New York State: Earn Credit and Accelerate Licensing with Pro Bono Work
Three years of law school or two?
That debate flared up last fall, after President Obama publicly touted a two-year program. Proponents argued that students would enjoy lower debt and move into practice sooner with two-year programs. Traditionalists countered that lawyers are required to know and do more than ever–and that three years of schooling may not be enough.
But what if there was a middle ground between mastering theory and developing practical skills? And what if it could help the underprivileged in the process?
That’s the proposition put forward by Jonathan Lippman, New York State’s chief judge. His idea–which he dubs the “Pro Bono Scholars program”–would give 3Ls the choice to earn credits in their final semester in exchange for performing 500 hours of pro bono work. In particular, students would assist underprivileged persons facing “civil issues like eviction, foreclosure, and custody and government benefit issues.”
On the surface, the idea helps everyone. For starters, students would gain real world practice experience, making them more appealing to employers. This training would also attract more students to New York law schools in Lippman’s estimation. At the same time, it would improve the public image of the legal profession, according to Bruce Baron, a Brooklyn-based attorney who serves as special counsel to the president of the New York State Court Officers Union.
The program also offers administrative benefits too. The 500-hour option would satisfy a New York State requirement that students perform 50 hours of pro bono work before sitting for the bar. As a result, participants would be eligible for the bar in February, as opposed to July of their graduating year. What’s more, Lippman’s program would accelerate the character and review process, according to Brooklyn Law School Dean Nick Allard. “New York State law graduates are at a huge disadvantage in the job market because it takes so long for them to be admitted after they pass the bar. This feature alone makes the new program ground-breaking.”
However, the program already has critics. Brooklyn attorney Robin Kahn believes Lippman’s efforts will place a financial burden on students. “It would be nice if the program included a form of loan forgiveness.” It does not. The new program won’t relieve tuition bills, which the students would still pay while doing about 500 hours of full-time pro bono work from March through May … The benefit is more for the courts than the law students. I think that for the students it will be difficult to do 500 hours when they have all of their expenses.”
Although the details of Lippman’s program are still sketchy, Allard intends to implement it, working out the details as he goes along. “Judge Lippman’s proposal would add an option that makes sense for many students and benefits the community. “[It’s] a win-win for everyone.”
Source: Brooklyn Eagle