ABA Law Student Podcast
Pro Bono Scholars and Increased Representation: Dissecting Law Student Division Resolutions
Intro: Welcome to the official ABA Law Student Podcast, where we talk about issues that affect law students and recent grads. From finals and graduation to the Bar exam and finding a job, this show is your trusted resource for the next big step.
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Ashley Baker: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the ABA Law Student Podcast. My name is Ashley Baker, I currently serve as the Law Student Division, Delegate of Communications, Publications, and Outreach. I am a 2L at Southern University Law Center.
This year, the Law Student Division will bring three resolutions for consideration by the ABA House of Delegates. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Matthew Wallace, a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law.
Matthew is a member of the National Trial Team, the Advocacy Honor Society, he is an Editor of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis. He is the chapter justice emeritus of Phi Alpha Delta, and also SBA Vice President. Matthew also serves as the law student at large on the ABA Board of Governors and is a member of the Law Student Division Council.
Matthew Wallace: Thank you so much for having me.
Ashley Baker: Thank you for agreeing to come on the podcast. So, Matthew, we are going to discuss just two of the resolutions that I mentioned before. First, let’s talk about the pro bono resolution.
Now as I understand it, this resolution is calling for the ABA to encourage state territorial and tribal courts as well as law schools to adopt a pro bono scholars program. This would allow three-year law students in the final semester to obtain a full-time externship placement providing supervised pro bono services to the underserved through nonprofit legal organizations. Why exactly is this resolution so important?
Matthew Wallace: So, there are a lot of reasons why this resolution is important, and I think that it has the potential to really benefit legal education in this country.
By way of background pro bono is defined by the ABA as direct legal representation that’s provided to persons of limited means for a reduced fee or no cost.
Now as we all know in the Model Rules, Rule 6.1 states that lawyers should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono service to individuals who have limited means and contribute financially to organizations that provides services to those individuals.
Unfortunately, what we see in the legal community is that this need isn’t met and that practitioners in the field don’t necessarily make it to 50 hours every year. A report by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service found that 36% of survey respondents said that they actually made it to that 50 hour benchmark every year and 20% never did any pro bono work at all.
And so that’s concerning, because it shows that there is a pretty distinct gap in legal services. Now, we all know about the Legal Services Corporation, they are the largest funder of civil legal services in the US and just to give you one more statistic that I think is pretty impactful, in 2017 they estimated that Legal Services Corporation funded organizations were approached with over 1.7 million legal problems from persons of limited means.
However, there is only one legal aid attorney for every 6415 of those low-income persons in the US, which is just an astonishing gap. And if you compare that to those who can actually afford legal services, they put that number one attorney for every 429 persons.
So what we are seeing here is that there is pretty distinct gap between the services that are needed in low-income communities and the available offerings by the legal community. So this resolution helps to bridge that gap by giving law student a greater role in providing low-income legal services.
Ashley Baker: I can definitely see a benefit to the community and the legal profession as a whole, but I am trying to wrap my mind around what this would actually look like for a typical law student. So under the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for the approval of law schools, Standard 311(a) says that law schools shall require as a condition of graduation the successful completion of a course of study not fewer than 83 hours.
So would a law student participating in this type of program be able to fulfill that requirement with the pro bono service count as hours toward graduation?
Matthew Wallace: Absolutely. So, I want to make a distinction that this program is not designed for students to finish their law school career in five semesters. That would be an incorrect way to look at it. It’s still — you’re still in law school for six semesters, however that final semester looks more like a full-time externship as most of us would know it.
So you’re still taking a full load of credit hours, however your school defined those credit hours, and then you are just serving under the supervision of the legal aid organization during that final semester.
Now there are certain benefits to this. Students who choose to enroll in the Pro Bono Scholars Program, most schools have it set up as an application and acceptance process and those who enroll are given the opportunity to take the February bar examination during their 3L year.
So you’d come back from holiday break and you would spend January through February and probably December as well studying for the bar, the February Bar exam. Then you would take that exam and then you would spend the remainder of that semester working 45 hours a week in whatever pro bono placement you choose to be part of.
So you are still completing six semesters of law school, you’re just committing to basically a full-time externship with the benefit of taking the February Bar examination so that you sort of have the ability to focus full-time on that externship for a pro bono placement.
Ashley Baker: So you mentioned, there are law schools that already do this. So what jurisdictions in law schools already have this type of program?
Matthew Wallace: So there are several schools that have programs like this, however the resolution that we are putting forward is modeled off of the New York Pro Bono Scholars Program. So as you mentioned I am a student at Syracuse University College of Law and we are a founding member of the Pro Bono Scholars Program and when the program was developed, our Chief Judge here at the Court of Appeals which is our highest court in New York stated that the overarching goal of the Pro Bono Scholars Program is to instill in future members of the New York Bar the value of public service.
And I think that that’s important given the statistics. I cited earlier that there really is a gap between what the legal profession would like to see out of its practitioners and what we are actually seeing.
In New York, we’ve had about 80 students across the state every semester that have participated in a program like this, and it’s been around since 2017. And we are happy to state that the results have been astonishing, just to give you an example in the February — in February of 2017, those who are in the Pro Bono Scholars Program passed the Bar at a rate of 71%, the February Bar, which is about 10% higher than the rest of the state.
What we’ve also noticed is the astronomical number of hours that students have been able to put into the legal services community.
So again, just to give you an example locally, here in Syracuse, Syracuse and Rochester, two cities that are close up here, have been ranked 13th and 12th respectively for having the highest poverty rates in the country. So we have an extreme need for low-income legal services in these two cities.
If you take a look at the Syracuse class of 2018, which was about a 180 students, they had completed a total of about 6000 pro bono hours during their time in law school, which is commendable, but the issue is, or I guess the benefit of the Pro Bono Scholars Program is that we break that out per student, that’s 5.5 hours per student per semester; whereas, the two students who were in the Pro Bono Scholars Program in the 12 weeks that they were participating performed over a thousand pro bono hours each to the local community.
So they almost completed close to 35% of what the rest of the class achieved in three years, the two of them achieved in one semester. So the ability of these students to be full time focused on pro bono service is immensely beneficial to both them as law students and to the local community.
Ashley Baker: Let’s turn to the delegate resolution. So currently there are three law student delegates to the House of Delegates, and for those who don’t know the House of Delegates is the policy making body of the ABA.
They meet twice a year, once at annual meeting and again at the midyear meeting. So we currently have three seats, not counting the law student at large to the Board of Governors. This resolution would call for a change to the association’s constitution to provide for six law student delegates to the house.
I have to admit that it was shocking to learn that we have less than 1% representation in the House. But we account for over a 100,000 members of the Association and even with this proposed change, we would still only account for just over 1%. We will just have over 1% representation in the House. I probably don’t even need to ask this question but why is this so important for law students to have more seats in the House of Delegates?
Matthew Wallace: Yeah that’s a great question Ashley. I mean I think the answer like you said is, it’s fairly obvious. Law students by definition are the future of our profession and as the association continues to focus and refocus on recruiting and retaining young lawyers as it has done in the past year, law students are disheartened to learn that they have a minimal voice in the House of Delegates to the underrepresentation.
And so if the Association wants to continue to champion the idea that law students should take on a greater role and if the House of Delegates should be best served by increasing the number of delegates elected by a law student division then this resolution is what’s going to actually effect that change and it costs the ABA very little but benefits the entirety of law students or preserve their efficacy and voice within the American Bar Association for years to come.
So to answer your question in really one phrase, it’s a matter of proportional representation and it’s important that we make this change now for the benefit of future law students.
Ashley Baker: Due to think this resolution is likely to pass, are people being receptive to this idea?
Matthew Wallace: That’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? I think you have to look at what past resolutions in similar capacities have done. So in the association bylaws, so the American Bar Association Bylaws, it dictates that every section shall have two delegates minimum and they get an additional delegate at $20,000.00 and an additional delegate of $45,000.00. So under that math, we should have more delegates they may already have, right. I mean the law student division is about a 120,000 strong now so under that definition, we would have at least four.
However Section 6.7 of the Associations Constitution only allows law student division to have three and so that’s really what we are trying to change. So when I say, I have to look at past resolutions, I mean to take a look at the resolution passed by the Senior Lawyers Division back in 2018 at the Annual Meeting in Chicago.
That was actually my first meeting as a member of the Board of Governors and at that meeting, the Senior Lawyers Division moved from two delegates in the house to four delegates and they are only at 63,000. So they are half the size of the law student division but they already have four delegates.
