March 4, 2016
SB 1257, authored by Democratic Sen. Marty Block, would require state bar applicants to complete at least 50 hours of supervised, volunteer legal service before they can be admitted to the Bar.
For years, California State Bar leaders and legal aid agencies have flirted with the idea of making would-be lawyers complete a certain amount of pro bono work before gaining admission. “The reasoning is twofold: the requirement would give law students some real-world job training and the thousands of Californians who can’t afford a lawyer would get some knowledgeable help,” said Cheryl Miller Senior Writer at The Recorder.
Although the idea seems to solve the demand for free legal aid in California. If signed into law, its implementation, cost, and management for assuring that volunteers get good training and a true learning experience may increase the burden on already exhausted legal services programs.
Salena Copeland, executive director of the Legal Aid Association of California, explained, “Supervising inexperienced interns and volunteers comes at the expense of an experienced person’s time. Any increase in the expectation of legal services programs to deliver this on-the-job training, essentially, would hopefully be paired with some additional funding.”
California’s commitment to legal services pales in comparison to other states. New York, with only about a quarter of the population of California, allocated $85 million for legal aid programs whereas California provides just $10 million, a figure that lawmakers and bar leaders have been trying to boost for several years.
“I hope that the additional funds will be available if necessary to assist legal services providers in affording law students adequate opportunities to satisfy the pre-admission pro bono requirement,” said State Bar President David Pasternak.
Salena and others are headed to Sacramento this week to lobby for more funding for legal aid.
Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC)