 2009 thread.

This is already a pretty well established model. There are more exotic versions that involve actual courtroom work, etc., but students compete for slots in those kinds of programs.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:59 AM on May 30, 2012


I'd agree this measure is nothing but lipstick on a pig. I'm ambivalent about requiring 50 pro-bono hours per year to keep a license, maybe that'd help, though.

I personally favor imposing a 20% tax upon all legal fees, possibly including retainers, stock options, etc., from which an appropriate rate would be paid to the opposing counsel in any litigation. If X hires lawyer who charges $500 per hour for litigation against Y, for which Y hires a lawyer for $50 per hour, then X's layers gets $410 per hour and Y's layer gets $140 per hour.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:00 AM on May 30, 2012


Mandatory pro bono would benefit more nonlawyers and lawyers significantly more than mandatory continuing legal education, but state licensing boards vastly prefer mandating continuing legal education because it is a golden calf for bar associations.

I love my job, which I could not have without my legal education, but there is little that makes me hate the profession more than the lack of social responsibility within it.

I jaw on about this topic at length at work and in my personal life and was quite thrilled to learn my tiny organization would be working with Judge Lippman--albeit on a different issue.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:00 AM on May 30, 2012


I personally favor imposing a 20% tax upon all legal fees, possibly including retainers, stock options, etc., from which an appropriate rate would be paid to the opposing counsel in any litigation. If X hires lawyer who charges $500 per hour for litigation against Y, for which Y hires a lawyer for $50 per hour, then X's layers gets $410 per hour and Y's layer gets $140 per hour

This is completely unworkable from a legal ethics perspective. I'm not even sure what it's trying to accomplish, but it's definitely verboten.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:04 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Frankly, this is sort of a non-story. Many law students - perhaps most - do more than that before graduating anyway. Work as a legal observer at the election, and that's 8 hours down. Do an Alternative Winter Break as a research or intake grunt somewhere, and you'll probably get your fifty hours in one week. Then there are clinics, internships, law school clubs full of do-gooders ... honestly, you'd have to be pretty boring *not* to have fifty hours by the time you apply for the bar.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 7:22 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Forklift drivers move stuff around that needs to be moved. ... Lawyers, on the other hand, create nothing. They only make money when other people come into conflict over something.

You have a penchant for participating in legal-related threads, and almost invariably you demonstrate that you have absolutely no knowledge about the field whatsoever. When you make pronouncements about the law, they're wrong. When you make statements about lawyers, they're wrong. You should find other topics to comment in.

Our society is structured by laws. That structure can be complicated. Previous civilizations may have used simpler legal structures ("eye for an eye," etc.), but today, in order to create what we consider to be a fair, just system of laws, we have sacrificed some of that simplicity. One result of having a complicated system is that people sometimes need an expert's help navigating those laws in their daily lives. There are roughly as many different kinds of attorneys as there are different facets of modern life. What fraction of your life do you spend in conflict with other people? Because most of the other stuff, there are all different kinds of lawyers to help you with that. And often they are, whether you're aware of them or not.
posted by cribcage at 7:30 AM on May 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


Frankly, this is sort of a non-story. Many law students - perhaps most - do more than that before graduating anyway. Work as a legal observer at the election, and that's 8 hours down. Do an Alternative Winter Break as a research or intake grunt somewhere, and you'll probably get your fifty hours in one week. Then there are clinics, internships, law school clubs full of do-gooders ... honestly, you'd have to be pretty boring *not* to have fifty hours by the time you apply for the bar.

Sure - except for the requirement that you be required to be supervised by an attorney for this, said attorneys, on the other hand, having no requirement to supervise /you/. So working as a legal observer won't count at all. Nor will volunteering to help women at a battered women's shelter. Internships are not required to give you pro bono work, and might not be counted as meeting the requirement if other lawyers are getting paid for the cases you work on.

Instead, you will be required to do pro bono work only at those existing clinics which have supervision, which may not be the area of law you have any interest in (or talent for) whatsoever.

