NY Chief Judge Lippman Announces Pro Bono Scholars Program For Final Semester of Law School

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of New York State’s highest court (the NYS Court of Appeals)  announced today the creation of a Pro Bono Scholars Program in which certain qualified law students may sit for the February Bar Exam during their third year of law school and then spend from March to May of their third year performing 500 or more hours of pro bono legal services. He made this announcement  as part of his  2014 “State of the Judiciary” address.  During what the Chief Judge describes as a “challenging economic environment and legal job market” for new law grads,  the Pro Bono Scholars Program is intended to facilitate “quality mentoring relationships” and provide “adequate practical training” under the direct supervision of a practicing lawyer, while “helping those who cannot afford legal services.” It also “builds upon New York’s 50 hours pro bono admissions requirement.”

Judge Lippman noted

“In New York, we are so fortunate to have stellar law schools, with innovative clinical programs and well-crafted curricula.”

The NYS Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) has already approved the initiative which “will be offered to all of New York’s 15 law schools, as well as other schools that wish to participate.”   Judge Lippman also noted that the supervision will “take place through educational programs developed by law schools and their clinics, and in partnerships with legal service providers, corporations and law firms.”

Senior Associate Judge Victoria A. Graffeo will head an Advisory Committee composed of law school deans from around the state to address “the logistics of an expanded February bar exam, ensure compliance with ABA standards, and develop a more precise timetable for the implementation of the various aspects of the Program.”  Judge Lippman praised Graffeo’s “tremendous expertise and formidable organizational and managerial skills” in ensuring a “smooth transition for the new protocols,” noting that Graffeo used the same strengths in leading the 50 hour pro bono requirement.

For an audio webcastand transcript of the address see:

2 Responses

  1. This is quite an interesting idea but I wonder why the need for the February Bar Exam which, effectively, cuts the volunteer time in half. Why not have the entire Spring Semester be full-time pro bono, graduate in May and take the Bar in July? Then the volunteer term would be January to May rather than March to May. It seems to me, from both a legal services office perspective and the client’s perspective, three months is barely enough time to adequately serve. From the student’s perspective, it’s also barely enough time to gain real practical experience.

  2. Having read Judge Lippman’s speech, I’m left with a number of questions and concerns. Students would have to start to study for a February bar immediately after fall semester exams, maybe December 15 or so? All the bar review courses for February begin by mid-December, so they would attend bar review all through the holidays. (They’d better not have any Incompletes!) The NY bar exam is given at the very end of February, so doesn’t that mean that this “semester in practice” can’t begin until, say, March 1? And presumably it will end when classes, or even exams, typically end, in the first week or so of May? So we’re talking about two months, nine weeks, more or less, of work – if they don’t take off the spring break week. Even at forty 9-5 hours per week (which may be difficult for less advantaged students who typically spend at least two days a week in paid work), that’s well under 400 hours total. If we assume that the “rigorous academic component” that the law school is supposed to supply, to justify collecting a full semester’s tuition, does NOT come out of the 40 hours/week (which seems a bit tough on the students), still I don’t see how the Judge gets to “500 or more” pro bono hours.

    Actually, with the additional six or seven weeks that come from starting in January, current externship students who spend two days a week at a placement would put in about the same number of hours, but on a schedule perhaps more feasible for many students. I am particularly concerned about students already in financial exigency in effect being barred from this program. (I’m assuming that unlike a law school clinic, these agencies are not going to be offering evening and weekend and holiday work and supervision opportunities.) The cost of commutation alone, even for students who are not giving up paid work, will be problematic. Richer schools, perhaps, can pick up that cost – again, exacerbating the advantage gap.

    As it happens, Pace has just this semester instituted, on a limited look-see basis, a fifteen-credit “Semester in Practice” program that does track some of the elements of this proposal — without the bar exam component, obviously — including as an option a “full-time Clinic plus” if approved by the Academic Dean, etc. etc. The Judge’s proposal does not appear to accommodate such an approach, nor to recognize the pro bono contribution of law school clinics. This can be tweaked easily enough, I suppose.

    A more serious issue is the burden of supervision on participating legal services offices if this program is supposed to generate significant numbers. Unless the students selected already have substantial instruction in many aspects of lawyering – and not that many do — turning them loose on already stretched offices where people barely have time to do their own work, let alone supervise neophytes whose motivation may be at least mixed, is not exactly an unalloyed benefit. Then, too, where are these agencies supposed to get the office space and furniture, computers and telephones and other infrastructure/maintenance, for these new full-time but short-term employees – who upon becoming somewhat trained after ten weeks, promptly will leave? Again, a twelve hour/two day/week externship placement is quite a different level of commitment for the host agency, especially if pairs of students can share the same infrastructure. But given the realities of funding sources, it is unrealistic to expect any public interest law office in this state to decline to participate or express anything but unalloyed enthusiasm for this Judge’s initiative.

    Overall, I am quite surprised that Judge Lippman decided to unveil this full-tilt, without — so far as I know — any type of pilot program that might have tested some of these ideas. Well it will be interesting to see how it turns out . . .

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