Should Florida Adopt New York Rule Requiring Law Students To Complete 50 Hours of Pro Bono Representation?

BY JOSHUA TRUPPMAN — Several months ago, Jonathan Lippman, the Chief Judge of New York Court of Appeals, announced a new rule requiring would-be lawyers to perform 50 pro bono service hours as a prerequisite to obtaining a license to practice law. (Read the rule here).  Future lawyers can fulfill this requirement by working at non-profit organizations, government agencies, or by clerking for a judge. Individuals may fulfill the 50-hour requirement abroad or anywhere within the United States.

The pro bono requirement has been controversial. Some members of the legal community have voiced concerns that the pro bono requirement will unduly burden cash-strapped law students by requiring law schools to hire more clinical attorneys, thereby raising students’ tuition. Staci Zaretsky from Above the Law called the requirement “indentured servitude.” Robert Post, the Dean of Yale Law School, has called it “crazy.”

However, others have lauded Judge Lippman’s efforts. Don Saunders, a vice president at that National Legal Aid and Defender Association in Washington, called Judge Lippman’s work “groundbreaking.” Esther Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute, supported Judge Lippman’s “big audadicious idea,” while also expressing concern for poor individuals represented by law students forced into providing free representation.

Despite its potential drawbacks, I believe that Florida should adopt a similar rule. Requiring future lawyers to contribute to pro bono work would help ease the justice gap that exists in the state, while giving students the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience representing clients. Perhaps most importantly, such a rule could alter the culture of legal education throughout Florida. While the University of Miami places an emphasis on pro bono work through the Center for Ethics and Public Service and the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center, the structure and focus of legal education fails to fully emphasize lawyers’ roles in advocating for social justic

As future lawyers, we have a responsibility to improve our society and ensure access to the courts. A mandatory pro bono requirement would encourage law schools to fund clinics and pro bono programs, while also helping to instill a pro bono ethic in future lawyers throughout Florida.

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