The State Bar of California is considering requiring all law students to do 50 hours of free legal work.
Los Angeles Times (LA Times)
March 12, 2015
Organizations mentioned/involved: Public Law Center, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC)
The State Bar of California is hoping to get more help to low-income Californians by requiring that law students complete 50 hours of legal work for free or substantially reduced rates within one year of obtaining their license to practice law.
The proposal is designed to encourage young lawyers to assist the growing number of California residents who need legal advice but cannot afford an attorney.
However, some who work in the legal aid sector fear that organizations don’t have the resources necessary to absorb the rush of students that would follow if the proposal becomes law. Many organizations say they lack the staff to properly train or supervise large numbers of students as well as the space for them to work.
“The need is endless,” said Kirsten Kreymann, pro bono director at Public Law Center in Santa Ana. “We want to provide as much high-level legal service for our community as we possibly can — but we need the money to do it.”
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), one of the largest of about 100 legal aid organizations in the state, accepts only about 10% of law students who apply to volunteer, because it is unable to accommodate more, said Phong Wong, the organization’s pro bono director.
A key funding source for legal aid organizations in the state comes from interest earned on money temporarily held by attorneys for their clients in trust accounts. But as interest rates plunged during the economic slowdown, so too has the money earned from those accounts. Other sources of funding also fell.
In response, legal aid organizations reduced costs by cutting staff. “There has always been a justice gap, and it’s not getting any better,” said Salena Copeland, executive director of Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC).Tags: Access to Justice, Funding: IOLTA, Funding: State & Local, Law Schools and Law Students