What suggestions do you have for law schools that would result in the graduation of students committed to access for all?
First, law schools can offer more public interest-related courses, including poverty law, affordable housing and civil rights. Also, access to justice issues should be discussed and covered in every law school course, similar to requiring an international component to curricula. Additionally, law school career counselors should have specialized knowledge and training in public interest advising. Finally, law schools should make pro bono work a priority; students’ pro bono accomplishments should be widely promoted throughout the school and community.
Of course well-structured pro bono programs – those that provide actual opportunities for students to learn by doing – are terrific. And given the mounting momentum for the legal academy to incorporate more robust experiential learning programs into the general curriculum, I hope we’ll see movement on this front. I also think, though, that placing greater emphasis on pro bono work while in the classroom would be useful because those messages will reach all students, not just those who self-select as public interest-minded students. Professional responsibility courses often give passing mention to pro bono, but that’s it. Much more could be done to emphasize the fact that in a self-governing profession, the members of which are often vital links between their clients and the justice system, we must take our responsibility to the system’s well-being seriously. And that means, in my view, working to ensure that the powerless and those on society’s margins can achieve meaningful access to justice. Also, a number of the landmark cases that every law student reads in Con Law and other courses were brought and argued by pro bono advocates, or partnerships between public interest and law firm attorneys. Highlighting this fact will help to underscore the vital role that pro bono advocates have played in shaping law and policy.
I believe that law schools subconsciously cultivate the beliefs of their classes. Many law schools, primarily those with a lack of reverence towards pro bono involvement, socialize their students to believe that “pro bono” is the equivalent of saying the “f” word to your grandmother. We have to re-construct the curriculum and the socialization in law schools so that students aren’t soiled by bias beliefs.
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