Paul L. Caron

Sunday, March 15, 2015

California to Require 50 Hours of Pro Bono Work For Law Students to be Admitted to Bar

California State Bar (2014)ABA Journal, Following New York's Lead, California Bar Officials Plan to Require Pro Bono Work for Admission:

Following New York’s lead, bar officials in California are in the process of developing a pro bono program for law students who plan to practice in the state.

Like the policy adopted by the New York Court of Appeals, which took effect Jan. 1, the California plan requires 50 pro bono hours. However, the New York requirement must be completed before applying for admission to the bar. In California, young lawyers would be allowed to perform the 50 hours of free legal work either before or after they are admitted.

A State Bar of California web page provides additional details about the plan, which must be approved by the state legislature and the California Supreme Court before it is final, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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I'm not sure I follow, because for our purposes, this requirement is for law students as a requirement for admission (like graduating, character & fitness, completing a certain number of hours, etc.) Newly admitted lawyers can fulfill this requirement after admission, but the purpose of the rules is for law students to fulfill the 50 hours, under supervision. That will usually occur within clinics and externships with even more teaching to accompany the work.

The hope is that their 50 hours, multiplied across several thousand law students, will actually help pro bono lawyers with their work. The next hope is that the students learn from the experience. The next hope is that they consider it a virtue and priority throughout their careers.

Posted by: Baker | Mar 19, 2015 11:40:43 AM

Cross-post from Jeff Baker's post on the other blog:

Assuming I buy what you're selling here, I still haven't seen any good reason why a pro bono requirement should be imposed on the most indebted, most likely to be struggling to find work, and least skilled class of attorneys out there, and on nobody else. If pro bono work is "fundamental to our work," then every damn member of the bar should be required to take up that cause. I think it's pretty obnoxious/presumptuous/unfair in general that the bar has decided to volunteer others' time, and I have serious doubts about whether there will be any appreciable benefit to either the justice gap issue or the students themselves. And the experiential learning stuff, it seems to me, will only make an already comically expensive education even more expensive.

I just don't get it. What's the end game here other than some faint hope that some young lawyers who get voluntold into pro bono work are going to stick with it?

Posted by: No, breh | Mar 19, 2015 10:05:10 AM

Woody, by that logic, tuition, the bar exam, every fee and final exam are stealing. Every student teacher in every elementary school in the land is being robbed by authorities with the temerity to think she ought to have experience. That doesn't hold water.

Posted by: Baker | Mar 19, 2015 8:50:06 AM

Woody: Can you explain how adding a new requirement for a person to obtain, for the first time, a professional license they did not previously possess is the same a stealing? Would you also take the position that when many states added graduation from an ABA accredited law school as a requirement for bar admission they were similarly engaged in theft?

Posted by: Former Editor | Mar 19, 2015 6:23:06 AM

Baker: "the call for pro bono is a call for a basic good...." ... Good intentions (whether or not they really are good) do not give anyone a right to steal someone else's time and money -- and, stealing is not a "basic good."

Posted by: Woody | Mar 18, 2015 8:10:00 PM

I offer a longer response in support of the new requirements (which we have already adopted at Pepperdine) here:

Posted by: Baker | Mar 18, 2015 3:44:52 PM

So the baby solos struggling to keep the lights on and first year associates trying to bill 2000+ hours are the ones getting screwed, that's about par for the course in the industry.

Posted by: Lonnie | Mar 18, 2015 11:50:38 AM

Why do some people think that others have a lot of extra time to give away?

I remember speaking to a legislative panel on this and one of the education representatives said (haughtily, I might add) that she didn't think that there was anything wrong with a young person helping in a nursing home... for free, of course, and when a particular young person was going to school full time, had a full-time job, was helping to watch his baby brother in the afternoons, and didn't have an extra hour to donate for someone else's cause.

Why are some people's priorities for others' time greater than the needs and priorities of the people expected to give up their time? Aren't the ones demanding free work really the selfish ones?

