Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pre Bar Pro Bono, a New Requirement?

By Dean Fleyzor

Getting "hands on" experience in law firms and court rooms while a law student is a crucial for anyone training to be a future lawyer. The opportunities offered to students through clinic programs vary greatly from state to state, and even school to school, but they all benefit a prospective lawyer’s career. When I was researching which school to attend, the University of Baltimore’s clinics and history of success for their clients attracted me to enroll.

New York (from Wikimedia Commons)
Maryland law permits law students to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Currently, all 50 states have a similar rule allowing students to give legal advice. Some students will represent convicts looking for a chance to prove their innocence while other students can prosecute their own cases before the Circuit Court. The University of Baltimore’s program is so renowned because most students that seek placement in a clinic have the opportunity to take part in one before graduation.

Yet in one state, instead of just being an opportunity, clinic programs are becoming a requirement for law schools to provide. New York recently passed a new rule requiring 50 hours of pro bono service before obtaining a license to practice law in the state. These hours may be completed through clinic work, making the availability of the opportunity critical for prospective law students. This new rule will take effect in 2015. Although these required pro bono hours do not need to be through a clinic program, it makes a big difference if a law school can help students complete their hours. One of the more prestigious schools in the state, Brooklyn Law, boasts over 30 clinics for students. Other schools, such as New York Law School, have no history of offering such programs. However, New York Law School will be introducing 13 clinics in the upcoming 2013-2014 school year to reflect the chances in New York’s policies.

Many see this new policy as a way to offer free legal services to those in need, but it only appears to mandate practical experience before admitted to practice law. Since these pro bono advocates are not yet lawyers, the actual benefit of students providing free legal advice as opposed to older, experienced lawyers may not be as great as publicized.

Although New York is the first state to implement this kind of policy, California and New Jersey are considering following suit. According to Karen Sloan, writer for, “Any move by California could well have a ripple effect throughout the country.” The interesting difference in California’s proposed requirement answers the question of whether or not students should be offering free legal services. California proposes that the required hours can be fulfilled in law school or during the first year of practice.

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