"The ABA is in a unique position to create uniformity and consistency; otherwise we will end up with a patchwork of various state requirements and law schools will be struggling to create programs that will satisfy all of the new rules," David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works, wrote in a letter to the ABA's Standards Review Committee.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, urged the committee to add a pro bono requirement, or at least require law schools to track and report the number of pro bono hours completed by students.
"The hope is that having begun doing pro bono work in law school it will increase the likelihood that the students will do so throughout their careers as attorneys," Chemerinsky wrote. "Having seen the great rewards of such efforts makes it all the more likely that we will be training a generation of lawyers with a greater commitment to doing such work."
Any attempt by the ABA to add a pro bono requirement to its accreditation standards would be controversial, given that the New York rule has received criticism for adding yet another burden on busy, indebted law students, and for making it difficult to ensure they are being properly supervised.
The committee updating the standards has already waded into several tricky issues, including job protections for law faculty and how to better evaluate law school's teaching capabilities.
Even if the Standards Review Committee doesn't sign on, proponents will take their ideas to the ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which must approve the committee's work.
"I imagine that this will be a long and winding road," Udell said. "It was important for us to get this in front of the committee and have it be considered. There's an opportunity for the Standards Review Committee to reconsider this idea and our proposal."
@|Karen Sloan, a reporter at The National Law Journal, an affiliate, can be contacted at email@example.com.