Pro Bono Thoughts & Other Good Things

“Editorial: Pro Bono Thoughts & Other Good things”

Law Street Journal Article (November ’89)

By Randol Schoenberg

Last month a member of the federal judiciary was invited to USC to speak about the legal profession. The recurring theme of Judge Harry Edwards’ talk was today’s students’ lack of interest in pro bono work. I think I wasn’t alone in feeling a bit uncomfortable being harangued for something I hadn’t had the opportunity to do or not do. Judge Edwards’ lecture should have been directed at practicing lawyers but perhaps it would have fallen on deaf ears.

Surprisingly, the faculty—including the three panelists, Professors Chemerinsky, Craswell and Estrich—were also subjected to Judge Edwards’ harsh criticism. Students are not taught to think about pro bono work he said. No one even asks about it in interviews anymore. Whether right or wrong about the questions students ask, he certainly correct that the faculty while exhorting students to commit time to pro bono projects, and regardless of their own personal commitments, could do much more to instill a feeling of responsibility in the student body.

Most of what we hear about pro bono work as students comes in the form of pleas, jokes, and concerned looks. The truth is that the Law Center itself is not visibly committed to pro bono. Outside of a few clinical classes and sporadic activities by student groups, there are no pro bono activities available for students in the Law Center.

Why do we have to get a job in Century City before we can begin serving the legally underserved? Certainly, there are plenty of needy people right where we are now. Nowhere would it be easier to give help to the community than on the campus of USC.

Is there no room for a legal aid clinic in the Law Center? The Law Center has just expanded to nearly double its former size. A clinic on campus would be the most efficient way for the faculty to practice what they preach. Students could easily become involved in legal work in the new clinic, and all students would benefit from the good example such a clinic would set.

The administrative response to such a proposal is that the costs of such a clinic are too great. There’s no room. Insurance costs too much. We can’t afford the extra staff. But pro bono work always costs the donor. The only question is whether the law center community is willing to incur those costs.

The benefits in terms of community relations, publicity, and national reputation should offset the costs of an on-campus legal aid clinic. If the faculty really wants to instill service values, professors should demand the creation of such a clinic. Otherwise the lip service they give to pro bono work will continue to sound just like empty words.

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