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Should California Require Pro Bono Work For Law Students?

State Sen. Marty Block listens at a meeting of the La Mesa-Foothills Democrat...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: State Sen. Marty Block listens at a meeting of the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club, Jan. 6, 2016.

Should California Require Pro Bono Work For Law Students?


Marty Block, state senator, 39th District


A bill that mandates 50 hours of pro bono work for law students has landed on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk. Sen. Marty Block of San Diego, who authored the bill, discusses its potential impact.

California could soon follow in New York's footsteps and become the second state to require law students to complete 50 hours of pro bono work before becoming lawyers.

Sen. Marty Block of San Diego introduced the bill, which landed on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk after it passed in the state Assembly and Senate this month. Block, who was a lawyer before entering politics, said that many law students don't get exposed to different fields.

"I'm an attorney, and I remember my first case," Block told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday. "I knew the law; I had pretty good background in the law from law school. But I wasn't even sure when I got to the courtroom where to stand. So this will give them some hands on experience."

Under the bill, students would complete hours at a legal organization, nonprofit or law clinic, then have those hours signed off by a supervisor.

The Legal Aid Association of California supports the bill, but not without concerns. Salena Copeland, the group's executive director, said there are about 6,000 to 7,000 new lawyers in California every year. That would mean up to to 350,000 hours of volunteer work per year.

Copeland said those students need to be trained and supervised properly, which takes time and money. The Legal Aid Association has been working with Block's office.

Block said the required hours will be supervised work, citing the common practice of apprenticeships in many profession.

"Frankly, even a few hours of representation a month with someone who's being trained is far better than no representation," he said. "I'm concerned that certain critics of this plan are kind of wanting to sacrifice the good because it's not perfect. Frankly, if you ask the lawyers, some of them may have concerns. If you ask the clients, they will welcome the representation."

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