Posted by: Woody | Mar 18, 2015 7:05:00 AM


The requirement is pretty broadly defined. If California adopts a similar rule to NY, then your VITA clinic would probably qualify. See 22 NYCRR 520.1. A number of schools that feed into NY have similar programs, Touro has one using the exact same acronym, which I'm pretty sure count.

Posted by: Former Editor | Mar 18, 2015 5:51:24 AM

I hope that our school's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program will qualify. Students could get the 50 hours in one semester. It is supervised by an experienced attorney and myself. Maybe it will encourage more schools to offer VITA clinic. Although, I would argue that doing tax returns is not necessarily the practice of law. But unless supervised by a licensed attorney, students cannot do legal pro bono work anyway.

Posted by: Cheyanna Jaffke | Mar 17, 2015 1:56:33 PM

I've seen the results of some Pro Bono lawyers and they leave some clients worse off. When the 50 hours is up, these 'volunteers' will just stop work and leave. I'll bet in many cases, the clients will be left in a bad position or unfinished cases that will be abandoned.

Posted by: PropertyPaul | Mar 16, 2015 8:43:09 AM

I thought they abolished slavery!

Posted by: Taylor | Mar 16, 2015 7:16:05 AM

Calm down everyone. If this is implemented in the same way that New York's requirement has been implemented then what it really amounts to is the state bar requiring CA law schools to have a 50 hour experiential learning requirement. That's neither unconstitutional nor particularly burdensome on a student. In fact, this looks to be even MORE flexible than NY's setup.

Posted by: Former Editor | Mar 16, 2015 6:30:08 AM

I suspect this would ultimately be unconstitutional. The bar test, at least, implies competence at law and some degree of ethics, but a requirement for pro bono work does neither. Since the courts are a part of government, this pro bono requirement is a condition that is outside any fitness to represent someone in the court.

Perhaps, they could add a requirement that all lawyers be at 6'2" tall before being admitted to the bar. That would be about the same.

Posted by: Rick Caird | Mar 16, 2015 5:19:30 AM

What a nice bit of rent seeking from the guild.

Posted by: bob | Mar 15, 2015 6:01:49 PM

Isn't involuntary servitude unconstitutional? It is legitimate to require practice experience it is quite another to require free labor for government favored employers.

Posted by: 30-yearProf | Mar 15, 2015 5:07:20 PM

Grads who get good jobs with big firms will get a couple of weeks of paid vacation. Minorities setting up solo practices will be screwed.


Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Mar 15, 2015 3:46:39 PM

I credit a psychology professor of mine in college for doing much the same - she required we do volunteer work at a semi-local state mental institution. I credit her with convincing me that psychology was Not for me. (Yes, I had been considering it - trying to figure out what makes people tick is fascinating.) I was, however, impressed by the psych people I met, who were not entirely sane themselves.

I suggest such requirements should be in pre-law, not law school.

Posted by: Kathy Kinsley | Mar 15, 2015 3:36:30 PM

Honestly, the only fair way to implement this is to require the 50 hours of all members of the bar. The fact that the state bar is trying to impose this on those who are the least-equipped to actually help anybody, and least able to devote their time due to their debt loads (and, depending on circumstance, job searches, internships, etc.), is an absolute travesty.

I'd also point out that that little stat regarding volunteers at LA Legal Aid is pretty telling.


Posted by: No, breh | Mar 15, 2015 2:24:55 PM

What about malpractice insurance issues arising from doing pro bono work, particularly for those who are unemployed and looking for a position?

Posted by: Quincy Shaw | Mar 15, 2015 11:55:23 AM

My son had an English 101 professor who required "volunteer service learning" for an English class, of all things, and only for charities of her choosing. It had everything to do with making her feel good and for her socialist agenda.

Likewise, required pro bono work has nothing to do with qualifying to practice law and everything to do with the agenda of the Left and forcing others to work on their projects, as if they are slaves and whether or not the slaves agree with or benefit from the the selective tasks.

If I were one of those prospective lawyers and wanted to send a message about how I feel about slavery, I would drive the socialists crazy by choosing the non-profit National Rifle Association to help.

Posted by: Woody | Mar 15, 2015 9:50:21 AM