Rethinking Pro Bono

Mandatory pro bono work for lawyers is a good idea. But Judge Lippman’s plan is deeply flawed. Instead, consider requiring pro bono work of all licensed lawyers.

Op-Ed (NATIONAL, New York)

Ben Trachtenberg
New York Times (NYT)
May 13, 2012
Link to story

Tags: Law School Clinics, Pro Bono

Organizations mentioned/involved: Law School Transparency (LST)


Mandatory pro bono work for lawyers is a good idea. But Judge Lippman’s plan is deeply flawed, as it affects only aspiring lawyers who have not yet gained admission to the bar. As a result, the beneficiaries of Judge Lippman’s largess will be served by people unlicensed to practice law — who by definition have no real practice experience.
How might New York better solve the problems Judge Lippman has identified? Any or all of these measures would address the issue: the state might impose a small annual pro bono requirement on all licensed lawyers (pro bono service is now encouraged but voluntary). The state bar could charge additional fees when lawyers reregister every two years, using the proceeds to pay new lawyers to serve the poor, along with hiring experienced lawyers to train and supervise them. Or the state could raise taxes and provide legal services in a manner similar to the provision of public schools, highways and state parks.

If New York is to begin a free legal-services program, the burden should be shared fairly, either by all lawyers or by taxpayers generally. The state should also ensure that participants perform quality work. Judge Lippman’s plan does neither. It forces law students and recent graduates — many of whom have a negative net worth — to provide services they are neither qualified nor in a financial position to perform.