Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Amy Wallace (New York Law School), The Exclusion of Public Legal Education from Mandatory and Aspirational State Pro Bono Service Requirements, 23 Loy. J. of Pub. Int. L. __ (2022):
Pro bono service is embedded in legal education and practice. Every year, lawyers and law students across the United States engage in countless hours of pro bono service. There are over 1.3 million lawyers in the country and more than one hundred thousand law students enrolled in law school. Lawyers perform an average of thirty-seven hours of pro bono work each year. They reference several factors that motivate them to perform this work but the desire to help people in need ranks highest. Professional duty is also listed as an important factor for lawyers choosing to perform pro bono work. The moral obligation to help those who do not have access to the legal profession is captured in the mandatory and aspirational pro bono requirements codified in virtually every state. The state standards all include the most essential direct legal services needed to address the urgent needs of those who cannot afford legal representation. The critical importance of direct pro bono legal representation cannot be overstated. Most states also include other voluntary legal activities lawyers can perform to assist their communities. Public legal education projects are programs where law students and lawyers teach community members about the law.
These programs inform community members about their legal rights and empower them to be more involved and civically engaged. Public legal education programs are designed to help people avoid potential legal problems in the future. However, some states myopically exclude public legal education programs from the qualifying work law students and lawyers can do to satisfy pro bono service requirements. In these states, lawyers and law students may be discouraged from participating in public legal education because it does not meet the mandatory or aspirational standards in those states, thus depriving them and the community of valuable opportunities to improve the legal system. The article examines the aspirational pro bono service rules in all fifty states, and the mandatory preadmission pro bono service requirements in New York as well as efforts to include preadmission rules in four other states. In addition, the article identifies the benefits for both community members who participate in public legal education programs and the legal professionals who facilitate them.