Connecticut’s three law schools are trying to do as much as possible to fill the need for pro bono services in the state. Toward that end, the deans of the three schools have asked the state judicial branch to allow full-time law professors to practice in Connecticut without being forced to take the state bar exam.
All told, about 100 law school professors would be added to the ranks of attorneys who could offer free legal services while supervising students or on behalf of clients who can’t afford an attorney. If admitted to the bar by waiver, the law school faculty members would also be able to serve as consultants for government offices and private law firms.
Timothy Fisher, dean of the University of Connecticut School of Law, said the proposal was made last month to the Rules Committee of the Superior Court. In the request, the law schools of UConn, Quinnipiac University and Yale together asked court administrators to waive admissions rules for faculty members of accredited law schools.
The state has been gradually loosening the reins on who can practice law. Members of corporate legal departments without Connecticut licenses can now do pro bono work in the state as long as it is supervised by a licensed attorney or a legal aid provider. Also, the state recently decided to allow retired attorneys to do pro bono work without applying for reinstatement to the bar.
More to the point, a recent rule change allows professors who supervise law school clinics to appear in court and represent clients as part of the experiential learning programs for law students.
“This approach to bar admission has worked well for the clinical faculty,” Fisher said, “and the state would benefit from extending this [rule] to the rest of the law faculty as well.”
Fisher is being joined in the effort by Jennifer Brown, dean of Quinnipiac University School of Law, and Robert Post, dean of Yale Law School.
“I’m on the same page with Dean Fisher,” Brown said in an interview. “We would like to see our faculty having greater involvement with the bar in Connecticut and be able to assist on cases occasionally. And of course, we’d like them to be able to get involved in pro bono representations.”
Fisher explained that the current rule states that a lawyer can practice in Connecticut without obtaining a state license as long as a principal means of that lawyer’s livelihood is in the practice of law “in reciprocal jurisdictions for at least five of the past 10 years.”
Many professors at Connecticut law schools practiced elsewhere before coming to Connecticut to teach. Under the current rules, if those professors have been teaching for more than five years in Connecticut, they cannot practice here.
As an example, the law school deans wrote in the memo, “a faculty member admitted in New York or any other reciprocal jurisdiction, who has taught at a Connecticut law school for six or more years … is ineligible for admission without examination.”
The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee, which regulates licensing admission to practice law in the states, has scheduled the matter for a special meeting on Dec. 6.
After that meeting, the committee will submit its recommendations to the Rules Committee of the Superior Court.
Fisher said he is hopeful the rule, which would also allow the law professors to serve as consultants to private law firms, will be changed sometime next year.
He indicated that while some Connecticut lawyers might be concerned that admitting faculty members and clinicians without examination could increase competition and “negatively impact lawyers in the state at a time when the business environment for many is already challenging,” such concerns are unwarranted.
Experiential teaching programs and clinics, Fisher said, handle a small volume of cases each year and focus on providing legal services for indigent parties. In that way, Fisher said, they are “rarely, if ever, in competition with the private bar.”•