New Pro Bono Requirements for the New York Bar

April 22, 2013

The Supreme Court in WashingtonAs many of you have probably heard, the pro bono landscape was dramatically, and permanently, changed on January 1, 2013.  The new rules went into effect in New York State requiring applicants seeking admission to the New York bar to complete at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono service prior to filing an application for admission.  These rules not only apply to graduates of New York law school but also to lawyers from other jurisdictions (including foreign lawyers) who want to practice law in New York.

Students in their first and second years of law school as of the effective date immediately became subject to the requirements that will apply to everyone who seeks admission to the New York bar on or after January 1, 2015.  The ABA Rules of Professional Conduct urge lawyers to complete at least 50 hours of pro bono work each year, but the New York rule is the first one that makes such service mandatory.

Law students and attorneys who become subject to the requirements will be given a broad range of opportunities to satisfy them including:

  • Work performed for people of limited means
  • Not-for-profit organizations
  • Other individuals or groups seeking to promote access to justice.

In order to qualify, the work must be performed under the supervision of a law school faculty member or licensed attorney or judge; and be conducted under the support of law school legal clinics or governmental entities.

The Advisory Committee on New York State Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements highlighted that the new requirements will address the crisis in access to justice and is an opportunity for prospective attorneys to build valuable skills.  Law students and new lawyers interested in litigation can take advantage of the wide range of litigation-oriented pro bono programs that have been available for a number of years; however fledgling business attorneys may have to work harder to find a marriage between their passion and pro bono service.

Further information on designing and implementing a law firm pro bono program can be found in Chapter 12 of the Hildebrandt Handbook of Law Firm Management.  In addition, new lawyers engaged in pro bono counseling of businesses can quickly prepare themselves by accessing the guidance and materials available on the Beyond the Bar video program called Planning and Launching a New Business: A Comprehensive Checklist.