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School to Institute Pro Bono Requirement

illustrationFirst-year students entering HLS in the fall of 2002 will be the first required to meet the
pro bono service standards of the law school's Strategic Plan. HLS will join a number of other law schools, including Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, in requiring its students to participate in a pro bono program.

The pro bono provision calls for each student to complete at least 40 hours of uncompensated public interest work during law school, which can be accomplished over the course of one academic year or during the summer between law school years. The program also calls for regular, full-time faculty to perform "at least a similar amount of pro bono activity to that proposed for students."

The law school has hired Lisa Dealy, most recently director of HLS's Low Income Protection Plan, to oversee the program and coordinate with both the Office of Public Interest Advising and the Office of Clinical Programs. Students may satisfy the requirement by doing legal work under the supervision of a lawyer or faculty member, in programs that offer legal services to people who can't afford them, or in government, nonprofit organizations, or public interest law firms. Students will be allowed to receive academic credit for qualifying work, and both clinical courses and placements obtained through the Office of Public Interest Advising will also fulfill the pro bono service requirement. In each of the past three years, about 40 percent of graduating students have taken a course with a clinical component for credit.

But much of the work that fulfills the pro bono requirement, critics say, leans toward the liberal side of the political spectrum.

"Overwhelmingly, pro bono requirements channel people into programs with a certain ideological basis," said Professor Charles Fried.

Professor Andrew Kaufman '54, chairman of the pro bono requirement committee, stresses that his committee attempted to address this concern by allowing students to satisfy the requirement with work in government and nonprofit organizations. "One of the charges of the new director will be to develop a large series of potential placements that will span the ideological spectrum," said Kaufman.

Fried, one of eight faculty members who voted against the requirement, also argued that an educational institution should not mandate pro bono work. "There needs to be a strong reason before grown-ups are forced to do things, and I think the reasons that have been offered are either bad or weak," he said.

Professor Todd Rakoff '75, dean of the J.D. Program, says the program will better prepare students for their future work as lawyers. "It's not our idea that you would satisfy this requirement by being a file clerk," Rakoff said. "The idea is not to put in your dues, but to get something out of it." According to Rakoff, the school "will remain open to allowing students to come in with suggestions for what they want to do.

"We're not saying to students that it has to hurt or it's not good for your soul," he said.

--Andrew Combs '02

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