Alumna Samantha Pallini’s Pro Bono Scholars Resolution to be Considered at ABA Annual Meeting
Providing widespread access to legal services is critical if underprivileged populations in the United States are to be treated equitably and fairly. As the American Bar Association (ABA) recognizes, systematic inequities and disadvantages can be exacerbated because vulnerable populations are often unaware of their rights or cannot find or afford counsel. In many cases, it falls to service-minded law students or new J.D. graduates to close the "justice gap".
In recognition of this situation—and of thousands of hours of pro bono service law students and graduates provide—the state of New York spearheaded the Pro Bono Scholars Program in 2014. The program marries practical training for law students with the community’s need for more pro bono legal services. Now, a College of Law student—along with her colleagues in the ABA Law Student Division (LSD) Pro Bono Caucus—is hoping that her resolution encouraging all 50 states to implement similar scholar programs will pass the House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting.
New York’s Pro Bono Scholars Program allows third-year law students to devote their final semester to serving underprivileged populations in an externship-style placement with a legal aid provider.
Unlike externship programs, however, scholars program students are granted special permission to take the February Bar Exam. If they pass, they then work full-time from March through May, before graduating. Program participants therefore receive accelerated admission to the Bar and an abundance of practical experience, by performing approximately 500 hours of pro bono legal services for their local community.
"We hope this resolution will encourage the ABA to embolden law schools, courts, and bar associations nationwide to design and implement pro bono scholars-style programs in their respective states," says Samantha Pallini L'18, Chair of the ABA LSD Pro Bono Caucus. “The structure and the framework of externships is already there, the need for pro bono legal services is clearly there, so now it’s time for us to build upon that framework for the benefit of our communities and our law students.”
Pallini says that the resolution was the idea of ABA LSD Chair Thomas Kim. "This is a new Caucus for LSD, so we wanted to start by targeting the heart of pro bono, asking the question, ‘How can law students address access-to-justice issues?’” says Pallini. “When Kim proposed the resolution, I was thrilled to get going, knowing the potential transformative impact it could have on communities and law students nationwide.”
Pallini began researching and writing the resolution in September 2017, “and I completed the draft in March of this year.” The resolution was then submitted to the LSD Resolutions and Advocacy Committee for commentary and rounds of editing before receiving approval and being forwarded to the ABA LSD Council. On May 18, 2018, Pallini received the news that the resolution had passed the council, where it was formally adopted as an LSD policy.
"As a result, the Resolution will now move on to the House of Delegates, which will meet for a vote in August at the ABA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago," explains Pallini. "We’re in the process of going through some final proofing and touch-ups on the Resolution, but we should see it published to the public mid-June, after it’s formally submitted.”
Pallini notes the remarkable, positive impact pro bono legal services have had on the city of Syracuse and the College of Law. “I am certain other communities and law schools nationwide feel the same. I look forward to garnering support for this very important and necessary resolution."