I also think people deserve better than resentful pre-law representation.
posted by corb at 7:43 AM on May 30, 2012


why not pay real lawyers to help poor people? The lawyers can pay for the system through their taxes, so that the burden is spread throughout their working lives.

Why should lawyers alone pay for this? If there's a need for a public service, it should be funded by the public, not just one group. Public health care isn't funded solely with taxes on doctors.
posted by brain_drain at 8:06 AM on May 30, 2012


This program is another needless barrier to entry in a system that already has too many. And it won't even work for its stated purpose. 50 hours is a uselessly short amount of time. If you assume that a law student will be pretty inefficient, then that's about two weeks worth of work. Some legal matters can be handled in two weeks, but many important ones cannot be (e.g. trials).

Then, the work must be supervised. So the supervising attorneys have to waste time getting the student up to speed and then waste further time doing the supervision. In many cases it would be more efficient for the supervising attorney to just do the work from start to finish. It is well known that summer associates often cost more than they're worth. Their work must be checked, often it must be redone, and firms often can't even bill for all or part of it because it took so long. Since this work must be done for free, the inefficiency problem is only exacerbated.

Further: think about the kind of work these students will do. They will be doing work for people who, by definition, can't pay for it. But what the great majority of law students actually want to do is get a job doing work for people who can pay for it, and handsomely at that. So the students will be getting experience of very limited value to themselves, to the extent they really learn much of anything and don't just spend a couple of weeks bumbling around making a mess.

Now spare a moment to think about the party on the other side of an adversarial proceeding. They have to deal with the nonsense churned out by inexperienced law students who likely don't want to be there in the first place. As any litigator can tell you, it's often harder to respond to something written by an incompetent attorney than it is something written by a good attorney. So the litigation costs for the other side will go up and judges will have to sort through a lot of nonsense.

I could go on, but those are my main objections to this kind of program. It's yet another barrier to entry, one that will likely lead to the creation of more expensive law school clinical programs of dubious real-world value at a time when law school budgets (and tuition) need to be cut in half. It won't actually lead to effective representation for those who need it. It won't teach the law students much, certainly not much that they actually want to know. And it may well increase costs for everybody else.
posted by jedicus at 8:25 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not so sure I'd want to be the recipient of freebie legal work which was being done by the lawyer just because it was a requirement. It seems similar to the community service requirements that some schools have for graduation - while some may embrace the opportunity to help out, many will be doing the work grudgingly and only doing enough to get by and tick of time on the amount of hours required. Personally, I want my lawyers putting in their best effort.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:52 AM on May 30, 2012


I would like to see more barriers to entry to the legal profession, starting before law school. The glut of lawyers is ridiculous and the bar seems little more than the default career path for people desiring a professional degree, but who find themselves squeamish at the sight of blood and perplexed by higher math.

My law school required twice the number of hours proposed here. I did about half of it as a housing advocate, drafting complaints for tenants and participating in a housing court trial (in each case, under the supervision of an attorney). It was quite rewarding, and the tenant in question saw some redress as a result. For the remainder, I did some legal research for a publication for underserved communities relating to pro se appearances. I'm not sure whether I was really "supervised" by an attorney for that, but I think there was an attorney in charge of the publication as a whole.

It wasn't a hardship in the least, and I was able to provide some help to some people who may not have received assistance.

I agree that pro bono work should be a requirement to stay licensed. I have tended to do about 100 hours or so a year--mostly low impact stuff that I can do from the office. I don't appear in court in my practice and don't have any inclination to do so.

This seems a bit of a non-issue to me.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:09 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's a good idea, as long as law schools jack up tuition another $20,000 just to rub it in.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 9:17 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]



I could go on, but those are my main objections to this kind of program. It's yet another barrier to entry, one that will likely lead to the creation of more expensive law school clinical programs of dubious real-world value at a time when law school budgets (and tuition) need to be cut in half.


