Lippman Unveils Rule Detailing Bar Admission Pro Bono Mandate, New York Law Journal

By Joel Stashenko and Christine Simmons

Details of the new 50-hour pro bono requirement for applicants to the New York bar were unveiled yesterday by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Specifics of the program announced in May were eagerly awaited by law schools, public interest groups, bar associations and other members of the bar. They were announced by Lippman at a press conference at New York University School of Law.

The first-in-the-nation requirement will take effect immediately for first- and second-year law students, who will have up to 34 months to fulfill the mandate. Current third-years are exempt.

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, every applicant to the bar will be required to fulfill the requirement.

“I firmly believe that this will set the pace in the country,” Lippman said in an interview. “On every level it makes sense, for new lawyers, for the profession as a whole, for the legal services providers, for the judges. So I am really upbeat about it.”

Under the rule, 22 NYCRR §520.16, qualifying pro-bono work must be law-related.

“If you build houses for Habitat for Humanity, that doesn’t count,” Lippman said. “But if you do legal work for a non-profit like Habitat for Humanity, that could count.”

Approved pro bono work includes legal services for people of “limited means”; not-for-profit organizations; individuals or groups seeking to promote access to justice; and public service in the judiciary and state and local governments.

The work must be performed under the supervision of a law school faculty member; an admitted attorney in good standing; or, in the case of a court system clerkship or externship, by a judge or lawyer employed by the court system. Participation in law school clinics for which students receive credit would count.

“We believe the clinics are the best places to get that experience and it would be foolish to ignore the one place where you know you have the supervision that you need in well-organized programs,” Lippman said. “To ignore that, to us, it would have been sheer folly.”

Services may be completed in any state or U.S. territory, the District of Columbia or any foreign country.

“It is logistically too difficult to require everyone to come into New York and to mandate them to do it here,” Lippman said.

Recommendations for the operation of the new requirement were developed by an advisory committee chaired by Court of Appeals Judge Victoria Graffeo and Alan Levine, a partner at Cooley.

‘User-Friendly’ Requirement

While most of the required pro bono work entails civil legal services, Lippman said donating time to providers of criminal legal services would be acceptable.

“We didn’t want to have a plan that raised tremendous obstacles,” he said. “We wanted to make it user-friendly while keeping with the purpose of this, which is to close the justice gap in New York.”

Hannah Arterian, the dean of Syracuse University College of Law, who was not at the press conference, said the requirement is likely to create more work for law schools who will be expected to expand clinics and other pro bono programs.

“Given what is on everybody’s plate and pressures that law schools are under with respect to the tuition issues, this is a whole other level of responsibility that the law schools have to take on,” she said.

Lippman said one reason why the requirement is not applicable to third-year students is to give the schools “a little bit of time to make sure the opportunities were there.”

Anthony Crowell, dean of New York Law School, announced yesterday that his school has created a new Pro Bono Initiative to put New York Law’s clinical and experiential learning programs in line with the new mandate.

“Expanding clinical and experiential opportunities has been a priority of mine since joining the law school,” Crowell said in a statement. “Our new Pro Bono Initiative provides NYLS with an excellent opportunity to showcase its ability to be nimble and build best-in-class programs to further the goals of access to justice as we train the next generation of lawyers.”

Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society of New York City, said at the press conference that “a whole crew of people” at his agency were waiting to manage participants in the program.

“Is it going to be perfect? Probably not,” he said, adding, “We’re going to proceed and try to make a difference in our clients’ lives.”

William Kransdorf, director of the NYC Bankruptcy Assistance Project at Legal Services NYC, said the requirement will not create additional burdens for his group, but he predicts it might for other legal services providers.

“Very commonly the lawyer who wants to give pro bono time needs training to be able to do something useful. So people who want to provide these pro bono opportunities are often scrambling to provide training, supervision and in this case they now need to provide certification of hours,” he said.

He said if the 50 hours are spread out during three years, around 16.5 hours a year, it may not be enough, considering the time spent on supervising and training.

