Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Focuses On The Impact Of Chief Judge's Rule Change To Allow Out-Of-State Attorneys To Help Low-Income Families
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2013

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's rule change to allow out-of-state corporate lawyers to provide legal assistance to low-income families and individuals will provide additional help in New York State where the need for civil legal aid is overwhelming. “It’s a very real problem that confronts low-income families and individuals,” Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief, told the New York Times. “The need is really limitless.”

Banks said the demand for legal help in New York City has risen dramatically since Hurricane Sandy struck last year. The New York Times reported that the Society helped about 48,000 people with civil matters last year, including foreclosures, immigration problems, evictions and wage disputes. Banks told the Times that the Society turned eight times as many away because of a lack of resources.




The New York Times
December 2, 2013
Rule Change Could Ease ‘Justice Gap’ for the Poor
By James C. McKinley, Jr.

Lawyers who work for big corporations in New York but are not licensed to practice law in the state will be allowed to do pro bono work under a new rule meant to ease an acute shortage of legal representation for the poor, the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, announced on Monday.

The rule change, which takes effect on Wednesday, is the latest in a series of measures that Judge Lippman has championed in recent years to reduce what he calls “the justice gap.” New York is the fourth state to let out-of-state lawyers working as counsel for corporations offer their services to the poor, without restrictions.

Speaking at New York University Law School, Judge Lippman said the Legal Aid Society and similar charities were only able to provide lawyers to one in five of the impoverished people who seek help with legal matters. At the same time, he said, thousands of in-house corporate lawyers in New York City are prevented from volunteering, because while they have been admitted to the bar in other states, they are not licensed to practice in New York. He estimated the new rule would allow nonprofit legal services to tap a reservoir of about 5,000 volunteers.

“There is such a tremendous talent pool that we will be unleashing with this rule,” Judge Lippman said. “This is a group that wants to contribute. Why should we be putting obstacles in their way?”

Providing help to the indigent in civil cases has become Judge Lippman’s signature issue, and will likely underpin his legacy after he retires in 2015. He set aside $55 million in the current budget for such services, and has taken steps to encourage lawyers to take on more civil pro bono cases, requiring law students to put in 50 hours of volunteer work before taking the bar exam and making law firms file biannual reports showing how much charitable work they have done.

Because the shortage of pro bono lawyers has been the most severe in civil courts, that is where Judge Lippman put his efforts, he said. But the new rule would allow out-of-state lawyers working as in-house counsel in New York to work on criminal cases as well.

The measure has broad support, not only from the state and city bar associations, but also from several big businesses seeking to burnish their public images. The committee that helped draft the rule included senior counsel for PepsiCo, Verizon, Xerox and Pfizer.

“Just because we are corporate lawyers doesn’t mean we don’t want to help the needy,” said David H. Brill, president of the New York Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief at the Legal Aid Society, said the demand for legal help in New York City has risen dramatically since Hurricane Sandy struck last year.

The society helped about 48,000 people with civil matters last year, including foreclosures, immigration problems, evictions and wage disputes. Mr. Banks estimated the group turned eight times as many away.

“It’s a very real problem that confronts low-income families and individuals,” he said. “The need is really limitless.”