The Wisconsin Bar recently conducted a dues-funded study demonstrating the obvious: (1) many new lawyers were drowning in debt and couldn’t find law-related jobs; and (2) many of these new lawyers were afraid to hang their own shingle because they were never trained to practice law and feared committing malpractice. I then mocked the Wisconsin Bar when, shortly after its study, it sent out an unrelated email suggesting that new lawyers reduce their anxieties by doing unpaid legal work for real clients. But as clueless as the Wisconsin Bar was, the California Bar may have just topped it.
Way to go,
California! In the long tradition of mandatory bar
associations you are, true to form, working against your own membership! You are taking the weakest of your ranks —
soon-to-be members and new members, many of whom are unemployed, drowning in
debt, and completely unskilled in the practice of law — and forcing them to
“give back” to “the public” or “the community” in exchange for “the privilege”
of being a lawyer. (Feel free to replace
the buzzwords in quotations with whatever buzzwords are commonly used in California.)
The actual proposal (found here) appears to be disguising the fifty-hour pro bono requirement as lawyer education. To this, I have several objections. First, if this is really education, why are you letting law graduates perform the fifty hours after their admission to the bar and after you have already deemed them competent to practice? Second, if law graduates are poorly trained, you should be working on real, top-to-bottom reform of the legal education system instead of trying to pass this inadequate Band-Aid. And third, according to the article, it appears that the legal aid clinics in
don’t want to do law professors’ jobs for them, i.e., they don’t want to train
your state’s new lawyers.
More specifically, it appears that the indigent defense organizations would rather your state’s unemployed and untrained law graduates stay far, far away: “While legal organizations would like to put law students and recent law grads to work on pro bono assignments, they need to train and supervise them and provide office space. Currently, only 10 percent of the law students who apply to volunteer at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles are accepted, because the group doesn’t have resources to oversee more[.]”
My suggestion, then, is that the
legislature should put this mandatory pro bono proposal on the scrapheap and
send the Cal Bar Task Force back to the drawing board.