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ABA poised to allow law students to get paid for externships

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Law students may be able to take home a paycheck while earning academic credit at an externship under a proposal the American Bar Association House of Delegates will consider during the ABA’s annual meeting beginning Thursday in San Francisco.

The House of Delegates is being asked to debate and vote on a range of resolutions that would address topics from legal education to professional misconduct and urging state legislatures to abolish “offender funded” probation systems. A total of 30 proposals will be reviewed at the delegate meeting which will be held Aug. 8 and 9.

Resolution 100 would implement changes to experiential learning and study outside the classroom as proposed by the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. These changes include removing the prohibition on students receiving compensation for work done in a credit-bearing externship program.  

While drafting the provision to allow paid externships, the council heard from many law school professors who opposed compensation. The professors feared offering pay would cause the law firm or legal organization to assign the law student tasks that would benefit the employer rather than adding to the student’s educational growth.

However, law students and some bar associations supported the elimination of the prohibition. They argued doing so would expand the number of placements available and reduce the level of student debt.

Ultimately the council decided the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools contain adequate protections to ensure law students can be compensated and still receive substantial lawyering experience in field placements.

Resolution 109 would add anti-discrimination and anti-harassment language to Rule 8.4 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The new provisions bar discrimination and harassment based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and disability by a lawyer during the practice of law.

Two other resolutions urge authorities to take action to remedy problems with the criminal justice system.

Resolution 110, proposed by the Special Committee on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities and other groups, calls upon federal, state and local law enforcement to provide accurate translations of the Miranda warning into Spanish. The report accompanying the proposed resolution notes that despite law enforcement officers having to give Miranda warnings in Spanish nearly 900,000 times each year, law enforcement had made no effective effort to develop a “culturally and substantively accurate translation.”  

Also Resolution 111B, proposed by the Young Lawyers Division, asks state, local, territorial and tribal legislatures to abolish “offender funded” systems of probation. These programs are supervised by private, for-profit companies in more than a dozen states. Offenders unable to pay can be put in jail even though their underlying offenses, typically misdemeanors, quasi-criminal ordinance violations or civil infractions, do not usually lead to incarceration.

None of the resolutions will become policy until the House of Delegates adopts it. Some proposals may be withdrawn while other measures may be submitted. Any measure can be amended up until it is voted upon. The annual meeting runs Aug. 4 through 9.

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