... a damn about law students.

Back in May, we noted that New York would be implementing a new prerequisite for admission to the state’s bar: all would-be attorneys must complete 50 hours of pro bono work before being allowed to practice in the Empire State.

This initiative was Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s latest attempt to mete out justice for all, but it was not well received by all sides. Some have likened the pro bono requirement to indentured servitude; others have thrown up their hands in frustration and called the move “utterly wrongheaded.”

At first, it seemed like only in-state bar examinees and law schools had reason to worry. Now, out-of-state law schools are stepping up to the plate to complain about Lippman’s requirement. Details for the rule’s implementation still haven’t been drafted — in fact, out-of-state schools weren’t even invited when the Chief Judge’s advisory committee last met in July. Law schools and law graduates alike have been kept in an uneasy waiting period while all of the minutiae get worked out.

But for out-of-state law schools, the worst part of this waiting period is the uncertainty about whether this pro bono requirement will come at a cost to students….

When this pro bono initiative was first announced, Lippman noted that he would prefer that the work be completed in New York, but that recent graduates would “probably” be allowed to count work done while in an out-of-state law school. The concept of “probably” isn’t too comforting when the ability to start your career as an attorney depends upon finding someone to supervise your pro bono hours in a new state.

Even law school deans have peeked outside of the ivory tower to criticize Lippman’s decree. At Yale, Dean Robert Post thinks that forcing prospective bar admittees to do the work in New York is “crazy,” and could “impose a significant barrier to entry to anyone who is getting their legal education outside New York state.” Duke recently sent a letter to this effect to Lippman’s advisory committee, asking on behalf of seven law schools that the committee count pro bono hours logged outside of New York.

What’s more alarming is that out-of-state law schools are under the impression that the new pro bono rule may have an impact on something that law schools hold near and dear: money. After all, if current coursework doesn’t satisfy Lippman’s desires, the administration will have to design new curricula. For example, a law school may allow students to register for credit-bearing pro bono clinic positions — and those students may be screwed if Lippman and his committee decide that class credit is a form of payment.

Could all of these considerations cause tuition to rise? From Thomson Reuters News & Insight:

Given the current economic climate and pressures on law schools to slow tuition growth and share more of their revenues with their parent universities, law deans have said they are worried about how the pro bono rule will affect their bottom line.

Stewart Schwab, dean of Cornell Law School, would not estimate what the cost of implementing the proposal could be to his program but said, “This is a time when law schools are trying to look carefully at their expenses and not add to them.”

That was a polite way of putting it. In truth, Dean Schwab and others seem to be worried about the fact that the costs for accommodating the few may rest on the backs of many. Law schools may have to charge all of their students — students who are already buckling under the weight of heavy student loan debt — additional tuition dollars to fund accommodations for students who seek admission to the New York bar. Those students, of course, will then be forced to work for free after graduation under this pro bono rule, if they find work at all.

Why not just announce what the new pro bono rules are so we can stop hypothesizing about what may or may not happen? Don’t force law schools to jack up their tuition. Don’t force already debt-strapped law school graduates to work for free. Allow prior pro bono work to count for Lippman’s requirement — because really, that’s the only solution to these potential problems that would actually be in the name of the public interest.

For out-of-state law schools, NY’s pro bono rule rankles [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

Earlier: New York Forces Pro Bono Requirements Upon Would-Be Lawyers Because No One Else Cares About Poor People


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