Lippman's Law: Debating the Fifty-Hour Pro Bono Requirement for Bar Admission
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 41, pp. 1141-1188, 2014
49 Pages Posted: 24 May 2014 Last revised: 25 Jun 2014
Date Written: May 20, 2014
When the Honorable Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, made New York the first state to establish a pro bono service requirement for bar admission, he may have sparked a national movement. Others states have quickly moved to adopt similar requirements, and eventually every state in the nation will have to decide whether or not to follow suit. Lippman’s law has three aims: to address the access to justice gap, to strengthen practical instruction so that new lawyers will be more “practice ready,” and to instill in new lawyers a more public service oriented sense of professional identity.
However, it seems clear that the rule as implemented in New York will not achieve its aims. The access to justice gap is not a superficial problem, it’s a structural one. It can be effectively addressed only by engaging the economic justice, racial justice, and voting rights inequities that remain at the root of it. Nor is it effective to implement an overbroad definition of pro bono with few built in measures for monitoring and feedback. This fails to provide a reliable basis for either measuring the progress of the project or ensuring that the new lawyers learn what they are supposed to from the experience.
This Article suggests that, while based on a good idea and a strong grasp of the lawyer’s traditional duty to serve the public interest, Lippman’s law as currently drafted in New York comes up short.
Keywords: pro bono, economic justice, Lippman, New York, bar admission, bar exam, racial justice, voting rights, pro bono requirement
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