By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Oct 22 (Reuters) - Following the lead of the
New York state court system, New Jersey's top judge has formed a
committee to consider requiring prospective attorneys to
complete pro bono work before being admitted to the state bar.
The 17-member panel, which Chief Justice Stuart Rabner
created last week, will be chaired by Judge Glenn Grant, the
acting administrative director of New Jersey's court system. The
committee will review New York's pro bono mandate, which
requires 50 hours of work, and make recommendations to Rabner.
The panel includes private attorneys, bar association
officials, legal service providers and officials from the
state's three law schools, as well as a third-year law student
and a retired state judge.
According to an Oct. 15 letter Grant wrote inviting the
officials to join the committee, 97 percent of small claims
litigants and 99 percent of tenants in housing cases in New
Jersey show up to court without a lawyer.
"These numbers, combined with the ongoing limits of
resources for Legal Services of New Jersey, continue to cause
concern about access for a considerable portion of those who
could be most in need," he wrote.
When New York's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, proposed the
requirement for New York in May, he also cited the significant
lack of representation for the poor. He has said the new rule
will create roughly 500,000 hours of pro bono service while
instilling a culture of public service in young lawyers.
The final version of the requirement, the first of its
kind in the nation, was revealed by Lippman last month. It
includes a broad definition of pro bono, allowing an array of
existing law school programs, such as clinics, internships and
judicial clerkships, to qualify. The rule applies to anyone
admitted to the bar after Jan. 1, 2015.
Under the rule, qualifying service can be performed
anywhere in the world and law students can receive stipends or
salaries for their work, as long as their efforts are focused on
the poor, non-profit organizations or government agencies.
The final draft of the mandate was largely a compromise that
reflected concerns of law school officials that they would bear
a heavy burden in implementing the rule.
Officials at New Jersey's three law schools -- the Camden
and Newark campuses of Rutgers University School of Law and
Seton Hall University Law School -- said they have been closely
following developments in New York, where many of their students
apply to the bar.
More than 80 percent of students at Rutgers-Camden already
do enough work to qualify under New York's requirement,
according to Eve Klothen, the school's assistant dean for pro
bono and its representative on the pro bono committee.
"I don't think we're looking at any additional
administrative costs" if New Jersey adopts a similar rule, she
Klothen and Jessica Kitson, the director of public interest
at Rutgers-Newark, both said there is little in New York's rule
that they would like to see changed. Kitson, echoing school
officials in New York and other states, said there is some
concern about part-time students, who often work and have
families, meeting the requirement.
Late last month, Lippman sent details of the new rule to
every chief judge in the country. He said in an interview at the
time that he believed the initiative would become a national
model, since many other states are grappling with a lack of
legal services for the poor.
Court and bar association officials in more than a dozen
states said recently that they have not reviewed New York's
rule, or that their states are trying other methods to increase
the amount of pro bono work, particularly among law students.
Deborah Saunders, an analyst at the National Center for
State Courts, said on Monday that the group had not heard of any
other states openly considering a pro bono requirement.
The New Jersey committee will meet for a "brainstorming
session" on Nov. 1 in Trenton, Grant said in his letter, and the
panel's review of the issue will be "expedited."
A spokeswoman for Rabner said there is no firm timeline for
the review. She did not return a request for further
(An earlier version of this story had the wrong first name
for Jessica Kitson.)
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