Chief Judge Announces Pro Bono Requirement For Admission To The Bar In New York, A First In The Nation

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced on Tuesday that lawyers in New York State will be required to perform pro bono service as a requirement for being admitted to the Bar, in an effort to expand the pool of lawyers for the growing number of low-income New Yorkers who are desperately in need of civil legal services. This new effort is in addition to the Chief Judge's civil legal services initiative to increase substantially funding for civil legal services in the Judiciary's budget.

At the Chief Judge's Law Day announcement, Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the media that the Society must turn away eight out of every nine New Yorkers who seek our civil legal help because of our lack of resources. He pointed out that since the economic downturn began in 2008, requests for civil legal aid have increased exponentially, including a 40 percent increase in requests for help with health care issues, a 54 percent increase for unemployment insurance and work-related problems, a 16 percent increase for domestic violence matters, and “a stunning 800 percent” increase for foreclosures.

The New York Times
May 1, 2012
Top Judge Makes Free Legal Work Mandatory for Joining State Bar
By Anne Barnard

Starting next year, New York will become the first state to require lawyers to perform unpaid work before being licensed to practice, the state’s chief judge announced on Tuesday, describing the rule as a way to help the growing number of people who cannot afford legal services.

The approximately 10,000 lawyers who apply to the New York State Bar each year will have to demonstrate that they have performed 50 hours of pro bono work to be admitted, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said. He said the move was intended to provide about a half-million hours of badly needed legal services to those with urgent problems, like foreclosure and domestic violence.

The need has exploded in recent years as the economic crisis delivered what advocates for the poor call a triple whammy: more people are struggling financially; more people need legal services to cope with foreclosures, evictions and credit and employment problems that could push them into long-term poverty; and state and federal financing for legal services has plunged.

The Legal Aid Society, the nation’s largest provider of free legal services, turns away eight of every nine people seeking help with civil legal matters, said Steven Banks, the New York group’s attorney in chief. Since the economic downturn began in 2008, Mr. Banks said, requests for assistance have jumped 40 percent for health care issues, 54 percent for unemployment insurance and work-related problems, 16 percent for domestic violence and “a stunning 800 percent” for foreclosures.

While criminal defendants have a constitutional right to free legal representation, defendants in civil cases — as well as people who need legal help for essential needs like applying for disability benefits — do not.

In his three years at the helm of the state’s court system, Judge Lippman has made New York a national model and has been praised in the legal profession by addressing what he calls the justice gap, allocating millions of dollars from the courts’ administrative budget for free legal services and making it easier for retired lawyers to take pro bono cases.

But his latest measure may prove more controversial, some of his admirers said, because it wades into a fierce debate among lawyers over whether mandatory pro bono service is the right solution — and because it could hit the pocketbooks of young lawyers at a time when they are struggling to find jobs. Judge Lippman and the court administrative board have the power to do so because, unlike in many other states, the New York court system, and not the bar association, sets the requirements.

“Lawyers do not like to be told what to do,” said Esther Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute, a nonprofit group that works with law firms to improve their pro bono services. “I worry about poor people with lawyers who don’t want to be there.”

In New Jersey, lawyers have long complained about a 20-year-old court order that allows judges to assign private lawyers in their counties to certain cases that are not covered by its public defenders. Some lawyers can win exceptions, but many argue that the burden is unevenly spread, falling more heavily in counties that have fewer available lawyers.

Supporters of the plan acknowledge that it will require more training and supervision for law students and recent graduates, who can file legal papers and appear in court if they are supervised. But they said they hoped it would dovetail with an increasing focus in many law schools on clinics that provide practical experience.

Because New York is a magnet for top law schools across the country, its bar requirements could help prompt the expansion of pro bono work elsewhere, said Don Saunders, a vice president at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in Washington, who called Judge Lippman’s work to increase the amount of money for legal services “groundbreaking.”

Ms. Lardent, who supports pro bono requirements for law students, said she liked a “big audacious idea” if it did not place undue burdens on young lawyers who face a difficult job market and, if they are new to New York, may need help finding appropriate pro bono work.

For his part, Judge Lippman made clear that he believed the requirement would be a source of satisfaction to most lawyers and would not be onerous — it could be completed in a weeklong summer internship, members of his staff noted.

Pro bono work would be defined to include steps like representing poor people in civil court and legal work for a nonprofit group or government agency.

“The legal profession should not be seen as argumentative, narrow or avaricious,” Judge Lippman said in Albany at one of the many Law Day ceremonies held around the country on Tuesday to celebrate the rule of law, “but rather one that is defined by the pursuit of justice and the desire to assist our fellow man.”

Because detailed regulations have yet to be drafted, it is unclear whether lawyers moving to New York in the middle of their careers would be affected, or whether the work would have to be completed in the state. The graduates of New York law schools in 2010 made up less than half of the new lawyers admitted to the bar.

