A task force of the State Bar of California has recommended that new attorneys be required to complete at least 15 hours of practical skills training and 50 hours of pro bono service before they are admitted to practice.
If adopted, California would be the first state to mandate real-world training in law schools and the second to require pro bono work of new attorneys. New York was the first state to require pro bono work and a judicial committee in New Jersey has recommended the move.
The California proposal awaits action by the state bar board of trustees.
"We want to better prepare lawyers to face the challenges and reach the potential that brought them to law school in the first place," State Bar President Patrick Kelly said.
State bar executive director Joseph Dunn said the bar’s board of directors appears supportive of the proposal and could vote as early as October. If that happens, the rules would be implemented as early as 2015.
The state task force on admissions regulation reform held eight public hearings in Los Angeles and San Francisco before formally recommending the proposal on Tuesday.
The practical skills training requirement could be fulfilled in two ways: First, students could take at least 15 credit hours (about 25 percent of the typical course load) of practical training during their second and third years of law school. Eligible courses likely would include clinics, externships or simulation courses. Law schools would be responsible for certifying which course meet the criteria to fulfill the bar’s requirement.
Second, law school graduates could spend at least six months in a bar-approved apprenticeship, clerkship or externship. The task force wanted to give new lawyers some flexibility in meeting the practical skill requirement, according to its report.
The proposed practical skills requirement has received a lukewarm reaction from law school administrators. Some, including University of California Hastings College of the Law dean Frank Wu, view such a requirement as overdue and not too difficult for most schools to meet. Others, including deans at Stanford Law School, Santa Clara University School of Law and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, have argued that law schools are already integrating practical skills into their curricula and that any mandate could hamstring students and teachers.
In addition to the practical skills requirement and pro bono mandate, the task force would require that new lawyers complete an additional 10 hours of continuing legal education courses.
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