Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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A panel appointed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to examine the accreditation process for new lawyers recommends keeping law internships at their current one-year duration, rather than extending them to two years as Neeman himself had sought in the past.

Neeman detailed the recommendations of the panel, which was headed by the director general of his ministry, Guy Rotkoff, in an address yesterday to the 12th Annual Conference of the Israel Bar Association in Eilat.

Neeman - who in 2010 signed on to a draft law initiated by then-bar association head Yori Geiron extending law internships from one year to two - said on Monday that lengthening the internship period would effectively halve the number of openings for interns, "a situation that could do more harm than good." He added that the measure would also entail changes to the testing schedule and to the regulations governing law interns in the public service, among other changes.

The committee also recommended changing the bar association examination so that it tests candidates' legal analytical abilities and not only issues of legal procedure. Neeman said that students would be tested on new laws, test cases and more - "not only rote memorization of court filing deadlines."

Rotkoff's team proposed eliminating the oral section of the bar exam, arguing that because it is administered twice a year, by different people who ask different questions each time, it cannot serve as an objective measure of the candidates' knowledge and abilities.

In a response, the Israel Bar Association expressed surprise at Neeman's claim that the internship period could not be extended at this time, and stated that the measure was critical to upholding the standards of the legal profession in Israel. "There was overwhelming support for the proposal, the necessity of which is dictated by the situation in the field, and we will do everything possible to ensure that the Rotkoff committee's conclusion will include a recommendation to extend the duration of the internship period," the bar association said.

In his remarks on Monday, Neeman said the "internship reform" would include heightening the supervision of mentors and coaches who work with interns.

"I was shown grim statistics about the quality and the professionalism of internships in various law offices. I realized there are a significant number of interns who carry out clerical and cleaning work rather than learning and gaining professional proficiency," Neeman said. "Even worse, there are interns who claim they pay their mentors to be counted as having completed their internship and to gain eligibility to take their accreditation exam," he said.

Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the National Student Union and one of the leaders of last year's social-justice protest, said in a statement that he wished to thank Neeman for his "courageous and fair decision" not to support extending the internship period, which Shmuli said would have dealt a "fatal blow" to law interns while cutting in half the number of available internship opportunities.