Trainee lawyers in New York are going to be spending a few additional terms at the University of Life from this September, as the state becomes the first to require students to complete 50 hours of pro bono work before qualifying for a licence. "Work?" say young hotshot lawyers. "For free?! Who do we sue about this?"
Well, chief judge Jonathan Lippman is who. The main man on the New York City crime scene praised a scheme that could potentially contribute half a million hours of pro bono legal work each year. It is hoped plans will help to close the perceived 'justice gap' that sees the poor and working poor denied proper legal aid, a gap that has risen sharply in the old economy tanking situation (you know the one). "The courts are the emergency rooms of our society," Lippman said, blatantly ignoring the role actual emergency rooms play in society. But still, the move is a positive one for both poor New Yorkers and wet-behind-the-ears young lawyers who need practice saying "objection!" and whispering conspiratorially in plaintiffs' ears.
But it remains to be seen whether this move is enough. While New York's pro bono requirement is revolutionary - and will, hopefully, spark similar moves nationwide – it is no replacement for genuine legal aid for the underprivileged. With just one per cent of New Yorkers facing eviction notices with a lawyer, and 49 per cent for foreclosures, even the influx of a half-million pro bono hours might not be enough.
Find out more about the Laurence Simons New York team