And the other fact that I think is absolutely astounding and you hit on it earlier is that under the current set up, 0.6% of the members of the House of Delegates are law student and even with this change will barely be at 1% but if you add on to that, only 3% of the delegates in the house are under 30 years old.
So we not only have a dearth of law student in the house, we have a severe lack of representation among young lawyers under the age of 30. So the idea behind this resolution is that we would go from three delegates in our constitution to six and then we also pick up a seventh delegate through the ABA Board of Governors, law student at large, who is currently myself, and so that report is at seven which in proportion to the number of members that we have, is about where we should be, given that law students fluctuate between 110,000 and 120,000.
So as I said earlier, it’s a question of proportional representation and if the ABA really wants to push the idea that law students are the future and that we want this to be a young lawyer focused association that sort of has the values and beliefs of young lawyers today, then this resolution needs to pass because it gives law students the voice that we — frankly I think we deserve within the House of Delegates.
Ashley Baker: When will voting on these resolutions take place and is there anything that law students can do to help gain support for the resolutions?
Matthew Wallace: Absolutely. So both of these resolutions have been submitted which we are excited about and several of them already have cosponsors and supporters. I am happy to say that the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid has already agreed to support the Pro Bono resolution.
So it’s nice to see that the ABA entity that specifically set up for legal aid is jumping behind our resolution and they are going to be voted on at the House of Delegates meeting in at ABA annual this year in San Francisco, my hometown, which is August 12th to the 13th. So I will be there along with our law student division counsel and the four of us in this capacity, three of that are currently delegates and myself, will sort of work to build a coalition to get both of these resolutions passed.
Now you asked what can other law students do. Most importantly they can contact their State Bar Associations. So each State Bar Association has a number of delegates as well as one statewide delegate and so by encouraging these state delegates to vote in support of our resolution as well that will be immensely helpful and I know that a number of law students out there probably work with their local state, with their state bar associations.
And so sort of helping us to lay the groundwork for these resolutions is exactly what we need moving forward because there’s only so much me and the other three delegates can do on the floor of the House.
A lot of the work for this revolution is going to come in the months and days leading up to annual which for me of course is bar prep since the bar is about 10 days before ABA annual, but trying to build a coalition before even get to San Francisco.
Ashley Baker: Is there a place where law students can go to find these resolutions? Are they online anywhere?
Matthew Wallace: Yes. So we will have them posted on the abaforlawstudents.com, which is our law student ABA web page.
They will also be published in the official register of resolutions put out by the American Bar Association that will come out over this summer. That will not only have the resolutions contained within them but it would also have the official documents supporting them, a list of supporters, a list of co-sponsors and that will be available sometime over this summer. So you can go ahead and read the resolutions for yourself or I’m happy to send them to of course anybody who would want to read them.
Ashley Baker: And how can students follow you on social media?
Matthew Wallace: So first and foremost, liking the ABA related pages it’s always helpful. We have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I have to of course plug them first. However, I always encourage students to reach out to me as well, you can find me on Facebook, I am just under my name Matthew Wallace or on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram @Wallace4America, and I am happy to also correspond with anybody by e-mail at mwwallac, so it’s my first initial, middle initial and most of my last name, except my last letter at @syr.edu.
I am happy to work with anyone who believes in our cause, believes in helping to remedy the justice gaps that we have in the legal services community and getting law students to voice that they need within the American Bar Association to be successful moving forward. I welcome any help with that.
Ashley Baker: All right, thank you Matthew. I know this is a hectic time, final season and all and I just want to say thank you for taking the time out of your scheduled to discuss these resolutions.
Matthew Wallace: I appreciate the opportunities, it’s been a great conversation and I look forward to what the division is going to do moving forward. It’s exciting times for all of us.
Ashley Baker: Well I hope you have enjoyed this episode of the Law Student Podcast. I will like to invite you to subscribe to the ABA Law Student Podcast on iTunes. You can reach us on Facebook at ABA for Law Students or follow us and all of our student leaders at #ABAforLawStudents.
Signing off, I am Ashley Baker. Thank you for listening and I will leave you with this quote by Senator Kamala Harris, “There is a lot of work to be done to make sure our leaders reflect the people they are supposed to represent. The more diverse a group of decision makers is, the more informed the decision will be. Until we achieve full representation, we all should understand we are falling short of the ideals of our country.”
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