Yes, lets have more law and economics classes, and advanced seminars in international IP arbitration instead, because those are extremely practical for today's job market.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:18 AM on May 30, 2012


Now spare a moment to think about the party on the other side of an adversarial proceeding. They have to deal with the nonsense churned out by inexperienced law students who likely don't want to be there in the first place. As any litigator can tell you, it's often harder to respond to something written by an incompetent attorney than it is something written by a good attorney. So the litigation costs for the other side will go up and judges will have to sort through a lot of nonsense.

Pick your preferred adversary, in terms of such "difficulty"

(1) Indigent, mentally unstable litigant; socially vulnerable; self-represented

(2) As above, but represented by a legal clinic--a law student, backed up by a law school, and supervised by professors and/or attorneys from the clinic (which is actually representing the client).

The complaint, perhaps, is that in (2) you can't simply steamroll the crazy person with the handwritten pleadings.

But, yes, let us pity those who may find their legal victories against indigent adversaries somewhat inconvenienced by a clumsier defense than a more practiced attorney would make...
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:41 AM on May 30, 2012


Yes, lets have more law and economics classes, and advanced seminars in international IP arbitration instead, because those are extremely practical for today's job market.

That's a false dichotomy. I'd rather law school were shortened to two years or even one. Alternatively, the whole enterprise should be done away with and law should be an undergraduate major, as it is in many other countries. In either case, law classes should be focused on research, writing, ethics, client intake, and other universally applicable skills with a couple of core substantive classes tossed in. With a strong foundation in research and writing any other substantive area can be learned on the job as needed.

"Law and X" should be relegated to a true research-oriented graduate program. Advanced practice topics should be, at most, dealt with in LL.M. programs or just be made into CLE programs, since they're really only of use to practicing lawyers rather than law students.
posted by jedicus at 9:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those are good ideas, and I'd be very pleased to see them take root. However, given the current offerings, I wouldn't say clinical programs are of "dubious value."
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:43 AM on May 30, 2012


If the problem to be solved is "Not enough people have access to high quality legal services," then this isn't the best solution. The best solution to this is to fund and support public interest legal services. This will be expensive. As brain_drain pointed out, this should be borne by the public at large, not by lawyers alone, and certainly not by those lawyers without experience.

But, given the absence of the public's willingness to provide this kind of monetary support, is this the next-best alternative? I think the better second best alternative is to allow pro bono work to replace Continuing Legal Education credits as a requirement to maintain bar membership. Of course, bar associations will be loathe to let that go.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:46 AM on May 30, 2012


(1) Indigent, mentally unstable litigant; socially vulnerable; self-represented

(2) As above, but represented by a legal clinic--a law student, backed up by a law school, and supervised by professors and/or attorneys from the clinic (which is actually representing the client).


Again, a false dichotomy. There are a lot of litigants who do not fit that profile, and in any case they probably need a social worker and medical care more than an attorney. And there are a lot of students who won't be getting their 50 hours from a well-run clinic. It would be better if the money that went to the clinic just went to paying practicing attorneys to do the work without being hamstrung by law students who don't want to be there.

Basically, clinics are just a badly organized form of legal services with a terrible funding model. This only perpetuates it.
posted by jedicus at 9:49 AM on May 30, 2012


Often these litigants are trying to obtain benefits and medical care. Or have been denied them.

Who are these clients that you imagine use legal services and clinics etc. and wouldn't be self-represented, or just unrepresented, without that recourse? They're just super-thrifty?

The false dichotomy is between the straw men you're offering, which are not actual alternatives in practice, and improving the situation on the ground under the model that we actually use.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:09 AM on May 30, 2012


Summer intern season starts next week where I week, and there's been a fair amount of grumbling around the lunch table about it. A great intern is an awesome thing, but they are few and far between. As others have said, an inexperienced volunteer/intern can actually take more time out of an attorney's busy schedule that if the attorney just does the work herself. This can include things as simple as writing a letter.

