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Should California Require Pro Bono Work For Law Students?

Nicholas McVicker
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?
Should California Require Pro Bono Work For Law Students? GUEST: Marty Block, state senator, 39th District

If Governor Brown signs the new Senate bill on his desk California law students will face in the requirements before passing the bar. It would require law students to complete 50 hours of pro bono work before taking the exam. The bill has passed both houses in Sacramento and enjoys a rod range of support the questions persist about the training costs involved. Joining me now is the bill's sponsor State Senator Marty block. What does requiring this kind of work actually mean. Actually -- obviously law students cannot practice law. It means they will get real hands-on experience will they are still in law school. I'm an attorney and I remember my first case. I knew the law and I had a pretty good background but I was not even sure when I got to the courtroom where to stand. This will give them hands-on experience. For the client -- the indigent and low means clients it will be representation they would not otherwise have an there's a great need for representation of folks in San Diego and throughout California. For the organizations that serve people of modest means right now it will mean additional assistance with thousands of Austin's all around the state doing 50 hours of what's basically community service pro bono work. With the law student students work through their schools are volunteering? It would be their option. They could do work through schools or law firms and it has to be supervised work. They are certainly not yet attorneys are licensed to practice on their own but it is common in many professions to have apprenticeships where one or two experienced practitioners can guide maybe 15 or 20 young learning professionals to help other people and help with the same time soon to be new professionals. To other states require this from law students? It's required in a couple of other states. It's not required in the country. Within California's program will be the most vibrant. It's something the Bar Association of California has been discussing for years but they need a little push from the legislature and we are happy to give them a push. The State Bar was studying this idea but it never went through because they were still trying to figure out how much it would cost to implement eco-your bill doesn't allocate any money for this program and agencies like legal aid say this will obviously cost them something. Why isn't that in the bill. I support additional funding for these organizations. That being said I don't think this bill will require additional funding. Many of the students will to their 50 hours of work through law schools are law firms. Law firms are -- there is already a mandate that they provide from pro bono -- pro bono service for the good of the public. That is provided with no charge to clients. So these law students will assist the law firm and frankly it will be very cost-effective to now has students to help them do this. For law schools it would just be part of a normal law school or Graham and the dollars are already there for clinical experience. More dollars of course would be welcome and for some legal aid organizations if they were to receive more funding and they could magnify the services they provide to their clients many times. Hopefully we will see more funding next year. You have said this could be a way to experience more fields. We spoke to director Selena Copeland and this is what she said. I start to get a little prickly with that argument because I think maybe law students who are inexperienced are practicing law on poor people because they have chosen to go and work at work at a clinic or spend them on -- money at the nonprofit. I get a little nervous around saying you can double here or double there because the best experiences to have a student spend an entire summer and not to spend two hours in November and two hours in March you really want more experience in the -- I think it would be best to have them serving a block of 25 hours That is what we hope many students will choose to do and we hope many students practicing will drive students to do. A few hours a month of someone being trained is far better than no representation. They are willing to sacrifice a good because it's not perfect they asked the lawyer some of them may have concerns. To -- Do you want Governor Brown to sign this bill? I hope so. It will help us help those that are most in need. I was actually going for a cut to law school funding and they said we need more lawyers. He said they are not serving people who need representation. We don't have a good match between the lawyers who are out there and I think down the road we will get more law students to choose fields of high need even if they are not corporate law. Thank you so much.

Should California Require Pro Bono Work For Law Students?
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.

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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.

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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."