Starting next year, aspiring lawyers in New York will have to complete 50 hours of pro-bono law work before being admitted into the state bar.
Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, announced this new requirement last Tuesday. Lippman said the requirement will help provide those in need with necessary legal services because they will be represented by aspiring lawyers who are not taking pay for their work.
According to a report in The New York Times, the need for free legal aid for lower-income and middle-income families has increased throughout the course of the economic downturn as people try to get by with less. Legal issues with foreclosures, evictions, credit and employment problems have compounded the problem.
Lippman said he believes the requirement will instill volunteerism in lawyers throughout the length of their career.
“Not only will they get a tremendous lift in terms of hours directed toward pro-bono, it is my hope that that will carry over into their careers as lawyers,” he said in an interview with USA Today.
John Appelbaum, Harpur academic adviser for pre-law students and a law school graduate, said he is optimistic about the new requirement.
“I personally view it as a generally good idea and I think we have to wait and see how the courts of New York and the Bar Association … actually put it into practice,” Appelbaum said.
Appelbaum also said that the practice pro-bono work gives to lawyers-in-training is important and helpful, although he does foresee a potential flaw in the requirement.
“It’s certainly a good idea for lawyers to have practical experience or new lawyers to have practical experience in the law before they’re actually admitted,” Appelbaum said. “However, obviously you cannot represent clients as an attorney until you have been actually admitted into the bar.”
Shanise Kent, associate director of Binghamton University’s McNair Scholars Program and also a law school graduate, said that while the program is positive, it also imposes a burden on students.
“Candidates should be required to do pro-bono work, should have that hands-on legal experience,” Kent said. “And this is a great way to get more pro-bono and more legal services out there for people, but I also think it could be a burden too.”
Julia Mielczarek, a junior double-majoring in English and philosophy, politics and law, is planning to attend to law school, and said she does not see the requirement as being overly burdensome.
“The only thing that I feel may be a problem would be the time commitment itself, because law school is so rigorous,” she said. “But I feel that if it’s something you do over the summer when you’re not in class, I don’t see that being a problem.”
However, she said it is doubtful that the new rule will inspire lawyers to continue pro-bono service throughout their career.
“I think it’s just something that they’re going to see as a requirement,” Mielczarek said. “But it depends on the person also … I don’t know, I don’t see myself doing pro-bono after but then again I can’t say because I haven’t done it yet.”