Pro Bono Requirements for Admission
Rule 520.16 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals requires applicants applying for admission to practice in New York State after January 1, 2015 to demonstrate that they have performed 50 hours of qualifying pro bono service.
The New York Law Journal reported earlier this week that as a result of concerns expressed by law school deans with regard to the short amount of time foreign LLM students would have to complete their pro bono work, the rule has been modified.
For most students, the pro bono work must be performed after the student has commenced their legal education; the majority of J.D. candidates in New York will complete their legal education in approximately three years. However, generally, full time LLM programs last only one year, so the rule has been modified to allow pro bono work performed by foreign students one year before they begin their course of study to count toward meeting the 50-hour requirement.
An updated guide to the new rules has been released which provides answers to many frequently asked questions regarding the pro bono requirements.
It should be noted that these new rules are likely to affect many, if not most, students currently attending law school. Even third year students who plan to take the July 2014 bar exam may not have completed their applications for admission prior to January 2015, when the 50 hour pro bono requirement takes affect.
Pro Bono Rules for Admitted NY Attorneys
Although there is no mandatory pro bono for attorneys who are already admitted to practice law in the State of New York, as of May 1, 2013, lawyers have been required to report their pro bono activities in terms of both pro bono hours worked as well as donations when filing their biennial registration statements.
Many attorneys see this requirement as just the first step in an eventual pro bono hours requirement for admitted NY attorneys.
The New York Law Journal reported last week that, at least until April 2015, the information reported by New York attorneys about their pro bono activities and donations will remain confidential. However, based on comments reported in the article attributed to Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti, who indicated that this will be merely a two year "phase-in" period, in which attorneys will be able to choose whether to make this information public, and OCA spokesman David Bookstaver, the information will be made public after April 2015 whether attorneys want it to be or not.
According to the New York Law Journal article, seven other states have mandatory pro bono reporting requirements, but only Florida makes that information public.
The stated reasons behind both the pro bono requirement for admission and the pro bono reporting requirements is to determine how much unmet need there is for legal representation for low-income New Yorkers and to begin addressing that need.
Many New York attorneys oppose both the reporting requirements and the possible future implementation of mandatory pro bono. In 2004, the state bar's House of Delegates approved a resolution in opposition to mandatory pro bono and against required reporting of pro bono activities by attorneys.
In June 2013, NYSBA President David M. Schraver issued a letter to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to express the NYSBA's opposition to the pro bono reporting requirements, stating that disclosure of this information to the public and the media is an invasion of lawyers' privacy; lawyers should not be subject to having their private charitable work and contributions made public. Further, Schraver noted that the reporting requirement, "significantly understates lawyers' additional volunteer activities and charitable contributions."
Other objections mentioned in the letter include the possible disciplinary action taken against lawyers who fail to meet the reporting requirments.
But perhaps the biggest concern raised among lawyers I've spoken with about this issue is the final one mentioned in Schraver's letter:
[T]he reporting requirement dilutes the voluntary nature of lawyers’ pro bono service. One cannot deny the coercive effect of requiring lawyers to disclose their charitable works. We very strongly believe that lawyers should provide pro bono service because they recognize the critical importance of access to justice and lawyers’ unique ability to assist – not because they feel pressured into doing so.
Many lawyers see the mandatory reporting requirement as a precursor to mandatory pro bono service; simply requiring lawyers to report whether they perform such services or make pro bono donations is, in some lawyers' minds, tantamount to requiring that they actually participate. Can mandatory pro bono be far behind?