If a news observer didn’t get enough of a laugh hearing of the White House’s announcement of Law Day 2012 (the same president who attacked the courts just weeks ago), New York’s court system steps in to maintain the hilarity, imposing by fiat a requirement of 50 hours of pro bono service on indebted new law graduates before they may practice.
“Today on Law Day, we pause from our busy routines to celebrate our nation’s faith in the rule of law and the liberties we so dearly cherish,” said Court of Appeals Court Chief Jonathan Lippman as part of his Law Day 2012 encyclical. One can only hope these comments were written as I can’t imagine how he could say them with a straight face. The legal profession works each day to reduce liberty. And we have heard nothing from them about the lawless actions of the Bush/Obama administrations including Obama’s claim of right to detain anyone he wishes. It is the very lawyers who populate the state legislatures and halls of Washington that have done much to destroy liberty.
At least the cynical dumping of an entire profession’s failures onto new law students isn’t whitewashed completely. Continued Lippman: “We are facing a crisis in New York and around the country. At a time when we are still adjusting to the realities of shrinking state coffers and reduced budgets, more and more people find themselves turning to the courts. The courts are the emergency rooms of our society — the most intractable social problems find their way to our doors in great and increasing numbers.” Get that-courts are now emergency rooms! Attorneys are as important as surgeons, saving us all from ourselves.
In truth, lawyers are trained to venerate state action and see all societal problems as having their proper resolution in its courts, prisons and assorted gulags. A new law is always the answer to a lawyer and the current political leaders, whatever their evil, are always worthy of respect and genuflection. It is the price of their job. But don’t worry, this is all about “liberty” and “justice” according to the state court rulemakers.
“Those who are privileged to call ourselves lawyers have a special duty as the gatekeepers of justice to participate in preserving what we hold so dear,” stated Lippman. Wouldn’t you think that the burden should fall on, say, high-income partner attorneys who have significant experience-and might be able to actually help the type of pro bono clients being served? Yes, but it is much easier and less unpopular among his colleagues if the burden be dumped upon indebted law students. Further, many of the partners already do their volunteer work sitting on meaningless boards and offering reliable mopping services to the powers that be that keep such powers untouched. Attorneys, in the end, are aware of their lowly place in the state machine.
“The new protocols that I will announce today for admission to the bar in New York, will challenge every law student to answer very basic questions that are fundamental to the very fibre of the legal profession: How will you choose to benefit your fellow man and your community with your new skills? Will you use your legal acumen to foster equal justice in our state? Do you recognize that being a lawyer requires an understanding that access to justice must be available to all New Yorkers regardless of their station in life?”
Lippman should ask many current bar members these questions particularly those who have found the profession to be quite lucrative. Nothing seems better designed to increase the cynicism of law students in a market in which many will struggle to find employment that an indentured servitude requirement at the end of three years of classes, a bar exam and debt.
If pro bono service is rooted in “history” and “tradition,” those traditions shouldn’t be compromised by converting them into cynical state obligations in order to fix a budgetary problem and a court system that are a result of a system of laws necessitating such massive court structures and processes-a system those in state power such as Lippman have created
Perhaps Lippman should at least reimburse students who undertake coerced pro bono work with a student loan charge-off–sending the bill for it to the law schools that profit so handsomely from the absurdly long, and irrelevant, three year law school professional protection racket. But wait, he wouldn’t be “respectable” any longer among his law school friends if he were to suggest such a thing. The ultimate guidance for developing good policy and ideas is, of course, what a judge’s colleagues might think. Those colleagues have less time to think now; after advising their patients to drink arsenic, they are now needed in the emergency room.