Proposal requires hands-on training for law students, new
By Amy Yarbrough
A State Bar group tasked with exploring ways to help new
attorneys get better equipped to practice law recently unveiled its draft recommendations,
including practical skills training and a pro bono commitment.
The Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform is tentatively
recommending that law school students complete 250 semester hours of training between
their second and third years of law school, as well as 50 hours of pro bono or
low bono legal service either in law school or during their first year of
practice. The training would focus on practical skills and working with
clients. New lawyers would also need to complete 10 additional hours of Minimum
Continuing Legal Education focused on practical skills training. Those hours
would be in addition to any MCLE required of active members. The task force
discussed its draft proposal at its Feb. 12 meeting. The proposal is the first
step in a process that must ultimately be approved by the State Bar’s Board of
Trustees and the California Supreme Court.
Former State Bar President Jon Streeter, who chairs the task
force, stressed that the recommendations are “not set in stone in any respect”
and that there will be plenty of opportunity for public comment. But he noted
that there have long been concerns about whether new lawyers are fully prepared
when they enter the profession.
“As regulators, the State Bar has an obligation to ensure that
young lawyers are equipped to enter into the profession with a strong
foundation,” Streeter said.
Inspired in part by a New York proposal that new lawyers
complete 50 hours of pro bono pre-admission, the task force’s efforts have been
met with resistance by some law school deans who fear that the requirements may
interfere with their own ongoing efforts to adopt practical skills training.
Under the task force proposal, law school students would be trained in
negotiation, alternative dispute resolution, oral advocacy, law practice
management and other practical skills.
Kevin O’Connell, dean of Pacific West College of Law, told
the task force that he thought the recommendations were too broad and suggested
instead focusing on training law students how to conduct trials.
“If I can do a trial, I can do anything else,” he said.
While supportive of the idea of practical skills training,
task force members cited a number of concerns at the meeting, including
additional costs for cash-strapped law school students.
Task force member Richard Frankel said he is worried there
may not be enough pro bono opportunities for California’s large number of law
“Fifty hours, I think that’s terrific, but do we have a
mechanism in place that pro bono organizations can actually use these folks?
Frankel said. “Are we asking something that is feasible?”
Michael Winn, senior staff attorney for OneJustice, a
statewide organization that supports nonprofits that give free legal help to
low-income Californians, told the task force that there is no shortage of need.
The trick is having enough legal service professionals to match volunteers with
“The demand is great,” Winn said. “We need as many hands on
deck as possible.”
The task force is scheduled to meet next on March 4 to
consider the final draft of its report.