Judge Lippman said that while the preference was for work in New York, there would probably be provisions to allow recent law graduates to count work done while in law school elsewhere.

Albany Times Union
New lawyers to give needy free legal help
Chief judge uses Law Day to reveal rule, first in the nation for bar admission
By Rick Karlin
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

ALBANY — Want to be a lawyer?

You'll have to donate 50 hours of pro bono, or free, legal work to the needy before getting admitted to the New York State Bar, according to a new requirement Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman laid down Tuesday during his annual Law Day address.

The idea is to give more legal aid for those who need it but can't pay, and to help imbue newly-minted lawyers with the ideal of working toward the greater good, said Lippman. New York is the first state to mandate such a requirement.

"What better way to send the strongest message to those about to enter our profession? Assisting in meeting the urgent need for legal services is a necessary and essential qualification to becoming a lawyer," Lippman told an audience of lawyers, judges, politicians and others present for the Law Day talk.

With 10,000 prospective lawyers taking the state bar exam each year, the 50-hour requirement adds up to 500,000 hours of free, supervised legal advice, Lippman said.

Since the mandate is coming too late for this year's class of law school graduates, the requirement will likely begin next year.

And because the mandate is a licensing requirement, it won't apply to lawyers already admitted to the bar. Forcing licensed attorneys to work for free would likely run headlong into a raft of legal issues.

The mandate was welcomed by some in the legal aid field. Steven Banks, attorney in chief for The Legal Aid Society in New York City, said the group helps people in 44,000 civil cases a year, but they turn away many. Overall, the group is able to help only one of nine people who apply.

Lippman has pressed for years for an expansion of public access to legal assistance in civil courts. The need has grown since the 2008 housing crash, with increased numbers of New Yorkers in danger of foreclosure by lenders.

"I really think this is an idea whose time has come," Lippman said after his speech. Law school faculty members generally welcomed the idea, but noted it will take some logistical planning.

"The initiative really dovetails with what we are doing," said Alicia Ouellette, associate dean for student affairs and a law professor at Albany Law School, where about 200 of the school's 725 students currently volunteer pro bono services. "Mandating it takes it a step further," she added. "We're going to have to think about how to expand the program."

Albany Law offers a range of pro bono services for low- and moderate-income groups such as veterans, seniors, inmates being released from prison and Iraqi refugees.

The students work under the supervision of lawyers already admitted to the bar.

Many of the students put in more than 50 hours during their school careers, added Danshera Cords, a law professor who helps oversee a program where students help low-income filers prepare their income tax returns.

"It teaches students that as they go out into the world, it's important that they give back," said Cords.

Law Day is a national recognition of the importance that the law plays in the nation's civic life. It dates to the 1950s when leaders wanted to counter what at the time was viewed as the communist-inspired May Day celebrations.

New York's chief judge proposes more free legal help for the poor
The Associated Press
Published: May 1, 2012 8:04 PM

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York will become the first state to require lawyers to do 50 hours of pro bono work as a condition for getting a license starting next year, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said Tuesday.

With about 10,000 people passing the New York Bar Exam annually, Lippman said that means about a half-million hours of free legal work yearly, mostly from law students. That should help fill “the justice gap” for the poor, working poor “and what has recently been described as the near poor” whose needs have risen sharply in a tough economy, he said.

“The courts are the emergency rooms of our society,” Lippman said. Addressing lawyers, judges and other officials gathered for Law Day, he noted that only about 20 percent of the need is being met for civil legal services for the poor, though state support is up to $40 million this year and many lawyers already do pro bono work, now an estimated two million hours yearly in New York.

Currently no states require doing pro bono work as a condition of admission to the bar, according to the American Bar Association.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the pro bono requirement, as well as other measures Lippman has instituted for the state’s courts, should help more families stave off mortgage foreclosures under better circumstances than the rest of the country. Since 2008, following the crash of the housing bubble, American families have lost $7.4 trillion in home equity, and foreclosures rose sharply, along with abuses like improper documentation and deceptive refinancing offers, he said.

“In fact about half of New Yorkers facing foreclosure do so without a lawyer,” Schneiderman said. As part of a 49-state settlement with five major lenders, those banks agreed to establish new mortgage servicing standards and commit more than $25 billion. That includes $15 million that will be used this year in New York to fund legal services to prevent foreclosures, he said.

New York requires 90-day notices to borrowers at risk of foreclosure, settlement conferences and that lenders’ attorneys sign affirmations that their documents are in fact accurate, a requirement in November 2010 that “drastically reduced” the number of foreclosure filings, Schneiderman said. Starting this summer, lender representatives at foreclosure proceedings will have to come with authority to negotiate, he said.

TLippman said he hopes that the pro bono requirement will generate ongoing interest in that work by lawyers who otherwise wouldn’t do it, although 21 law schools nationally require it and most others have clinics where students can get experience doing free work under faculty supervision on issues like evictions, foreclosures, divorces and contracts, also possible at outside legal aid groups. “Pro bono service has been part of the professional lives of lawyers for centuries,” he said.

