Law schools to advocate volunteerism

Kelly Hildebrandt

Law schools aren’t doing enough to correct the negative image lawyers have; that was the conclusion that emerged from a meeting of the Association of American Law Schools earlier this month.
A report released during the meeting stated that only 10 percent of law schools around the nation require students to do volunteer work, according to an article earlier this month in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Although the University’s Law School is among the 90 percent of schools that don’t require volunteer work, starting in the fall of 1999, students will have more opportunities to do volunteer work.
The new program, the Law School Public Service Program, is a collaborative effort between the Minnesota Justice Foundation, the Minnesota State Bar Association and 30 public service organizations. The three law schools in the Twin Cities — the University, Hamline Law School and William Mitchell College of Law — will also be involved, said Susan Curry, the Minnesota Justice Foundation executive director.
Although the foundation, which was established in 1982 by University law students, has been a recourse for students to do unpaid work since its inception, the new program will encourage every law student to do at least 50 hours of volunteer work during law school, Curry said.
“The program offers a way of helping understaffed legal service agencies to serve the indigent of Minnesota,” Curry said.
The program is modeled after the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, which strongly encourages all lawyers to volunteer at least 50 hours per year, Curry said.
“It gets the student used to thinking about their ethical observations,” Curry said. She added that when students leave the Law School, even if they don’t go into public service work, they will carry with them the obligation to do volunteer work.
“It’s a good learning experience,” said Alex Brusilovsky, a first-year law student who did volunteer work in Texas over winter break.
Brusilovsky said although volunteer work can take a lot of time and sometimes money, it’s a good way to learn about the law, including ethics.
Students can also volunteer by taking a law clinic class. Each year, students participating in the law clinics perform more than 17,000 hours of unpaid work in the Twin Cities area, said Sharon Reich, associate dean of the Law School. She added that on average, 25 percent of students nationally are involved in law clinics whereas 65 percent of students participate at the University.
In addition to offering students unpaid work, the Law School requires students to take a professional responsibilities course, said Maury Landsman, a senior attorney in the Law School.
The class teaches the rules of ethical conduct and what to do when professional ethics conflict with ordinary ethics, Landsman said.
In addition to the required class, Landsman teaches a seminar called Lawyers in Ethics and for the last three years has talked to orientation law students about ethics and responsibility.
Although Brusilovsky hasn’t taken the personal responsibilities course, he said ethics has been integrated into all of his classes; when an ethical question comes up, the professor will explain what to do or what not to do.