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Charleston School of Law has joined a small but growing number of law schools across the country that require would-be lawyers to complete pro bono work before graduation. Charleston opened last fall and is seeking accreditation by the American Bar Association. The South Carolina school, which will require its students to volunteer 30 hours of legal services before receiving their diplomas, has joined a growing number of schools that include such a requirement. Charleston’s new pro bono requirement is a way for students to help people in the region, part of the mission of the school, said Richard Gershon, the school’s dean. It also will enable students to network with other lawyers in the area, he said. “It means that the students have to be out there in the profession,” he said In 1992, only seven of the 187 law schools accredited by the ABA at the time said that they required pro bono work from their students, according to the ABA. By 2002, the latest figures available from the ABA, that number had grown to 16. Since then, a few more schools have added programs, including Harvard Law School and Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in Huntington, N.Y. The ABA’s accreditation standards call for law schools to provide students with an opportunity to participate in pro bono work. Even so, a recent survey conducted by the Center for Postgraduate Research at the University of Indiana showed that 56% of law students had not participated in pro bono work. Some 13,000 students took part in the survey. The number of hours students must work varies from 10 to 60 hours, according to the ABA, with the majority of programs requiring from 20 to 40 hours of work from students who have completed their first year of classes. Charleston’s 30-hour requirement is one that “won’t be too onerous,” Gershon said, adding that he expected many students to give more time than the minimum. Faculty must kick in The law school also is calling for its faculty, which consists of 12 members, to volunteer 30 hours of their time annually. Gershon said it was important for faculty members to set an example of volunteerism. Requiring students to participate in pro bono work serves as a lesson in professional responsibility, said Ellen Chapnick, dean of social justice initiatives at Columbia Law School, which, in 1993, was one of the first law schools to include a pro bono graduation requirement. “This is about telling lawyers-to-be that it is a professional obligation to give back,” she said. The requirement also helps alleviate a “huge fear factor” that many law students have about participating in hands-on legal work, Chapnick said. It also may encourage some students who might not have considered a career in public interest law to pursue one. “It shows them a level of personal satisfaction,” she said. Charleston’s program, administered through the school’s career services office, will bring a sizeable amount of free legal help to the South Carolina community, Gershon said. “That’s 30 hours times 200 students,” he said. In addition to working with legal aid and the public defender’s office, students will assist in the Heirs’ Property Preservation Project, a program designed to protect the property interests of low-income citizens. Students also will assist the local Veterans Administration and the Sheriff’s Department, Gershon said. The Charleston School of Law has 140 full-time students and about 70 part-time students. Tuition at the private school is about $25,000 annually for both in-state and out-of-state students. It started its accreditation process with the ABA in March. The ABA confirmed that it will conduct a site visit this fall. The school hopes to receive approval for accreditation from the ABA House of Delegates in 2006. Gershon previously served as dean at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth, Texas, which received ABA accreditation during his five-year tenure as dean. South Carolina is home to one other law school, the University of South Carolina School of Law in Columbia.

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