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, something started that would extend beyond New York State. In recent months, the California State Bar, and a Supreme Court appointed Task Force in New Jersey, have both issued new recommendations calling for 50 hour pro bono service bar admission requirements in their respective states. At the national level, the ABA has been encouraged by the National Center for Access to Justice and others to adopt a nationwide law school accreditation standard that would require 50 hours of pro bono service by all law students.
On July 31, 2013, the Chief Justices of the state court judicial systems joined issue, by issuing a “Resolution in Support of Encouraging Pro Bono Service in Law Schools.” The resolution notes that there is a national opportunity to incorporate a pro bono service requirement into the ABA’s accreditation standards for American law schools. The resolution also encourages the Chief Justice of each state “to discuss with the Deans of their law schools a proposal that students perform pro bono service prior to law school graduation as a condition of admittance to the State bar.”
In fact, more is happening. In August 8th and 9th, the Council of the ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Bar Admission Requirements will review a set of proposed new accreditation standards prior to issuing a version of these new standards for public comment. In an Op Ed in the National Law Journal, David Udell, Executive Director of the National Center for Access to Justice, and Professor Deborah Rhode of Stanford Law School, urge the Council to incorporate a 50 hour pro bono service requirement into the accreditation standards before they are released in the notice and comment process.
But whether or not the ABA includes a pro bono service requirement this week, more progress is likely to occur in the months ahead. Both in the notice and comment process, and alongside of it in separate processes, the ABA will be asked to consider incorporating a pro bono service requirement into the accreditation standards. Moreover, if the ABA declines to act at the national level, it seems increasingly likely that individual states will take formal action. California and New Jersey are poised to act soon. And, the resolution just issued by the Conference of Chief Justices will now prompt dialogue in all of the states.
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UPDATE: At the meeting of the Council of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Bar Admission Requirements held on August 8 and 9, 2013 (referenced above), the Council declined to incorporate a 50 hour pro bono service requirement into the proposed accreditation standards. The proposed standards will soon be released for notice and comment, after which the matter will be considered again by the Council, prior to review of the proposed final standards by the ABA’s House of Delegates. As noted above, more is likely to happen in the months ahead, as follows: i) in the notice and comment process, the Council will again be asked to incorporate a pro bono service requirement into the accreditation standards; ii) outside of the notice and comment process, the Council may receive separate requests to modify the accreditation standards to include a pro bono service requirement; and, iii) in certain parts of the country, certain states appear poised to take action to establish state-wide pro bono service bar admission requirements.