Indentured servitude was preferable to what New York has decided to do next year. Thanks to New York’s Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, new applicants to the New York State Bar will be required to prove they have performed 50 hours of free (pro bono) legal services before they can qualify to practice in the Empire State. At least indentured servants got food, clothing and shelter in exchange for uncompensated work.
But in this case, the usual blame can’t be laid at the feet of those habitual intruders into lawyer liberty – – – your friendly state bar association. Mandatory-membership state bar associations are the usual suspects when it comes to finding new ways to infringe on lawyer autonomy and free enterprise. Last year, for example, state bars around the country began imposing mandatory mentorship requirements on lawyers.
No, New York is unique. The rules for admission are set directly by the court and its administrative board and not through the normal regulatory conduit, the state bar association. Most everywhere else, state bars provide convenient ‘cover’ for the purported salutary impulses of a state’s supreme court. See, for example, Arizona State Bar proposes new attorney discipline rules.
Nevertheless, the New York court system’s mandated magnanimity and coerced compassion are breathtaking in their audacity. But they invite further descriptors such as tin-eared, even hare-brained.
The words of Ambroise Clément have never been more apt. Charity’s a virtue only when it’s “free and spontaneous.” Otherwise, “State and, therefore, forced, charity is not a virtue, it is a tax.“ And likewise, Thomas Jefferson, who writing in “Notes on the State of Virginia,” said, “What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites.”
And talk about tone deafness, as though struggling, underemployed and unemployed new law school graduates aren’t themselves already in need. See, for instance, “From J.D. to Food Stamps: The Personal Cost of Going to Law School.”
And just this week, data from the non-profit consumer advocacy and law school policy reform organization Law School Transparency reported by the Wall Street Journal revealed that the “Projected Law School Debt Figures Revised Even Higher” meaning that the average debt for the law school Class of 2015 will be an astronomical $210,796.
Which means that if other courts eventually copy-cat New York and also say “Jump!” then new lawyers will be consigned only to ask, “How high?” when mandatory pro bono is imposed universally.
But on a lighter note, this finally gets me to an example of a high jumper who doesn’t mind being told to jump. It’s the jump-roping Geronimo, the “Double-Dutch Dog,” who by the smile on his face, will always have fun when told to jump.
 “Membership in the bar is a privilege burdened with conditions.” In re Rouss, 221 N.Y. 81, 84 (1917)
Credits: “The idle servant” by Nicolaes Maes, via Wikipedia Commons and in the public domain;