wednesday, 2 may of 2012

Lippman announces pro bono requirement for prospective attorneys

Pro bono service

Lippman announces pro bono requirement for prospective attorneys

New York will become the first state to require prospective lawyers to complete pro bono service, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said Tuesday during a speech at the Court of Appeals' annual Law Day celebration.

Under the new requirement, which goes into effect next year, bar applicants will have to show that they have completed 50 hours of uncompensated work. Lippman said the requirement will give aspiring attorneys valuable experience and significantly expand access to representation for the poor.

"If you want the privilege and honor of practicing law in New York, you're going to have to demonstrate that you're committed to our values," Lippman said.

The requirement is part of a larger push by Lippman to increase representation for the poor in civil matters. He said on Tuesday that about 10,000 people pass the bar exam in New York each year, meaning the new requirement will increase pro bono service annually by 500,000 hours.

Lippman said students and aspiring lawyers may find pro bono opportunities through law schools, bar associations and nonprofit legal service providers.

"And while most applicants to the bar will want to complete their pro bono service during the law school years or over the summers," he said, "they will also have the option to do so after graduation, or even after taking the bar exam or after beginning a paid legal position in a law firm or elsewhere."

The class of 2013 will be the first subject to the new rule.

Many law schools in New York offer voluntary pro bono programs and at least one, Columbia Law School, has pro bono requirements for graduation. At Albany Law School, 200 students have completed about 2,000 hours of uncompensated legal work this year, according to Alicia Ouellette, the school's associate dean for student affairs.

"We're pretty well situated to expand our program" to help students meet the new requirement, she said in an interview. "We also have to be cognizant of the needs of our students to work and pursue other things."


According to a task force appointed by the chief judge, only 20 percent of the need for civil legal services is currently being met. State lawmakers this year approved $25 million for civil legal services -- double the funding from last year.

But "there isn't enough money in the world to meet the need," Lippman said during his speech. "We need the continued individual efforts of lawyers doing their part."

The Legal Aid Society of New York turns away eight out of every nine people who turn to the group for free civil legal services, according to its attorney-in-chief Steven Banks.

The pro bono requirement "will help us try to bridge that gap," Banks said Tuesday after Lippman's speech.

New York State Bar Association President Vincent Doyle said the association has not yet taken a position on the new requirement, but expressed concerns about how it will impact law students trying to work their way through school. "The specifics of the requirement should recognize that it could be an economic burden for some students," said Doyle, of Connors and Vilardo in Buffalo.

After his speech, Lippman told reporters that when the new rule is finalized, it probably will include an exemption for financial hardship, but that "almost everyone should be able to meet this commitment one way or another."

(Published by Reuters - May 1, 2012)

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