September 20, 2012
NY Court of Appeals Formally Adopts Pro Bono Requirement For Bar Admission
I wrote last May about the 50 hour pro bono requirement the New York Court of Appeals planned to put in place for bar applicants in New York State. The Court announced its formal rule last week and included an explanatory document on the rule. Some of the relevant details about the rule include that the pro bono requirement will go in effect for anyone seeking admission to the bar after January 1, 2015:
Based on successful passage of the bar examination, any applicant who seeks admission to practice in New York after January 1, 2015 must satisfy the 50-hour requirement. By way of example, any student commencing legal studies at an ABA-approved law school in the Fall of 2012, or any time after that date, will be required to satisfy the Pro Bono Requirement before admission to the New York bar. The requirement need not be fulfilled before a law student applies to take the New York bar examination; rather, the 50 hours must be completed before filing an application for admission.
This essentially affects students starting classes this year, assuming they plan on taking the New York Bar exam. The rule states that the 50 hours could be fulfilled in any of the 50 states and the District of Columbia or even in a foreign country provided the service complies with the rule requirements. There are additional requirements to explain why the service was performed outside of the United States. Students will need to be supervised and will be required to fill out a Form Affidavit of Compliance for each separate project. As the Court made the distinction of the dates between taking the bar exam and admission to the bar, it also noted that the bar exam results are good for three years. A student or applicant who fails to fulfill the pro bono requirement in that time will not receive a waiver. That individual will have to retake the exam.
The Court stated what types of projects would qualify:
Other parts of the document emphasize the use of legal skills as a key component. Time spent photocopying or other incidental tasks do not qualify as pro bono time. Some clinical academic work for credit can apply, as well as some limited circumstances where the student receives a stipend. The rule specifically excludes partisan political activities from applying to the pro bono requirement. Speaking of partisan political activities, the Court was silent on whether the recipients of the pro bono work should feel “entitled” to this “government program.” [MG]
In general, qualifying pro bono work should be performed in the service of low-income or disadvantaged individuals who cannot afford counsel and whose unmet legal needs prevent their access to justice; involves the use of legal skills for an organization that qualifies as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code §501(c)(3); or involves the use of legal skills for the court system or federal, state or local government agencies or legislative bodies.