Lippman Proposes Student Pro Bono Program
ALBANY - Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman proposed Tuesday allowing third-year law students to volunteer as "Pro Bono Scholars" who would dedicate a large part of their final semester to serving low-income clients in return for accelerated admission to the bar.
The program was the centerpiece of the chief judge's annual State of the Judiciary address at the Court of Appeals in Albany.
In addition to the Pro Bono Scholars program, Lippman announced several other initiatives that the Unified Court System will undertake this year:
• Launching a pilot program so non-lawyers can help low-income clients navigate the court system.
• Offering legislation to automatically expunge the criminal records of some offenders and to authorize judges to wipe clean the records of others.
• Creating special court parts in every county to preside over both felony and misdemeanor driving-while-intoxicated cases.
Lippman also put in plugs for his earlier proposals: adding 20 new Family Court judges beginning Jan. 1, 2015; raising the age of criminality for non-violent young offenders to 18 from 16; and ending the jailing of suspects who are unable to pay minimal bail after arrests on minor, non-violent charges.
As for his newest proposal, Lippman said the Pro Bono Scholars program would help close a "gaping disconnect" between poor people who cannot afford legal services and new or soon-to-be lawyers who can't find jobs.
Rather than discard the frequently-criticized third year of law school, "Why not give law students choices that can make all three years of law school more meaningful and worthwhile?" the chief judge asked an audience of lawyers, judges and legislators.