Law Students Pro Bono

Earlier this month, New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman issued an Order making New York the first state to require would-be lawyers to perform free legal work as a prerequisite for admission to the bar. Any law student planning on practicing in New York State will be required to perform a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono work prior to filing an application for admission with the appropriate Appellate Division department of the Supreme Court. When the pro bono requirement was first announced in May, legal professionals thought that it would put an unfair burden on law school graduates with large student loan debt. Others were concerned that new attorneys might not be up to the challenges presented to them with so little experience. Regardless of these and all other opinions, the Order will cover students entering law schools as of January 1st, 2013. The rule applies to those admitted to the NY bar on or after Jan. 1, 2015, meaning students currently in their third year of law school will be exempt.

The pro bono work can be contributed to civil rights organizations, nonprofits, those who cannot afford personal legal services or any branch of the U.S. government. They can put in the hours at any point between completing their first year of school and when they apply for their New York State license. And as long as the law student is supervised by a judge, a faculty member or a currently practicing lawyer, they can perform the pro bono in any state or territory of the United States, the District of Columbia, or any foreign country. The Report of the Advisory Committee on New York State Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements stated that the Committee consulted with deans and representatives of the 15 New York State law schools to understand the clinical and other programs that are available in law schools, the resources available to assist students in complying with this proposed rule, their experience in administering pro bono projects and their concerns about foreign-educated students in LL.M. programs. In addition the November 2011 Report of the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York found that “63 percent of New Yorkers are unrepresented at statutorily required settlement conferences in foreclosure cases, and 90 percent of the reports from civil legal services providers in New York documented that they had to turn away the same number or even more potential clients than they did just one year ago.”

The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection Private Lawyers and the Public Interest: The Evolving Role of Pro Bono in the Legal Profession (Call #KF299.P8 P745 2009). The book is a collection of essays by scholars examining the history, conditions, organization, and strategies of pro bono lawyering tracing the American Bar Association’s campaign to hold lawyers accountable for a commitment to public service and to encourage public service within law schools. The essays investigate the evolving role of pro bono in the legal profession and in law schools.