“We’re turning away eight clients for every nine that come in for help,” Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief for the Legal Aid Society of New York City, said afterward. He said they take about 44,000 civil cases a year. “This initiative will certainly help,” he said.

New York Law Journal
Lippman Announces Pro Bono Requirement for Bar Admission
Joel Stashenko

ALBANY - Starting next year, prospective lawyers must show that they have performed at least 50 hours of law-related pro bono service before being admitted to the New York state bar, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced yesterday.

The chief judge said in his annual Law Day address at the Court of Appeals that the requirement would serve a two-fold purpose: It would address the large, unmet need for lawyers to represent the poor and it would inculcate in aspiring lawyers a career-long duty to serve the public.

"If pro bono is a core value of our profession, and it is—and if we aspire for all practicing attorneys to devote a meaningful portion of their time to public service, and they should—these ideals ought to be instilled from the start, when one first aspires to be a member of the profession," Lippman said to a crowd of judges, lawyers and legislators.

"We think that if you want that privilege, that honor of practicing law in the state of New York...then you are going to have to demonstrate that you believe in our values," he said at a meeting with reporters following his speech.

He called entry into the New York state bar the "most coveted" of all licenses to practice in the country.

The chief judge said the requirement will be the first of its kind in the country for admission to a state bar, and he hopes that other states will follow its lead because the inadequacy of available representation for the poor is a problem nationwide.

"If every state in the country were to join us in taking up this mantle, that would mean at least two and a half million hours of additional pro bono work—what a positive impact on persons of limited means, communities and organizations that would gain from this infusion of pro bono work," Lippman said in his speech.

About 10,000 new lawyers are admitted to New York's bar each year.

The requirement for mandatory pro bono will not extend to the approximately 160,000 lawyers the American Bar Association estimates are already admitted to the state bar and living in New York.

"My belief is that mandatory pro bono for the entire bar is not workable because there are so many different categories of lawyers, so much different geography, lawyers who can't make a living on what they are doing now," he said.

The chief judge also said there have been legal questions raised about mandating attorneys' participation in a non-compensated pro bono program.

However, Lippman suggested that the state's attorneys already donate more than 2 million hours of their time each year to pro bono.

At Law Day festivities yesterday in Albany, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, right, shakes hands with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver while Attorney General Eric Schneiderman greets Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings and Vincent E. Doyle III, president of the New York State Bar Association, looks on. Photo by Tim Roske.

"I believe that they've stepped up to the plate, whether it's the Empire State Program, the Counsel Program the state bar does, whether it is the emeritus program that we do, whether it's local bar associations all across the state," he said in his speech. "The bar has overwhelmingly volunteered their time for pro bono services."

As briefly outlined in the speech at Court of Appeals Hall in Albany, prospective lawyers will be required to submit an affidavit describing the nature and the dates and hours of their pro bono activities and the organization and individual lawyer who supervised them.

It will be up to the four Committees on Character and Fitness within the Appellate Division departments to ensure that applicants have properly completed their pro bono requirement.

Delaying implementation of the new requirement until 2013 will give next year's candidates for admission time to meet the new pre-requisite, according to Lippman.

He told reporters that a "little flexibility" will be built into the Appellate Division rules to allow applicants to demonstrate that they could not fulfill the pro bono requirement in New York, but had done so in their home states or native countries.

"We're not going to diminish doing pro bono in Connecticut or Arizona," the judge said. "But for the most part, that pro bono work will be in the state of New York."

Lippman said the four presiding justices, who must approve the new requirement, have "fully embraced" the plan.

Steven Banks, attorney-in-charge for the Legal Aid Society in New York City, endorsed the plan. He said his group uses about 1,500 legal volunteers a year, yet continues to turn away eight or nine out of every 10 people who seek assistance.

Banks said the Legal Aid Society could use the pro bono services of prospective lawyers on both the civil and criminal sides.

Legal services providers have long warned of a chronic shortage of lawyers available to represent low-income New Yorkers in legal matters such as foreclosures, evictions and Family Court proceedings. The poor economy has only made the problem worse, they say.

A Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services created by Lippman has estimated that the legal needs of only about one in five low-income New Yorkers, at best, are being served.

The judiciary put $25 million in the current 2012-13 state budget for civil legal services funding, twice as much as the previous fiscal year. It also included a separate $15 million in the budget for programs funded through the Interest on Lawyer Account Fund.

Lippman said most applicants will meet the pro bono work requirement with civil providers, but said criminal matters would also be acceptable.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who also spoke at the Law Day ceremony, called the pro bono requirement a "brilliant and innovative proposal."

He said that if he has learned one thing from his efforts at trying to prevent foreclosures since becoming attorney general, it is the crucial nature of having someone with legal knowledge advocating for property owners.

"If you can get a lawyer and you can get yourself in court, you can probably never be foreclosed on," Schneiderman said.