Following New York’s Lead: Requiring Pro Bono Legal Services for Nonprofits By: Leigh Tucker
New York just became the first state in the US to require law-school graduates to have performed 50 hours of pro bono legal work in order to qualify to practice the law. The work must be performed after the end of the first year of law school and before the bar exam is taken. Nonprofit organizations look to, along with the poor and various civil rights groups, be the primary recipients of this enforced largesse.
Originally proposed in May, the new rules require the young student lawyers be supervised by a law school professor, a practicing attorney or judge. Initially, when this was proposed, there was an outcry about the burden on law students and young attorneys, as well as concern that the recipients of the pro bono work might receive less than adequate care and advice.
While there are already various organizations designed to match lawyers and those in need of legal assistance, these services just can’t keep up. For example, VOLS (Volunteers of Legal Services) says its 800 lawyers each donate almost a week worth of their time every year directly to needy residents. The American Bar Association’s free legal services also go directly to residents and consumers mostly bypassing the nonprofit organizations themselves.
But these efforts are a drop in the bucket for one of the country’s largest industries, especially with the past few years being so challenging for nonprofits. With need up and donations down, the call for services for the nonprofit sector is greater than ever.
It’s not a one-way street. This isn’t just for the benefit of the nonprofits. The lawyers themselves benefit too. Gaining experience and connections within such a gigantic industry will be good for the young lawyer’s career and perhaps forge close relationships that could lead to board seats later on in life. (An interested and educated board member who brings professional skills to bear is high on the list of any executive director’s wish list. And board membership is a hot topic these days – LinkedIn just announced the addition of board connections functionality and stand-alone solutions like Board Prospects were designed to facilitate those connections.)
We think the NY pro bono rule is great but might not go far enough – how about requiring some kind of ongoing relationship? And why is New York the only state with this requirement? Many industries have internships and continuing education requirements. For example, CPAs need to maintain their accreditation through acquiring CPE (Continuing Professional Education) credits annually.
Times change and we all need to maintain our knowledge. Lifelong learning is the key.