When Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York Unified Court System announced in May 2012 that New York would condition bar admission on completion of 50 hours of law-related pro bono service, he predicted that New York would be a trendsetter for other states.
Developments this past month suggest he was likely correct. A committee of Connecticut Judicial Branch’s Access to Justice Commission, and a Task Force of the California State Bar, have independently issued proposed recommendations calling for 50 hour pro bono service requirements in their respective states. The Connecticut report calls for a pre-admission pro bono requirement. The California Bar recommendation, which remains a draft until adopted by the full Task Force Board, calls for a requirement that could be fulfilled either pre- or post-admission (while also calling for curriculum reform and for a new continuing legal education requirement). The proposals will be taken up by the Connecticut Courts and by the full California State Bar Board of Trustees, respectively, in the weeks ahead.
Interestingly, each report discusses the implications of the ABA’s failure to have established a national pro bono requirement applicable in all accredited law schools. The Connecticut Report states: “The American Bar Association has been asked to incorporate a 50 hour pro bono requirement into the national ABA accreditation standards for law schools, but in the absence of a specific national accreditation standard that requires every law student to provide pro bono we believe the Connecticut Judicial Branch should take its own step forward to implement a pro bono requirement as a condition of admission to the Connecticut Bar.” The California report, considering the prospect of multiple standards for pro bono in the various states, says: “If we take a leading position on this issue – as New York has already done – we suspect that what we do may point the way towards ultimate national uniformity, not disrupt the existence of it.”
The two reports contain additional findings and recommendations and are available here:
- Committee, Report to the Connecticut Judicial Branch Access to Justice Commission (February 15, 2013), with appendix (February 15, 2013)
California State Bar Board of Trustees Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform, Draft recommendations endorsing 50 hour pro bono rule for students and recent graduates, curriculum requirements, and continuing legal education requirement (February 28, 2013). See also Joyce Cutler, California Proposal Would Mandate Pro Bono, Practical Skills Requirements for Admission, Bloomberg BNA, from ABA/BNA Lawyers Journal of Professional Conduct (February 27, 2013)