The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law has been making some changes to the school’s curriculum that better reflect, and help prepare students for, the changing nature of the legal profession.
One such change is a new pro bono requirement that will affect students this fall. Students entering the law school at that time will be among the first class that will have to perform a certain amount of pro bono legal work to graduate.
Students entering this fall and thereafter will be required to complete 40 hours of supervised pro bono work.
Ryan Jones, director of communications and special events for the law school, said that while the school’s students have been engaging in a significant amount of valuable pro bono work over the years, the performance of that work is now formalized as part of their overall law education.
The school has even hired a public interest counselor, Callie Caldwell, who oversees all of the school’s pro bono programs and related duties.
“It’s becoming more of a trend in the law school arena to put more emphasis on this area, and Memphis is at the forefront of the trend,” Jones said.
Additionally, starting with the class that enters in the fall, students will have more flexibility in classes they take earlier in their education.
In the fall of 2009, the law school’s curriculum committee was tasked with reviewing the curriculum and recommending changes, if necessary, according to David Romantz, associate dean for academic affairs.
Romantz said the curriculum had not been given a comprehensive review in years and that for many years, most law schools were geared toward a traditional litigation model.
“But certainly in modern practice, there’s a lot more transactional work, and even within litigation there’s a lot more alternative to litigation such as negotiation and mediation,” Romantz said. “And so this new curriculum sort of reflects modern practice much more so than our old curriculum did.”
The move toward pro bono work comes at a time when low income and needy consumers are seeing their access to legal services cut off from some channels. Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., for example, serves that population but is in the midst of a capital campaign to keep its services uninterrupted.
“The reason we decided to do (the pro bono requirement) is because, first, you’re seeing in the legal profession there’s so many people out there that need legal services,” Caldwell said. “There’s such a great demand, and funding is cut everywhere. Ethically, as lawyers, we have this obligation to provide legal service.
“What we want to do here is create this attitude and this standard of our law students that this is not only an ethical obligation, but it’s a unique and rewarding one. That was really the motivation that drove our school to start a formal program.”
Caldwell added that law students will not start tracking their hours until their second semester.