Rob Vischer at Mirror of Justice calls attention to a new policy of the New York state courts which will require prospective lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono (free) work in order to be admitted.
Lawyers should do pro bono. That's a given. It's unfortunate that today's lawyers do no where near enough, and that mandatory pro bono is probably necessary, but here we are.
Regardless, this policy is a perfect example of what happens when regulators' interests aren't properly aligned. Any competent regulator who was trying to increase the availability of free legal services for the needy with a minimal impact on the legal profession would institute a completely different policy. For example:
Assume that the average lawyer has a 20 year career. (Adjust the numbers as needed. And technically you don't just take the average — but the details are unimportant). You could get the same number of hours by requiring that every licensed attorney do 5 hours of work a year, each year, starting 10 years after they're first licensed.
Advantages: Individuals in need get competent aid from experienced attorneys. More can get done in the same time (or the same amount can get done with fewer required hours) because the attorneys in question will likely have staffs, and also won't have to figure out what they're doing while they're doing it — they'll already know the ropes. The burden is spread out over a large number of years, and is thus extremely small at any given point, rather than being a more significant one-time burden.
Disadvantages: ?But of course, the New York state courts are not competent, public-spirited regulators. They're filled with lawyers who work with other lawyers every day. And so, from their perspective, the scene looks very different. Why put a small burden on current lawyers (themselves, their colleagues, and their friends) when they can put a large burden on their prospective competitors? Besides, poor people might make their nice offices smell bad.
Regulation is doomed to idiocy so long as we don't pay attention to the incentives of the people we put in charge.