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:
- Law Schools Must Focus on Access to Justice (David Udell, Matthew Diller & Jonathan Lippmann, The National Law Journal, Sept. 26, 2016).
- Chief Justices Issue Resolution in Support of Law Student Pro Bono; Udell & Rhode Op Ed in National Law Journal; More Progress Toward a National 50 Hour Pro Bono Service Requirement for Future Lawyers (August 7, 2013)
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), and 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)
- Law Student Initiative, Student Pro Bono 50 Hour Rule Campaign Memo (February 24, 2013)
- Liz Tobin-Tyler & David Udell, Is New York’s 50 Hour Pro Bono Service Rule Changing the Future of Law Student Pro Bono, Bloomberg Law (January 28, 2013)
- Karen Sloan, New York Law Journal, Law Student Pro Bono Reuirement Gets Chilly Response from ABA (Nov. 21, 2012)
- Jackie Gardina, Ngai Pindel, Society of American Law Teachers, Letter to ABA Standards Review Committee (Nov. 15, 2012)
- Holly Eaton, Letter to ABA Standards Review Committee (Nov. 16, 2012)
- Jo-Ann Wallace, Don Saunders, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, Letter to ABA Standards Review Committee (Nov. 15, 2012)
- Robert Gillett, Legal Services of South Central Michigan, Letter to ABA Standards Review Committee (Nov. 13, 2012)
- Erwin Chemerinsky – Letter to ABA’s Standards Review Committee (Nov. 11, 2012)
- David Stern, Equal Justice Works, Letter to ABA Standards Review Committee (Nov. 11, 2012)
- David Udell, Deborah Rhode – Comments Submitted to ABA’s Standards Review Committee Recommending Adoption of 50 Hours Pro Bono Requirement Within Law School Accreditation Standards (Nov. 9, 2012)
Supporting Software for Law Student Pro Bono:
- Software for Law Student Pro Bono – NCAJ’s Policy Recommendation (February 25, 2013)
Supporting a Reform Agenda for Law Student Pro Bono:
- Report & Recommendations of the Law School Involvement Working Group of the NY Court’s Task Force to Expand Access to Legal Services in New York – NCAJ, contributing author (December 1, 2012)
- List of reform opportunities for law student pro bono – NCAJ’s Policy Recommendation (Dec. 10, 2012)
Supporting Replication of Law Student Pro Bono Programs and Projects:
- List of Replicable Law Student Pro Bono Model Projects and Structures – NCAJ’s Policy Recommendation (Oct. 15, 2012)
Supporting Model Pro Bono Projects: