By Daniel Wiessner and Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Sept 19 (Reuters) - The unveiling Wednesday of the
details of a new rule making New York the first state to require
aspiring lawyers to perform free legal work in order to be
admitted to the bar has quieted concerns of law school
administrators that it would be costly to implement.
The regulation, first proposed by Chief Judge Jonathan
Lippman in May, requires law students to perform 50 hours of pro
bono work between their first year of law school and the time
they apply for a license.
Over the summer, officials from law schools across the
country had worried that if existing programs like clinics and
internships did not qualify, schools would be forced to hastily
implement new ones, taxing limited resources.
But under the new rule, pro bono service is defined as
providing "law-related" services to low-income people,
non-profit organizations, civil rights groups or any government
entity and allows such clinics to count toward the requirement,
even though students typically receive academic credit for those
"It's much better than it could have been," said the dean of
Cornell Law School, Stewart Schwab.
The final version of the requirement was announced by Judge
Lippman on Wednesday at a press conference in Manhattan. It came
after a 15-member advisory committee conferred this summer with
law schools, bar associations and legal services providers to
address concerns raised in the wake of Lippman's spring
proposal, which took many by surprise.
The program is part of a larger initiative by Lippman to
expand access to the civil legal system for people who cannot
afford lawyers. According to the chief judge, only 20 percent of
the need for legal services is being met in New York -- even
though state officials this year agreed to double funding for
legal service programs to $25 million.
"No matter how much money we're able to get through public
funding, a large part of this has to be pro bono service on the
part of the bar," Lippman said in an interview.
SAGGING JOB MARKET
The rule applies to anyone admitted to the state bar on or
after Jan. 1, 2015, meaning students currently in their third
year of law school will be exempt.
Bar applicants will be required to file affidavits detailing
their work with the Appellate Division. The work can be done
anywhere in the United States or abroad.
Several law school officials praised the panel for its
expansive definition of pro bono work, but some said the
requirement is still likely to impose new costs. Cornell Law
School's semester-long clinical programs typically have a
faculty-to-student ratio of 8:1, according to Schwab of Cornell,
so an influx of dozens of students could force the school to
hire additional staff.
Schwab said he's hopeful that students will complete much of
the requirement during summer internships with judges,
government agencies and non-profit groups, which would take some
of the burden off of schools.
"Between that and work for private firms, I expect a fair
number of our students will get the 50 hours" outside of school,
The requirement comes as law students, many of whom graduate
with heavy debt, face an uncertain job market.
A June report from the National Association of Law Placement
found that less than two-thirds of 2011 graduates had landed a
job that required an attorney license, the lowest percentage
since the group began its annual survey in 1974. When the pro
bono requirement was announced, some observers voiced concerns
about the potential impact on students and new lawyers.
"We didn't want to force people to leap tall buildings in a
single bound to perform this service," Lippman said. "(But) pro
bono is a part of the core values of our profession. Lawyers, or
those aspiring to be lawyers, have to embrace those core
Lippman estimated that the requirement will add as much as
500,000 hours of pro bono service each year, but since work that
is already commonly done by law students will qualify, it
remains to be seen how many hours of pro bono work will actually
Legal service providers, like law schools, have largely been
supportive of the measure. The Legal Aid Society of New York
turns away eight out of every nine people seeking representation
in civil matters because of a lack of resources, according to
attorney-in-chief Steven Banks.
When the rule was first announced in May, Esther Lardent,
the executive director of the Washington-based Pro Bono
Institute, said she was concerned that supervision of law
students would be spread thin, leading to poor services for
clients and a negative experience for students.
But after reviewing the final rule, Lardent said she was
impressed by how quickly the committee, which was created less
than four months ago, was able to put a workable rule together.
"I think that is a reflection of the sense of urgency that
Judge Lippman and his committee have about this crisis in access
to legal services, which is really negatively impacting the
justice system and public faith in the system," she said.
Lippman said that the 15-member committee will oversee the
implementation of the requirement and eventually evaluate its
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