Law School Launches New Experiential Pro Bono Course

law school pro bonoLaw students have a heavy course load in their first year of law school. Their days are filled with classes in Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Legal Research and Writing, Property Law, and Torts in their first year alone.

Not many 1Ls get to also take on experiential learning, but that’s not the case for students at the Touro Law Center in Long Island, NY.

This past December, the school announced the creation of its new 1L Pro Bono Project, a mandatory first-year program. The project gives 1Ls the opportunity to assist unrepresented litigants resolve legal issues in cases dealing with divorce and landlord-tenant matters.

The curriculum begins with students participating in a 3-hour poverty simulation activity (much like this one) where each student sees and feels what it is like to be in their clients’ shoes. This course is followed by other sessions on interviewing, confidentiality, and introductions in matrimonial and landlord-tenant law.

The following semester gives the 1Ls a chance to use these skills with more face-to-face client contact. The workload ranges from showing the client how to input data and generate their divorce papers to sitting in the courthouse completing an intake for the client and observing landlord-tenant negotiations.

The addition of this program comes following the admission rule change in New York. According to Rule 520.16 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals, those applying for admission to the New York State bar on or after January 1, 2015 must complete 50 hours of pro bono service.

Currently, New York is the only state with this rule in effect, but more are considering implementing similar requirements.

Maybe that is why pro bono service requirements in law schools are up 18% from 2002 to 2010. At this time though, only one Illinois law school has a pro bono service requirement, but we hope others will follow suit, because as we’ve said before, “pro bono service is our professional lifeline”.

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