Mandatory Pro Bono: Is It Right for Law Students?

Vol. 42 No. 6

By

Mary Dunnewold is a legal writing instructor at Hamline University School of Law.

Recently, New York became the first state to mandate completion of pro bono work as a condition for bar admission. Under the new rule, New York bar applicants must perform 50 hours of pro bono work before they can be admitted to practice. Applicants can perform their pro bono service in any state, and can complete the hours any time between beginning law school and filing the bar admission application.

Other states may follow New York’s lead. Last July, the chief justices of the state courts issued a resolution encouraging law schools, in conjunction with state bar admissions committees, to require pro bono service. And in August, the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar considered whether law school accreditation standards should require law schools to impose mandatory pro bono hours as a condition of graduation. While that proposal was not adopted, the issue will probably be revisited in the near future. Current ABA Accreditation Standard 302(b) requires only that law schools offer “substantial opportunities for . . . student participation in pro bono activities.”

The idea of mandatory pro bono service during law school is not new. Before the New York rule took effect, several dozen law schools across the country already required their students to complete pro bono hours before graduation. Requirements range from 20 to 75 hours, and involve a diverse array of schools, including Columbia, Touro, Tulane, the University of Maryland, Hamline, Loyola Los Angeles, and Valparaiso. Many schools offer special service awards or transcript notations for students who complete more than the mandatory hours. Other law schools may offer support for students who perform pro bono service, such as administrative assistance or help finding or developing projects, but do not require students to complete a certain number of hours.

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