May 1 (Reuters) - 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."
BRIDGE THE GAP
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."
(Reporting by Dan Wiessner)
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