By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Dec 3 (Reuters) - Calling the unmet need for
civil legal services among indigent New Yorkers a "continuing
crisis," a new report says increased state funding and greater
collaboration is needed between law schools, legal aid providers
and law firms.
At best, 20 percent of the demand for civil legal services
is being met, leaving more than 2.3 million New Yorkers without
representation each year, according to the report, released
Friday by the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal
"During the past year ... the task force has obtained
substantial evidence showing that when New Yorkers appear in
civil matters in court without representation, litigation and
other costs are higher and the opportunity to resolve disputes
without litigation or settle cases expeditiously is lost," the
report's executive summary reads.
Providing these legal services to low-income New Yorkers has
been a top priority of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who created
the 30-member task force in 2010. The panel is chaired by
Helaine Barnett, the former president of the Legal Services
Corporation, and includes active and retired judges and lawyers.
This year, Lippman and the task force hosted four hearings
on the subject around the state.
The report recommends a $15 million increase in state
funding for civil legal service grants, up 60 percent from the
$25 million allocated in the fiscal 2013 state budget. The
Office of Court Administration included the proposal in its
fiscal 2014 spending plan, which was sent to Governor Andrew
Cuomo and state lawmakers on Friday.
Every dollar spent on civil legal services yields six
dollars in returns, the panel said, including cost savings for
courts and increased economic activity. Providing representation
to people who are initially turned down for federal benefits
would bring millions of federal dollars into New York, the
The task force proposed a number of non-monetary
initiatives, such as recommending that law schools create online
systems to match students with legal service providers. It also
recommended that schools educate students on the implications of
the justice gap and best practices for representing indigent
Court administrators, meanwhile, could raise the recommended
number of pro bono hours attorneys perform annually from 20 to
50 and require them to report those hours every two years.
Mandatory reporting has helped double the amount of annual pro
bono work performed in Florida since 1993, with a more limited
impact in Maryland and Illinois, according to the report.
The panel also said that New York's first-in-the-nation rule
requiring aspiring attorneys to complete 50 hours of pro bono
work could "place a renewed emphasis on the contributions that
law students can make to narrow the justice gap." The rule
applies to anyone admitted to the bar after Jan. 1, 2015.
Lippman has said the requirement will add roughly 500,000
hours of pro bono service, but it is unclear how much of that
will be performed in New York.
The report also calls for the creation of a Council for the
New York State Courts, which would be comprised of up to 50
attorneys, business leaders, former elected officials and
retired judges. It would meet annually and advocate for greater
funding for the courts, among other initiatives.
Follow us on Twitter @ReutersLegal | Like us on Facebook