New York State Bar Announces New Pro Bono Requirement
At the 2012 Annual Law Day address at the New York Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced that starting next year, applicants to the New York Bar will be required to show that they have performed at least 50 hours of pro bono “law-related and uncompensated” service before being admitted.
In light of the fact that “those who are privileged to call ourselves lawyers have a special duty as the gatekeepers of justice to participate in preserving what we hold so dear,” Judge Lippman cited a need to instill and foster “a culture of service in the men and women who enter our profession as lawyers each year.” After all, “it is the legal profession’s commitment to equal justice and to the practice of law as a higher calling that has made service to others an intrinsic part of our legal culture.”
“We are facing a crisis in New York and around the country,” said Judge Lippman. “At a time when we are still adjusting to the realities of shrinking state coffers and reduced budgets, more and more people find themselves turning to the courts. The courts are the emergency rooms of our society – the most intractable social problems find their way to our doors in great and increasing numbers. And more and more of the people who come into our courts each day are forced to do so without a lawyer.”
While the legislature has taken note of the problem and has included substantial funding for civil legal services in the judiciary’s budget over the last two years, “we must do more to bridge the gap between this rising need and the services we provide… We need the continued individual efforts of lawyers doing their part.”
“Every year, about 10,000 prospective lawyers pass the New York Bar Exam,” noted Judge Lippman. “While 50 hours of law related pro bono work would amount to little more than a few days of service for each year of law school, the aggregate would be a half million hours each year that benefits New York and those in need of legal help.”
This will benefit both “the clients who are in dire need of legal assistance,” and prospective lawyers hoping to “build the valuable skills and acquire the hands-on experience so crucial to becoming a good lawyer.”
The requirement will not extend to lawyers already admitted to the state bar and living in New York. When applying for admission to the New York Bar, prospective lawyers will have to submit an affidavit describing the nature and dates and hours of their pro bono work, as well as the organization and individual lawyer who supervised them. Applicants will have the option to complete the requirement after graduation, or “even after taking the bar exam or after beginning a paid legal position in a law firm or elsewhere.”
Exactly what work will qualify as pro bono service, and to what extent it will have to be ‘uncompensated,’ has not yet been set out. In a recent e-mail, Interim Dean Gerber stated that Judge Lippman has appointed a panel that will determine the exact parameters of the requirement. The panel will consult with law schools, and during the process Brooklyn Law School may ask for comments from students and other members of the community. BLS currently qualifies the following work as public service for the Public Service Awards: internships at a government agency of nonprofit for pay, credit, or grant; volunteer work at a government agency or nonprofit; pro bono projects; and work through a school clinic at a government agency or nonprofit. Judicial internships for credit or pay and internships at a for-profit company or law firm for credit or pay do not qualify.
In a May 16th memo on the issue, the New York City Bar Association’s Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee expressed concern that the pro bono requirement will place an additional burden on new lawyers who are already struggling to make a living, and that it might lead to sub-par legal services for the poor provided by new graduates motivated only to fulfill their 50 hours. The Association urged that the guidelines be “structured to minimize the number of people in this group by using a broad enough definition of pro bono work, and by allowing new graduates to complete their service under the auspices of a law school program or during their summers.” It also urged that the guidelines include qualifying legal services even if they are compensated, as well as service done outside of New York.
Students with questions about the requirement are advised to e-mail Dean Allard.
Boyan Toshkoff, ’14, is an incoming Legal News and Events Editor of the BLS Advocate.