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While the Law School's faculty prepares to vote on a mandatory pro bono requirement later this month, three Harvard law students have spearheaded an effort to extend the debate to campuses nationwide.
The three third-year law students have taken a leading role in the founding of Students for Pro Bono, a national network of law students which hopes to start discussion of such a requirement at all of the nation's 175 law schools.
Peter Levitas, a third-year law student who is one of the group's charter members, said that the group's formation was motivated by a productive discussion of a pro bono requirement at Harvard Law School last year.
"We feel at the very least that debate was helpful in increasing awareness of the problems of poor people getting legal services," Levitas said. "And we wanted to give students at other schools a jump on this debate."
That debate at Harvard was sparked approximately one year ago, when Dean Robert C. Clark--citing budgetary constraints--announced that he was firing the school's lone public interest career counselor.
But after several faculty members joined student-led protests, Clark appointed a student-faculty committee toexamine the role of public interest issues in thecurriculum.
Among other initiatives, a majority of thecommittee recommended instituting some form of probono requirement, a measure which was narrowlysupported by students in a school-wide referendumlast year.
Earlier this year, Clark, at the committee'ssuggestion, reinstituted the public interestcareer counseling office and appointed Professorof Law Christopher F. Edley to direct the school'spublic interest operations.
But the fate of the pro bono requirement, oneversion of which would compel students to donatetime counseling needy clients, will not bedetermined until the Law School's faculty voteslater this month.
Nationwide, only four law schools currentlyhave public interest law requirements. These lawschools are at the University of Pennsylvania,Tulane, Florida State and Valpariso.
After initiating contact with other lawschools, Students for Pro Bono plans to sendmanuals about how to frame the debate and how togain support for it, based on Harvard's experiencelast year. Students at Harvard are charged withthe responsibility of contacting 74 of the 175 lawschools the group hopes to contact.
The group also hopes to form regional supportgroups of about 20 or 30 law schools, but let eachdecide what kind of requirement is appropriategiven their particular constraints.
"Our real role is to kick-start the operationand let students take it from there," Levitassaid.
The organization is working in conjunction withthe National Association of Public Interest Law(NAPIL), a national coalition of law studentsinvolved in public interest activities,represented by 92 schools.
Jason Adkins, a coordinator of the Harvardprogram who also sits on Clark's public interestadvisory committee, said Students for Pro Bono wasformed this summer by several students working inWashington, D.C., who approached NAPIL with theidea.
"We were gung-ho about getting pro bono inevery law school," Adkins said. "We see thewriting on the walls and we wanted to help thereform move along."
Michael Caudill-Fagen, director of NAPIL, saidthat it has allotted approximately $2500 in directcosts on behalf of the student group, although headded that its indirect costs are difficult tomeasure.
Steven Donziger, a third-year law student whois another of the group's founders, said he hopesthe group's efforts--along with activism alreadyin place at some schools--will culminate in everylaw school's adopting some kind of pro bonorequirement within five years.
"The more I call and organize on the phone, themore I realize at every school there's someone whowants to do this," Donziger said. "We're not goingto stop until someone at every school has apacket.
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