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Lawyers have served indigent clients and worthwhile but impecunious causes without pay for centuries. Unfortunately, this laudable tradition of public service has not done much for the legal profession's overall reputation, which continues to languish. The age-old debate about whether lawyers should be compelled to provide services to nonpaying clients as a condition for retaining their licenses to practice law resurfaced recently when a committee appointed by the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals to study the legal needs of the poor concluded that lawyers should be compelled to donate 20 hours every year to serving the poor. Proposals to compel lawyers to provide free legal services to the indigent have been around for about as long as the world has been inhabited by lawyers and poor people. No less a philosophical luminary than St. Thomas Aquinas addressed the issue in Question 71 of the Summa Theologica, asking the question, "Whether an advocate is bound to defend the suits of the poor?" His answer, like mine, was a resounding no.
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