I expect snuffleupagus is right about some of this--law schools will step in to provide these hours. That's not a bad thing because law schools don't do enough to provide actual training. Judge Lippman is a smart fellow, and maybe that's an unspoken motivation behind this plan. I do not, however, think it's realistic to expect strapped legal services agencies to provide the supervision for this. If someone at my organization asked me to help run a law school clinic, I would want to punch them in the face. In fact, it just occurred to me that some of us will probably be presented with this "opportunity" sooner or later. (Not that I think it would be a bad thing to do in a vacuum, but it's not in a vacuum. It's in the context of trying to serve as many people as possible with less funding, and time spent teaching a clinic and supervising students is time spent not representing clients.)

Lawyers, on the other hand, create nothing. They only make money when other people come into conflict over something. The more honesty and integrity there might be in the world, the less money lawyers would make. Of course, lawyers don't create the lack of honesty and integrity, they just make money off it.

This is wrong and ridiculous. People of honesty and integrity can have disagreements. As for creating things, I guess it depends on how you define "create," but a woman I work with has had great success challenging the denial of licenses to people with criminal or mental health backgrounds. She creates the ability to find work in fields that pay decent wages. I create stability for people with mental illness who are at risk of eviction from their homes. My colleagues who do kinship adoptions create families. I wish people weren't such jerks about lawyers.
posted by Mavri at 10:10 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


If someone at my organization asked me to help run a law school clinic, I would want to punch them in the face. In fact, it just occurred to me that some of us will probably be presented with this "opportunity" sooner or later. (Not that I think it would be a bad thing to do in a vacuum, but it's not in a vacuum. It's in the context of trying to serve as many people as possible with less funding, and time spent teaching a clinic and supervising students is time spent not representing clients.)

Would that be the case if the "opportunity" came with a reasonable funding contribution to the tune of whatever an adjunct would get to teach an equivalent simulation-based clinic? (actually reasonable, not necessarily the lower market rate)

Do they do this? Because they should.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:14 AM on May 30, 2012


Every year, everyone should be out sweeping sidewalks, cleaning parks, staffing soup kitchens, teaching ESL, and so on.

That is a very inefficient way of doing things. If you're going to impose and additional tax on people (which is what this is) then impose a real tax and use the proceeds to fund these activities. Even something as unskilled as sidewalk sweeping will be more efficiently carried out by people who do it every day (not to mention the fact that street cleaning machines are dangerous and require training to use).

Forklift drivers move stuff around that needs to be moved. Without them, it can't be moved easily and would take far longer to do so.

The logical extension of your argument basically ends up with the class system of the Japanese Shogunate. Only farmers produce things that we really need. Merchants only buy and sell, does that make them vulgar parasites?

If you think that lawyers are of no use, I recommend that spend some time living in a place without a smoothly functioning legal system.
posted by atrazine at 10:16 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


If someone at my organization asked me to help run a law school clinic, I would jump for joy. Law schools have access to resources many legal aid nonprofits and even many solo practitioners don't have access to. I can think of at least three projects on my desk at work or personal pro bono calendar that would benefit greatly from partnership with a law school that could provide office space, computers, and reasonably eager third-years with permission to appear in court. These are not complex litigation projects but highly routinized proceedings that are more successful, as well as less stressful to the litigants (and the courts), when handled by attorneys (even young heavily supervised attorneys) rather than unrepresented parties.

Maybe I've simply had rarefied clinical experiences, but the three clinical programs I have been involved with (as a law student, a volunteer attorney and as a legal services professional) have provided both good quality legal services to people who could not otherwise afford them (or would be assigned to an over-burdened and/or disinterested public defender) and a meaningful practical quasi-professional experience to third-year law students. All have had excellent private practice attorneys affiliated with them and generally the students were significantly more reliable than unaffiliated attorneys who simple volunteered to work with the clinic.

Meaningful access to the courts does not occur without legal representation, in my experience. I have seen first-hand well-designed clinical programs that helped fill this gap and I would happily accept an offer to run one.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:42 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I definitely think this is a barrier to entry move on the part of the NY courts.

New York-based law schools will be the only ones able to set up appropriate pro bono opportunities.

Legal Aid organizations do not have the capacity to handle a flood of prospective volunteers, especially without additional funding.

Practicing lawyers have no incentive to take on volunteers and supervise them.

Prospective lawyers that attend school outside of New York will be completely cut off from sitting for the New York bar. Foreign trained lawyers account for 20% of bar exam applicants, according to a 2007 report.

It remains to be seen if domestically-trained, from outside New York, will be cut off as well. I was not able to find out what percentage of exam applicants were domestically trained outside of New York.

It's an unfunded mandate, whose only purpose appears to reduce the number of lawyers entering New York.
posted by Apollo's Favorite Mistake at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can understand why some might see this as a barrier-to-entry move, but I don't think it is. First, because typically the first move for a state seeking to raise its barrier to entry is to require all applicants to take its bar exam, no matter how many years you have been practicing law. My understanding is that New York has no plans to begin doing this. And second, because it doesn't really create any barrier to entry. Fifty hours is nothing. It's very, very easy to satisfy.

law schools don't do enough to provide actual training

This is true and a good point, and it might benefit from some elaboration for the uninitiated.

Many law schools do not require students to have any work experience to graduate. The ABA has a "professional skills" requirement that is intended to ensure that all law-school graduates nationwide have some exposure to the skills necessary to practice, but this requirement is often filled by an academic class covering the material. Most law schools have internship programs for academic credit, but these are often limited-enrollment and competitive to get into. In other words, it is possible to graduate from a top law school without ever being exposed to real, non-hypothetical work, even if you tried to obtain such experience.

It has become traditional for law students to obtain paying legal jobs in the summer after their second year. However, this isn't part of the students' academic record, and it isn't arranged through the school. The schools' career-development departments assist the process, but the selection and hiring is done by the employers. In other words, this is a traditional part of the law-school experience but it isn't actually part of "law school." It isn't required. Most students also pursue opportunities under the same circumstance during their previous summer (following first year), although these are more often unpaid.

Imagine if you could get a license to drive just by passing the written test. Without ever sitting behind the wheel of a car, if you nonetheless (1) attended X-number of driver's education sessions in a classroom, and (2) passed a multiple-choice test at the RMV/DMV/etc., then you would get licensed to drive a car. No required training, no driving test.

That is basically the loophole that exists. The current system allows a person to spend three years studying hypotheticals that never address practical aspects of legal practice, pass a multiple-choice test, and thereby become licensed to act as someone's attorney. It is entirely possible that, as Mavri suggests, Chief Judge Lippman had this loophole in mind. If so, then I'm not sure this requirement is the best way to address it, but I definitely agree it's a problem worth looking at.
posted by cribcage at 10:58 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would that be the case if the "opportunity" came with a reasonable funding contribution to the tune of whatever an adjunct would get to teach an equivalent simulation-based clinic? (actually reasonable, not necessarily the lower market rate)

I have no idea what law schools pay adjuncts for teaching clinics, but I seriously doubt it's enough to hire someone to cover the work I wouldn't be able to do while I'm teaching the clinic. This issue comes up when our organization gets $25K-$50K or even slightly larger grants. They're not really big enough to hire someone, so the work they're intended to fund ends up getting dumped on existing staff, in addition to what they already have to do. Sometimes a few of these little grants can be cobbled together to fund a staff position, but not always.

I have seen first-hand well-designed clinical programs that helped fill this gap and I would happily accept an offer to run one.

