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California Bar administrators consider 50-hour pro bono requirement

March 15, 2015

Administrators of the California state bar are considering a requirement that all students must volunteer 50 hours to free or “substantially reduced rate” legal work. They would need to meet the requirement within one year of receiving their license to practice law.

Those in support of the requirement argue that it would enable those who cannot afford legal counsel to receive it, that the experience would make students better lawyers and that it would instill an understanding within the students towards the importance of serving low-income residents.

California is not the first state to consider such a requirement. New York already adopted a 50-hour pro bono requirement which came into effect January 1, 2015.

Some legal aid experts are not completely onboard with the requirement.

Kirsten Kreymann is the pro bono director at Public Law Center in Santa Ana. She says that while “[they] want to provide as much high-level legal service for our community as we possibly can…we need the money to do it.”

Kreymann is referring to a disconnect between available space/resources, and available volunteers.

There are about 100 legal aid organizations in California. The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles is one of the largest, yet accepts only about 10% of volunteer applications from law students. In a way this makes it more prestigious (certainly more exclusive) than even the most desirable law schools (such as Harvard Law, which has an acceptance rate of about 15%).

The pro bono requirement is designed for civil cases rather than criminal. The reason being that criminal cases include the right to the attorney – a benefit not given to those engaged in civil suits.

For all the noise on both sides of the argument, the father of the New York requirement, chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals Jonathan Lippman, believes it will prevail as a force of good for the community.

Lippman said “When I first put it out there, it made people nervous — the different constituencies, the law schools, the bar, the students. Everyone had some reason to sort of say, ‘Gee, we don’t want to be forced to do this.’”

But ultimately the requirement, according to Lippman, has been a success.

Larry Bellomo is an attorney with over 34 years of experience practicing in Laguna Hills, California. His law offices deal primarily with issues pertaining to Family, Divorce and Bankruptcy law. Give us a call or send a message today to receive your 100% free no obligation consultation.