Thursday, August 16, 2012

Law school deans express concern about New York rule requiring grads to log 50 hours pro bono work before admission

And it's not just deans from New York law schools. Deans around the country are voicing concern that the proposal requiring new law grads to have logged 50 hours of pro bono work before being admitted to the bar will place the financial burden on schools to provide that training if they hope to have their grads land jobs in the Empire state. For elite schools in particular, which send a lot of their grads to NYC, this could be a problem.

From Thomson Reuters News:

For out-of-state law schools, NY's pro bono rule rankles

When New York's Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman first revealed his intention in May to require all newly minted New York lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono work, it looked like the burden would fall directly on New York law schools.

But with details of the measure still spare, deans around the country are saying they're worried the proposal could have a much wider impact, affecting not only local institutions but law schools nationwide and abroad that send their graduates to practice law in New York.

"It's ambiguous whether the hours have to be (done) in New York state, which is crazy from our perspective," said Robert Post, the dean of Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut. Post also complained that the measure could "amount to free labor" for New York at the expense of other states and potentially "impose a significant barrier to entry to anyone who is getting their legal education outside New York state."

. . . .

the measure sparked immediate debate among New York law deans and administrators who said that for practical purposes, the task of implementing the requirement would fall on law schools, since that is where attorneys prepare for the bar.

Some applauded Lippman for tackling what he has dubbed the justice gap, the fact that criminal defendants are guaranteed free legal services but civil defendants are not. Others voiced concern that the measure would pose financial and administrative burdens on their schools. Most simply asked for details, which Lippman has said he will provide in late fall after an advisory committee reports back to him with feedback from legal services providers, schools and students.

As word of New York's novel approach to pro bono has spread, deans and administrators from out-of-state schools have begun to weigh in, asking what kind of administrative and financial obligations the measure might pose for their institutions.

The question is not merely academic. More than one-third of the 15,063 applicants to the New York bar last year came from out-of-state law schools, according to the state's Board of Law Examiners. Among University of Pennsylvania graduates, 44 percent take the New York bar. For Rutgers law graduates, the number is around 60 percent. More graduates of the University of Connecticut Law School apply to the bar in New York than any other state except Connecticut.

"Technically this is a requirement for the bar, but it's going to have to become a part of the planning for all law schools," said Kim Diana Connolly, director of clinical legal education at SUNY Buffalo Law School.

Out-of-state law schools such as Harvard and Duke have been some of the most publicly outspoken over Lippman's proposal. Kimberly Bart, assistant dean of public interest and pro bono at Duke University, this week sent a letter on behalf of seven schools, asking the advisory committee to count pro bono hours performed outside New York.

. . . .

A key question for schools both inside and outside New York is how Lippman will define pro bono for purposes of the requirement. Many schools already have some sort of pro bono program in place, but they said they worry that whatever they have will fall short.

Schools that offer clinics, for example, are waiting to see if that work will count as pro bono, since they typically award participating students academic credit, and such credit could be considered a form of payment. Schools that arrange for their students to volunteer at non-legal groups like Habitat for Humanity are waiting to see if volunteer work for such organizations will qualify.

At schools in which programs don't meet Lippman's criteria for what constitutes pro bono work, administrators could be on the hook for designing new courses and hiring staff to supervise the work. 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."


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