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Top Judge in New York State Announces New Pro Bono Program

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Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has announced a new initiative that would bolster the amount of lawyers for the poor in New York state, according to The New York Times. Judge Lippman announced the new program, which allows law students to take the bar early so long as they devote their final semester in school to pro bono work.

The third-year law students are allowed to sit for the bar in February if they provide a public service by creating a new pool of lawyers for the indigent.

“We can lay a cornerstone for the future of legal education,” Judge Lippman said on Tuesday. Lippman was making his annual address on the state of the judiciary.

Some experts and law school deans warn that the Pro Bono Scholars Program might take some time to get off the ground and running. The success of the program would also rely on the training received by the students outside of the classroom.

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Judge Lippman noted that the plan came about due to two problems affecting the legal world. The first is that laws school applications have dropped in the past couple of years and the second is that the cost of law school has increased at the same time.

Lippman also announced that he will begin sealing misdemeanor records beginning in April so people who are otherwise law-abiding citizens can obtain work and housing. A misdemeanor will be expunged from a person’s record following seven years in a new bill he is submitting to the Legislature. The bill calls for nonviolent felony convictions to be removed at a judge’s discretion after 10 years on the person’s record. Exceptions to the new bill would be made for public corruption, sex offenses and drunken driving.

“The stigma of a criminal record continues long after a sentence has been served,” Judge Lippman said. “Under this new policy, individuals who have led a law-abiding lifestyle will not permanently be burdened by a single misdemeanor conviction, giving them a second chance.”

In regards to the pro bono program he announced, Judge Lippman said that its goal is to “instill in future members of the New York bar the value of public service to the poor and to provide them with the opportunity to acquire valuable legal skills that will prepare them for the practice of law.”

In speaking about the pro bono program, Matthew Diller from Cardozo Law School said, “What I really like about it is he’s simultaneously tackling two major problems with this initiative. There are smart, talented young lawyers coming out of law school who can contribute.”

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