From the Margins to the Core: Integrating Public Service Legal Work into the Mainstream of Legal Education
20 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2006
The call for law schools to increase their role in supporting public interest and pro bono legal work has grown stronger over the past decade. In 1997, The American Association of Law Schools (AALS) appointed a Commission on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities to explore the issue. The Commission's findings and proposals were published in 1999. In response to the Commission's findings, the AALS created a Pro Bono and Public Service Section. The AALS also launched its Pro Bono Project, which collected data on programs at over 150 law schools. In 2001, the Project published A Handbook of Law School Pro Bono Programs, making available the collected data.
The information from law schools reflects significant changes in their pro bono, public interest and public service programs. In 1997, only twelve law schools had some type of graduation requirement related to pro bono or public service work. By 2005, that figure had risen to thirty.
Public interest and pro bono programs are a source of pride at many law schools, and a selling point in law school marketing. Law school catalogs and websites often display their school's pro bono and public interest work prominently. The organization Equal Justice Works developed a survey of law school public interest and pro bono programs to help prospective law students evaluate the different programs.
This essay explores some of the questions involved in designing or modifying such a program. After noting confusion that arises by the use of different labels for the programs, the essay focuses on the need to identify goals in designing the program, factors to be considered in choosing particular goals and the values a school communicates in labeling and designing its program. The next section uses my law school, New England School of Law in Boston, as a case study to illustrate the successes and challenges a school faces in putting together a program. The essay concludes with recommendations regarding whether to limit the program to volunteer work, how to decide what types of placements will be approved, and whether the program should be voluntary or mandatory.
Keywords: Public Interest, Legal Education, Pro Bono, Public Service
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