National Center for Access to Justice

Legal Education

Do law students know of “the justice gap” — the fact that that tens of millions of people proceed in civil matters each year without ever having contact with a lawyer? Do they learn that despite the constitutional “right to counsel”, the lawyers provided to people accused of crimes are often appointed late, overwhelmed by the huge volume of cases, underpaid, and unable to provide high quality representation? Do they learn that there is no “civil right to counsel”, except in a very few categories of cases?

In theory, law students can learn about these features of the American justice system by participating in volunteer activities that help people whose legal needs are otherwise unmet. But do law schools afford students sufficient opportunities to do so? Do the schools  turn to pro bono service for the value it offers in teaching legal skills, narrowing the justice gap, and transmitting knowledge of the professional responsibility of every lawyer to help to assure equal justice for all?  

In a landmark development, on May 22, 2012 New York State responded to these and similar questions by establishing a 50-hour pro bono service bar admission requirement that applies to all persons who seek admission to the New York bar. NCAJ urged the American Bar Association to adopt a national pro bono graduation requirement, and in August 2014 the ABA approved a new “Interpretation” of the  law school accreditation standards that encourages law schools to provide all students with sufficient opportunities to perform 50 hours of pro bono service during their time in law school.  

NCAJ also jointly authored Pro Bono as a Professional Value, published in Building on Best Practices, Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World (Lexis/Nexis 2015), a book used as a chief source of guidance by legal educators to develop and strengthen the law school curriculum. In helping to write Pro Bono as a Professional Value, NCAJ has helped to move access to justice and the need for pro bono service nearer to the center of the legal curriculum.

In September 2016, NCAJ re-located to Fordham Law School. Matthew Diller, Dean of the law school, Jonathan Lippman, former chief judge of the NYS Unified Court System, and David Udell, executive director of NCAJ, are co-chairs of the school’s new Access to Justice Initiative. On October 19, 2016, the law school hosted a launch event for the AtJ Initiative, a welcome party for NCAJ, and an evening of discussion, viewable on videotape, titled “Where the Civil and Criminal Justice Systems Meet”.

In its current initiatives, NCAJ is:

  • Developing ideas for more deeply integrating access to justice into legal education.
  • Considering strategies for expanding the Justice Index, www.justiceindex.org, to track pro bono service, including law student pro bono service.
  • Co-chairing the Access to Justice initiative at Fordham Law School.

Posts, Articles & Other Writings

Supporting pro bono service bar admission requirements:

Supporting Software for Law Student Pro Bono:

Supporting a Reform Agenda for Law Student Pro Bono:

Supporting Replication of Law Student Pro Bono Programs and Projects:

Supporting Model Pro Bono Projects: