In his 2012 Law Day address at the Court of Appeals earlier this month, Chief Judge of New York Jonathan Lippman, announced that starting next year, prospective lawyers would have to complete 50 hours of pro-bono, law-related services before being successfully admitted to the New York bar, one of the most coveted in the nation.
Why is this the best news ever?
Because, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know, generally, that lawyers are lame-o’s. Think about your rolodex of friends and acquaintances, and friends of friends, and acquaintances of acquaintances. At best, these lawyer folk, on the whole, can be described as “bookish,” or “nerdy.” At worst? “Sleazy,” “scummy,” and “money-grubbing.”
Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are lawyers. I’m a lawyer. My father is a lawyer. Some of his best friends are lawyers. There are TONS of lawyers who are also amazing people. But, more often than not, lawyers are….not such amazing people.
My theory? It’s not so much that they are bad people to begin with, but rather lawyers are simply products of the lawyering culture motivated by money and ego instead of justice.
And in this day and age, not only are there more law graduates than there are law jobs, there are more disinterested, unhappy, disaffected, not-adding-anything-to-the-world, living-up-to-the-nasty-stereotype lawyers than ever before. Lawyers who are in it only for the money. Lawyers who, because they have a framed piece of paper in their office above their mahogany desks and leather chairs, think they’re better than you.
The stereotype exists for a reason. Most lawyers care not for justice, repairing the world, or truly helping a client achieve the best, most cost-effective solution to a problem. Sadly, many care about padding their own wallets at the expense of doing good work for their clients (and for the world). They string out cases, make unnecessary motions, and pound paper just for the $heck$ of it.
Mandatory pro bono (free) legal work may not kill the stereotype, but I believe it will help bring young lawyers back down to earth and shape them into ethical, committed, thoughtful professionals. By being forced to help someone, with total disregard to their own wallets, young lawyers will get the much-needed opportunity to work selflessly, find creative solutions (i.e. maximize results with minimal effort—remember, they’re not getting paid, so it behooves them to do the job swiftly!).
As a lawyer committed to making a difference, I must defer to Greg Focker when he explains how he feels being a male nurse. To paraphrase, Focker says he loves helping people, but he also gets paid for it. It’s an “everybody wins” situation.
But I also know that sometimes people need help and can’t afford a lawyer.
Helping someone in need, no questions asked, no invoices dished out, is an “everybody wins” situation, too.
Any lawyer who has done pro bono legal work will tell you that there is a sense of humility and service in this type work. When a lawyer takes her valuable time and knowledge and gives it to someone who truly needs it but cannot afford, she pursues justice in the truest and most effective sense of the word. No red tape, no bureaucracy, no multi-tiered profit-sharing. Someone needs help, she helps them. And more often than not, this type of work will remind the lawyer just why she became a lawyer in the first place.
I applaud New York for making this type of work a mandate for admission to the state bar and hope that the other 49 state bars follow suit as soon as possible.
And because you can never get enough Greg Focker in your life…here you go.