New York has done it, and now California is considering it too. According to a March 14, 2015 Los Angeles Times article, titled State bar considers requiring all law students to do free legal work, the State Bar of California is considering a proposal to require all law students to complete 50 hours of free legal work or legal work at low rates during law school or within one year of receiving their law license. The proposal is reportedly in response to the growing number of Californians who need an attorney but cannot afford one.
In 2012, the [California] state bar formed a task force to examine ways to better prepare lawyers for a successful transition into the profession.
Driving the agenda were concerns that law school students needed more hands-on experience in an era of economic belt-tightening. Many large law firms and government agencies spend less money on training new legal recruits, and more than half of newly admitted lawyers work for small practices that lack the resources to provide much training.
Providing free legal work to those who can’t afford attorneys would give young lawyers the experience they need while also addressing a major gap in services to the poor, the task force decided.
But the biggest hurdle seems to be funding.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, one of the largest of about 100 legal aid organizations in the state, accepts only about 10% of law students who apply to volunteer because it is unable to accommodate more, said Phong Wong, the organization’s pro bono director.
“The need is definitely there. We turn away so many low-income clients because we don’t have the support, the resources to help them,” Wong said. “At the same time, there are all these law students who can be put to use. We just need to figure out how to make it work for the clients that we serve.”
Hopefully, the California bar, law firms and law schools will work with the legal aid community to pass and implement this initiative. It would be a win-win for everyone, especially for legal consumers.