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By the time they finish their last class, students at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law will know about torts, criminal procedure — and the importance of serving the community. The Fort Worth school is implementing a requirement that law students perform a minimum of 30 hours of pro bono work before they graduate. Wesleyan joins about two dozen other law schools in the nation with such a requirement. “This is a real important part of what our students are going to learn,” law Dean Richard Gershon says. The dean, who pushed for the public service requirement, predicts benefits that will extend past graduation and the mandated hours. “There are students who will be doing more than 30 hours,” Gershon says. “Once some of the students are exposed to the concept of pro bono, they’ll get hooked.” The new requirement is modeled after one at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas, the only other Texas law school with a mandatory pro bono program. It takes effect for this fall’s incoming class at Wesleyan and must be performed between a student’s second year of school and graduation. FIRST THINGS FIRST “During their first year, we want them to concentrate on their classes,” says Patti Gearhart Turner, assistant dean of the law school and a member of the Student Affairs Committee that drafted the pro bono proposal. “They need to learn how to go to law school.” The school is drawing up a list of places where students can perform the pro bono work. It likely will include legal aid groups; government agencies, such as the public defender’s office and the child support division of the attorney general’s office; volunteer attorney organizations; and lawyers in private practice who need assistance with pro bono cases they’re handling. The committee researched the question of time and decided that performing 30 hours of work over two years was a reasonable requirement, Turner says. One-third of Wesleyan students are working and going to school at night, so there will be weekend pro bono work available that they can fit into their schedules, she says. State Supreme Court Justice Deborah Hankinson, who helped create the Texas Access to Justice Commission, says that student participation will be a welcome boost to efforts to create a system that provides legal services for those who can’t afford it. She spoke last month to Wesleyan first-year law students about their obligation. Richard Storrow, an associate law professor at Wesleyan and head of the Student Affairs Committee, says there’s widespread faculty support of the requirement. “Lawyers really have a monopoly on helping people get access to the legal system,” Storrow says. “Given that they have this monopoly and the profession allows them to have this monopoly, there is a corresponding responsibility to give back to the community by helping people who cannot afford access.” John Attanasio, dean of the SMU Dedman School of Law, says that some students take the pro bono duty to heart, putting in more hours than required. He thinks the requirement instills a calling in some graduates to go into public interest work. “The other thing is, it makes them aware of our duties as professionals to advance justice for those who can’t afford it,” Attanasio says.

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