Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Senate Passes Bill Mandating Pro Bono for Law Students
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A bill that would require all law students to complete 50 hours of supervised pro bono service before admission to the State Bar has passed the state Senate.
Senators Monday approved Assembly amendments to SB 1257, by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, by a vote of 26-12. The Assembly previously approved the bill by a vote of 42-31, and it now heads to the governor.
The bill requires students who enter law school after Jan. 1, 2018 to complete the 50 hours sometime between beginning school and taking the oath of admission.
The work would have to be supervised by a law school professor or instructor, a licensed attorney, or a person qualified to represent pro bono clients before a government agency. The purpose of the mandate, the bill says, “is to supplement the applicant’s legal education with practical legal work experience and expose the applicant to the professional value of pro bono legal service for the public good.”
ACLU, CCBA Support
Support for the bill came from the ACLU and the California Conference of Bar Associations.
The ACLU said in written comments that the bill would “help address the large and growing justice gap by promoting pro bono service by new applicants seeking admission to practice law in California.”
It also commented:
“California meets only a fraction of the legal needs of the poor – turning away far more potential clients than are served by existing resources, even taking into account the strict eligibility requirements for legal aid and the few types of legal matters for which services are provided. While more must be done to fund nonprofit legal aid groups, pro bono services can play an important part in addressing the unmet need. We believe pro bono services for the poor are appropriately asked of those who are privileged to practice law in California.”
No negative comments were received on the bill, according to analyses prepared by committee staff members.
The Assembly amendments addressed issues raised as the bill made its way through the legislative process, including a concern that requiring students to work without pay would be burden on those who have to work their way through school. As amended, the bill allows credit for paid work, as long as the funds do not come from the client.
Another amendment exempts attorneys who have already been admitted in other jurisdictions from the bill’s requirements.
Block told the San Francisco legal newspaper The Recorder earlier this year that he drew upon his experience as a professor and dean at San Diego State University in drawing up the bill.
“[T]he idea of service learning was always something I supported,” Block told the newspaper. “As an attorney I know it would have been good to have some hands-on experience before practicing law.”
Block said he had not reviewed the State Bar’s own mandatory pro bono efforts in drawing up the bill. But in his written comments on the bill, he noted that requiring pro bono work for new lawyers was one of the “training requirements” proposed by the Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform, or TFARR, in 2013.
That panel also recommended two mandates not included in SB 1257: completion of 15 units of practice-based, experiential coursework in law school and a requirement that new lawyers take an additional 10 hours of continuing legal education focused on “law practice competency training.”
Those ideas “were on hold while the bar reviewed its staffing and finances to determine the amount of resources which would be necessary to implement and supervise the three TFARR proposals,” State Bar President David Pasternak told The Recorder. “That evaluation is nearing its completion, and I hope that we can move forward with the proposals as proposed or in a similar form sometime soon.”
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company