The ABA is weighing a comprehensive proposal to change the Accreditation Standards for American law schools. The proposal, developed during an administrative process conducted by the ABA over the past several years, touches on many important aspects of legal education and law school accreditation, including pro bono service, experiential learning credit requirements, and law professors’ tenure.
The National Center for Access to Justice and Equal Justice Works, in separate Comments submitted on Friday, January 17, 2014, urge the ABA to modify the Standards concerning pro bono service by law students. NCAJ’s Comments, co-authored by David Udell, Executive Director of NCAJ, and Deborah Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and Director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford University, urge the ABA to require law schools to establish a 50 hour pro bono service graduation requirement for all law students. Equal Justice Works’ Comments, authored by David Stern, Executive Director of Equal Justice Works, urge the ABA to encourage law schools to set an aspirational goal of 50 hours of pro bono service for students.
In urging the ABA to specify a number of hours for pro bono service by law students, the two Comments respond to the fact that the Standards are currently silent on how many hours of pro bono service the schools should expect law students to perform. The Standards currently require law schools to provide students with “substantial” opportunities to perform pro bono service, but they fail to define the term, “substantial.” To help fill this gap, the two Comments emphasize the importance of designating a specific number of hours of pro bono service that schools should expect students to perform. The two comments also emphasize the importance of law schools tracking and reporting on the number of students involved, the number of hours performed, and the quality and impact of the service performed.
The two Comments point out that states are also stepping into the breach to regulate law student pro bono service through statewide pro bono service bar admission requirements. New York has already adopted a rule that requires bar applicants to complete 50 hours of pro bono service as a condition of bar admission. California, Montana, and New Jersey appear to be on the road to adopting similar rules. To date, the ABA has declined to acknowledge the importance of these developments or the burden that will potentially confront law graduates and law schools if a patchwork of pro bono service bar admission requirements grows in the states.
Additionally, through a web site initiated by Equal Justice Works, hundreds of law students across the country are now describing their own experiences in having performed pro bono service. Law students are also signing onto a petition asking the ABA to include a 50 hour aspirational goal in the ABA Accreditation Standards. Visit the web site at www.lawstudentsforprobono.org.
Last, the ABA’s proposal would modify the definition of pro bono service by including “law related public service” in addition to “pro bono legal services,” and by specifying that law schools are encouraged to incorporate the priorities of Model Rule 6.1 into the “substantial opportunities” that law schools provide for law students to perform pro bono service.
By memorandum issued September 6, 2014, the ABA has invited submission of Comments by January 31, 2014 in anticipation of a hearing that will be held at the ABA on February 5th and 6th, 2014. Comments received by the ABA are posted on the ABA’s Notice & Comment web site.
The NCAJ blog will continue to cover developments concerning the ABA Accreditation Standards hearings and concerning pro bono bar admission requirements in the states. Sign up to receive the NCAJ blog on NCAJ’s home page, www.ncforaj.org.