I was in a clinic. I like clinics. My point is that asking strapped legal services staff to run clinics will just take them away from their other work. If the clinic job came with adequate funding to fill the gap back at the legal services organization, then great! I'll teach a clinic. But in my experience, "Do you want to run a clinic," would actually mean, "Do you want to take on an enormous amount of extra work with no decrease in your current responsibilities?" I'm sure there's a way to structure this so that the legal services attorney and/or her clients don't get screwed, but I'm not sure I trust that to happen. I am speaking in the context of seeing my colleagues being asked to do more and more due to the funding crisis. I can very easily see this leading to people being asked to teach a clinic or take on supervision of more interns/volunteers, while continuing to carry their existing caseload. We'd be expected to do it because it's an opportunity or because it's good for the clients or some other reason that appeals to our desire to help more people. But at some point, the "more work for less pay" trajectory of public interest work is going to become unsustainable.

I don't think this requirement is completely terrible, but I do think supervision is a serious problem. If the law schools step in, then great. And I suspect they will, because otherwise their grads aren't going to be admitted. People who can't fulfill the requirement at school are going to have a hard time finding supervision for these hours.
posted by Mavri at 11:22 AM on May 30, 2012


I can agree that we could all benefit by completely revamping law school. Having some sort of practical skills component, whether as a clinic or practicum, or some kind of extended internship, or some other idea would be great.

But, this effort by the New York Bar isn't an attempt to revamp our law school model (unless it's some kind of end run attempt around this, I guess; I'd rather someone just approach the issue head on in spite of all of the opposition it would likely encounter).

As a practical matter, the overwhelming majority of law students already have some form of practical work experience before they graduate: an internship or externship or job in the summers in between school years (or during the academic year in some cases) or experience in a school-run practicum or clinic. So requiring an additional 50 hours of pro bono experience isn't likely to make much difference at all in the extent to which new graduates are more or less prepared to be lawyers (bottom line--they'll still be relatively unprepared). It is true that there are some students who make it all the way through law school without 50 hours of work experience, and if these students want to practice in New York, then this requirement will sweep them up.

But this is purportedly about increasing access to legal services to the public, not about training the lawyers. And for the reasons people have been mentioning above, it really won't do that in any meaningful way.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:24 AM on May 30, 2012


Prospective lawyers that attend school outside of New York will be completely cut off from sitting for the New York bar. Foreign trained lawyers account for 20% of bar exam applicants, according to a 2007 report.

It remains to be seen if domestically-trained, from outside New York, will be cut off as well. I was not able to find out what percentage of exam applicants were domestically trained outside of New York.


Lippman sort of addressed that issue. Apparently there will be some procedure for accrediting pro bono work done outside the state. But unless this catches on elsewhere, students planning to work in New York may find themselves having to arrange their own supervision. I would not be surprised to see attorneys offering paid supervision to desperate law students outside of New York.

The whole plan is phenomenally stupid. We should take all of the money that will go to paying for expanded clinics and just give it to legal aid, where experienced attorneys who actually want to be there can offer far more value for the dollar than a bunch of law students who resent being forced to do work that they have no interest in or experience with.
posted by jedicus at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yup, mavri, that occurred to me after I hit "post" that you were talking about the funding issue and the expectation that already under-staffed, underfunded legal aid organizations would handled these not-yet-lawyers who need training and supervision. I think we are of the same opinion.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:34 AM on May 30, 2012


In Mexico everyone has to do about 500 hours of pro bono work.

You don't do it, you don't get your full degree. There is a lot of corruption in the system, but the work done by doctors for example does make a big difference.

I installed a computer network and color printer in a remote mountain village, and it was very rewarding and educational for everyone involved. That was about 80 hours, the other 420 hours were mostly crappy web design.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 1:22 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Even Lippman, I think, acknowledges how unfair this requirement is:
"My belief is that mandatory pro bono for the entire bar is not workable because there are so many different categories of lawyers, so much different geography, lawyers who can't make a living on what they are doing now," he said.
If it's unfair to make all current members of the bar fulfill this requirement because many "can't make a living on what they are doing now," how on earth is it fair to enforce this requirement on young attorneys who may not even have jobs at all? I agree with those who say that this is just another barrier to the legal guild, making the cost of a law degree ever-higher.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:25 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


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