Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman yesterday announced the creation of an advisory committee that will make recommendations on how to implement a new pro bono service requirement set to become a prerequisite in 2013 for admission to the New York bar.
Lippman introduced the committee at an event at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law that brought together leaders from New York law schools and legal aid organizations, as well as members of the judiciary, practitioners and students to discuss how law schools can help address the unmet legal needs of low-income New Yorkers.
“I believe it is time to connect the dots between the ongoing professional responsibility of lawyers to perform pro bono service and the experience of law students,” Lippman said. “If pro bono is a core value of our profession—and it is—and if we aspire to have all practicing attorneys devote a meaningful portion of their time to public service—and we do—-these ideals ought to be instilled from the start, with the hands-on experience of helping others with our legal skills as a prerequisite to meaningful membership in the bar of our state.”
Acknowledging that “questions abound” about the new requirement, Lippman said the committee will help shape the new requirement’s parameters, which will be released in the fall.
The committee will be chaired by Court of Appeals Judge Victoria Graffeo and Alan Levine, a partner at Cooley and former chair of the Legal Aid Society. Its creation follows Lippman’s May 1 Law Day announcement that, starting next year, prospective lawyers must perform at least 50 hours of pro bono service before being admitted (NYLJ, May 2).
In an interview yesterday, Lippman said he has told the committee to get the “broadest possible input.”
“It’s a bold new approach in New York and now it’s very important that we paint the canvas in a way that is deliberate and takes into account all of our constituencies—law schools, bar providers—and make sure that we construct something here that can be a model for the country,” Lippman said, noting he has gotten calls from chief judges nationwide interested in implementing a similar service requirement.
Levine said the committee “will be meeting in the coming weeks to start the process, listening to all points of view to develop a workable and effective program to accomplish the chief judge’s plan.”
Yesterday’s conference was convened by the courts’ Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York. It followed the task force’s November report that found that “greater law school involvement can help reduce the gap between the need for civil legal assistance and available services.”
‘A Huge Undertaking’
Yesterday’s opening panel considered some of the challenges and benefits of the chief judge’s new requirement.
Michael Simons, dean of St. John’s University School of Law, called the requirement a “huge undertaking.” An effective program, he said, should be “valuable for service providers, manageable from a cost point and a positive learning experience.”
Simons noted that 10 percent to 15 percent of his law school’s operating budget goes to funding clinics, a public interest center and externship programs that provide representation for indigent New Yorkers. This equates to $5,000 to $6,000 of each student’s annual tuition cost, and Simons expects costs to the school to rise because of the need to meet the new requirement.
Among the panelists yesterday at Cardozo Law are Michael Simons, left, dean of St. John’s University School of Law, and Ricky Revesz, dean of New York University Law School.
Richard Revesz, dean of New York University School of Law, emphasized that the legal community must consider the purpose of imposing the new requirement. He questioned if law students were tapped simply because someone needed to provide services or if the goal was to create better lawyers by teaching them skills and how to deal with clients of different socio-economic backgrounds.
If the program is not structured in a way that ensures students have an overall positive experience, Revesz said, it could “turn people off” from doing future pro bono work.
“This may have the opposite result of what we are trying to accomplish,” Revesz said.
Lippman said in the interview that he does not believe that the new requirement will be a burden on law schools and that questions about how to grow infrastructure will be considered in developing the implementing rules.
He added that, rather than turning students off from pro bono service, he is confident the requirement will “hook them on pro bono service for the rest of their lives,” calling the work “infectious.”
Panel member Lynn Kelly, director of the New York City Bar Justice Center, said supervision is key to the program’s success, adding that, in her experience volunteers “want to help but need someone to tell them how to do it.”
She said law schools can play an important role in preparing students with the basic skills they will need, such as interviewing.
“We can look at reducing the need for supervision by making sure students get the skills they need in law school,” Kelly said.
Karen Lash, senior counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice, suggested “meaningful incentives” for faculty to encourage them to develop opportunities for students to fulfill the requirement.
Justice Fern Fisher, deputy chief administrative judge for New York City, said that 75 percent of the caseload in New York is “bread and butter cases” such as family law, housing and consumer debt cases. The skills students will gain fulfilling the pro bono requirement, she said, will translate well into small practices and will help students become “productive” attorneys.
Noting that 99 percent of tenants in New York City Housing Court do not have counsel, Fisher said students will provide “extra eyes, hands and brains” that will benefit these and other litigants who would otherwise navigate the legal system alone. She also suggested that the role technology can play should be considered as a way to provide increased access to legal services in rural areas.
Adriene Holder, attorney-in-charge of the civil practice at the Legal Aid Society, noted that the requirement means New York will be the first state to have lawyers that “understand what it means to practice” prior to being admitted to the bar.
However, she said it will be important to manage the expectations of law students, who may not get the “slam dunk” victory they desire in a case. Win or lose, she said, the representation students will provide is a “great improvement” over the current system.
Following the panel, the conference’s participants broke into working groups to discuss student pro bono projects, clinics and how to incorporate access to justice issues into law school curriculum. The discussion will form an action plan that will be presented to the task force for consideration in preparing its report and recommendations to the chief judge, to be released this November.
The new advisory committee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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