“You’ve got to look at how much time is spent supporting that pro bono work,” he said.

Two law students who spoke at the press conference praised the new requirement. But another had some concerns.

Jacob van de Velden, an L.L.M student at NYU Law, asked if a student-driven mediation program, in which students report to other students on their work, would qualify.

Levine said it would not.

“What you’ll find is the law schools that have student-driven programs will be connecting law professors or adjunct professors to those programs in order to provide the level of supervision that will comply with the rule,” Levine said.

New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo Corporation counsel said yesterday in a statement: “I am very pleased that in Judge Lippman’s commendable continuing efforts to encourage pro bono work, he has recognized that ‘pro bono service’ should be broadly defined to include work at government law offices. Given the difficult economic realities faced by municipalities, pro bono law students working for the government can make a big difference, while at the same time gaining valuable hands-on experience.”

Benefit to New York

About one-third of the 10,000 new lawyers admitted in New York each year are educated in one of the state’s 15 law schools; another one-third in law schools outside the state; and one-third come from outside the United States, according to the advisory committee’s report.

The requirement will not apply to the approximately 160,000 lawyers the American Bar Association said are already admitted in the state. It also does not apply to lawyers seeking admission through motion who are already admitted in another state and do not take New York’s bar exam.

The rules expressly prohibit partisan political activities.

It is estimated that civil legal services providers in New York turn away as many as eight of every nine people seeking their assistance due to a lack of resources, according to a task force on legal aid formed by Lippman.

Even with the allowances for out-of-state pro bono work, programs in New York will abe the biggest beneficiaries of the new plan, Lippman predicted in an interview.

“I think the vast majority of it will be done in New York,” he said. “So many of the students are New Yorkers or are in New York law schools. So many of the kids who are residents and who go to out-of-state schools want to work here so they come back each year.”

The New York State Bar Association did not take an official position on the requirement.

Seymour James Jr., president of the state bar, said in a statement that the new requirement will benefit low-income New Yorkers by making more legal services available to them while also giving law students practical experience and an appreciation for “doing the public good.”

James said that since the new requirement will demand a coordinated effort by law schools, legal services providers, the court system and the students themselves, he was pleased the plan will not be fully implemented until 2015. He also praised Lippman for giving prospective lawyers flexibility by allowing them to fulfill the new mandate with pro bono programs in other states and territories and foreign countries.

Lippman said the bar has been “generally supportive” of his initiative, but he acknowledged that some members “were worried that the rules could be a harbinger of the future,” when a pro bono requirement would be imposed on practicing lawyers.

Lippman said New York lawyers already do their share of pro bono, donating more than 2 million hours providing legal services to the poor. He said he opposes mandating pro bono participation.

Mandatory pro bono “is difficult, if not impossible, logistically because of all the many kinds of lawyers in New York, and some of them are just getting by,” Lippman said. “To me, this is the best guarantee against mandatory pro bono because you are instilling that culture in a new generation of lawyers. They will have it from Day One.”

Several members of the judiciary attended yesterday’s press conference, such as Bronx Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon.

While not all the mechanics of the program have been worked out, McKeon said in an interview, the requirement is needed.

“The significant part of this morning is that we now consider a legal education as one that embraces and includes programs that bring the justice system alive to those who would ordinarily be without legal representation,” he said.

The particulars of the new rule were approved Sept. 13 by the Court of Appeals, as well as by the court system’s Joint Administrative Board.

Lippman first revealed his intention to institute a pro bono requirement during his State of the Judiciary address in May (NYLJ, May 2).

Applicants to the bar after Jan. 1, 2015, must file an affidavit of compliance demonstrating that they have met the pro bono requirement.

It will be the responsibility of the character and fitness committees within the Appellate Division to verify that applicants have met the requirements, Lippman said at the press conference.

For questions on the new requirement, contact ProBonoRule@nycourts.gov or 1-855-227-5482.

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