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by Rachel Marx Boufford | September 20, 2012


Back in May, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced that New York would become the first state to require lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono work before being licensed to practice. The announcement set off a flurry of both praise and criticism. While supporters applauded a renewed focus on justice issues within the legal profession, others worried about the quality of legal services that would be provided by unwilling practitioners and pointed out that the requirement might unfairly burden recent graduates trying to find employment.

One of the biggest concerns at the time of the announcement was how the requirement would work in practice. How would students be supervised? How would they go about finding appropriate opportunities? Would the work have to be performed in New York?

Yesterday, Judge Lippman announced the details of the state’s new pro bono requirement, which goes into effect January 1 of next year. Here, a guide to the requirement—and how it will affect you.

  • Who is affected by the requirement? The rule applies to all attorneys admitted to the New York state bar on or after January 1, 2015. That means that current 1Ls and 2Ls planning to practice in New York will have to meet the requirement.
  • What type of work satisfies the requirement? In order to qualify, the work must be legal in nature, unpaid, and provided to individuals with “limited means,” not-for-profit organizations or government entities. The work cannot be performed by participating in “partisan political activities,” so volunteering for a local campaign won’t cut it.
  • Where can the work be performed? Time to renew your passport: pro bono services anywhere in the world satisfy the requirement.
  • When must the work be performed? Pro bono work satisfies the requirement if it is undertaken any time after starting law school but before applying for admission to the bar. Another great reason to sign up for a clinic while you’re in school!
  • What other requirements apply? Your pro bono project must be supervised by a law school professor, a practicing attorney or a judge. Your supervisor will have to sign an affidavit certifying that you completed the work.

50 hours might seem like a lot, but the requirement is fairly easy to fulfill if you tackle it while in law school by participating in a clinic or student practice organization or by working for a public interest organization during 1L summer. However, if you leave the requirement until after graduation, scrambling to do pro bono work while studying for the bar is a sure-fire way to ruin your summer!

What do you think about the new pro bono requirement? Let us know in the comments, or @VaultLaw!