In an article in the Jan. 7 Washington Business section, Saundra Torry advocated mandatory public service for law professors. She made it sound as though law professors as a class refused to perform pro bono work and that their refusal was hypocritical in light of a surging "student movement" advocating mandatory service as a graduation requirement. However, many students also reject the notion of mandatory service.
Although the National Association for Public Interest Law is pushing to make pro bono work a requirement for graduation, it has been successful at only seven of more than 180 law schools. And that lack of success is not because students and professors are hypocritical or selfish. It's because, though they believe in the need for legal advice, they also recognize that public service is personal and should be voluntary.
At the University of Virginia, where I am a law student, public service is voluntary, yet an active volunteer spirit makes significant contributions to the community. In one popular law school program, both students and professors help the homeless. Students and professors also participate in the Legal Aid Society and tutor prison inmates. They read to the blind, are Big Brothers and Big Sisters and help in the Thanksgiving Food Drive.
This extent of volunteer activity at my school provides a context for my second point -- mandated volunteer service would only lower the involvement of students in worthy nonlegal causes. Twenty or 40 hours of legal public service are 20 or 40 fewer hours spent reading to the blind, taking a child to a ballgame, collecting blankets, etc.
I advocate volunteerism and try to do my part, but I would resent being told how to manifest my charity. Most important, I would resent the law school judging the merit of my charity choices. Students should not have to defend their desire to work for their church or political party in order to justify not participating in the approved or sanctioned cause.
Further, a pro bono service requirement would be counterproductive to achieving a spirit of diversity at law schools. I, for example, am married and have two young children. A pro bono requirement would force me to spend less time with my family, on school or on the charities of my choice -- all undesirable options. Such a requirement would be a disincentive to other students with children as well and would persuade them to attend other schools.
Law school administrations and student government organizations should have an active role in promoting charity. They should encourage volunteerism and disseminate information about opportunities for public service. They should recognize individuals who are exceptional in their zeal for improving their community. By doing so, they will ingrain habits that will stay with students in their professional lives. Pro bono work is a worthy goal. It is the mandating of it that I reject.
THOMAS K. PLOFCHAN JR. Charlottesville