The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
September 26, 2012

VIDEO: Lippman Outlines New York Bar Admission Pro Bono Requirements

On September 19, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the details of New York’s new pro bono requirement for admission to the bar at a press conference at the New York University School of Law.  Prospective attorneys will be required to perform 50 hours of pro bono service as condition of admittance, with the policy becoming effective January 1, 2013, and applying to law students entering their first and second years of school.  The details came less than five months after Judge Lippman stunned the legal world with his announcement that New York would become the first state to require pro bono service for admission to the bar.

“I’m very proud that we are the first state in the country to implement such a requirement,” Judge Lippman said. “The new generation of lawyers must understand that they must embrace the core values of our profession before they can be admitted to the bar in New York state. It is my hope that from this experience they will be hooked for life on serving others.”

The new rule defines eligible pro bono service as “law-related” work performed in “the traditional areas of legal services for the poor and unrepresented; in public service, including the judiciary, and throughout the levels of federal, state, and local government; and for not-for-profit organizations,” according to a press release from the New York State Unified Court System.  The work must be supervised by a lawyer admitted to practice, a judge or attorney employed by a court system, or a faculty member. The supervisor will be required to certify the number of hours worked on the Affidavit of Compliance with the Pro Bono Requirement as part of the student’s admission application to the Appellate Division department of the New York Supreme Court.

The pro bono work may be performed in the U.S. or abroad, and may take place anytime after the commencement of legal studies and before the filing of an application for admission to the New York state bar. For details, see the Advisory Committee on Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements report and FAQs.  Advisory Committee Co-Chairs Judge Victoria Graffeo and Alan Levine, partner at Cooley LLP*, also spoke at the press conference, noting that the requirements were designed to be inclusive and practical.  Additionally, they pledged that the committee will continue to oversee the requirement and evaluate its implementation.  Two law school deans, Richard Revesz, of NYU, and Michelle Anderson, of the CUNY School of Law, also spoke strongly in support of the new rule.

PBI’s President and CEO Esther F. Lardent, who consulted with the courts and the Advisory Committee on the details of the requirement, also spoke at the press conference to provide a national perspective.  Lardent praised Judge Lippman’s bold action and the speed and care with which the Committee had undertaken its work, calling the report a “careful balance of idealism and pragmatism.”  Citing the national and global nature of the New York bar, whose candidates for admission come from law schools all around the U.S. and from 90 countries, Lardent predicted that “[T]he impact of this initiative goes far beyond the next few years of crisis, even the 500,000 hours of pro bono work every year. It will result in generation after generation of new lawyers with a strong pro bono ethos in New York and around the country.  Lardent previously addressed the requirement in an op-ed in The National Law Journal and in a video featured in The PBEye.

The press conference ended with remarks from law students at NYU and CUNY, who spoke about their commitment to public service and to the idea that all lawyers can and should make public interest work a part of their professional lives, something now possible because of Lippman’s initiative and their law schools’ rich array of public interest programming. Over the next few months, discussions will undoubtedly focus on the definition of pro bono articulated in the new New York rule and on the minutiae of what counts and implementation.  While that focus is not surprising, we should not lose sight of the importance of the bold step taken by New York in response to the terrible crisis in access to justice facing our people, our courts, and our nation.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

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