Lippman Proposes Student Pro Bono Program

, New York Law Journal

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Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, center, receives applause after delivering his State of the Judiciary address at the Court of Appeals in Albany, on Tuesday.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, center, receives applause after delivering his State of the Judiciary address at the Court of Appeals in Albany, on Tuesday.

"The impact on closing the justice gap would be dramatic and, if replicated around the country, multiplied many times over, ushering in a new era in the legal profession and revitalizing and reforming legal education to adapt to society's changing needs," Lippman said.

The program for the third-year law students is an outgrowth of the courts' mandate that all those seeking admission to the bar in New York beginning Jan. 1, 2015, have performed at least 50 hours of pro bono service within the previous three years.

Pro Bono Scholars would perform at least 500 hours, Lippman said.

Under the plan, students would submit applications for the program at the end of their second year in law school. After conclusion of the first semester of their third year, scholars would begin an intensive preparation period for the state bar examination, which they take in February.

Following the exam, the students would devote their time to pro bono programs offered by law schools and their clinics or by legal services providers and law firms working with the schools.

Lippman said that in addition to taking the bar exam in February, students would be put on an accelerated schedule for a character and fitness review that would allow those who successfully complete the program to pave their way to admission to the bar.

Typically, law students graduating in May take the bar exam in July and learn the results in November. Those who pass may not be admitted until several months after that, following fitness committee interviews.

Lippman said Victoria Graffeo, associate judge of the Court of Appeals, was sending letters Tuesday to the deans of all 15 law schools in New York state asking them to participate in an advisory committee for the Pro Bono Scholars program that she will head.

At the same time, Lippman said, Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti will form a task force with representatives of legal services providers and law firms willing to become partners with law schools on pro bono projects. The chief judge said he has asked the presidents of both the New York State Bar Association the New York City Bar to participate.

Lippman acknowledged that it may take some time to establish the framework and guidelines for the new program. He said he was unsure how many students would sign up for the first class of scholars, which the state wants to bring in for the spring 2015 semester.

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