New York State Adopts Pro Bono Requirement

Human Rights First welcomes the recent announcement that applicants to the New York State bar will be required to complete 50 hours of pro bono service before they will be admitted to practice law. The Honorable Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York and the Court of Appeals, unveiled the specific requirements, which apply to anyone seeking admission to the New York bar, except for applications made pursuant to Rule 520.10 or  520.11. The rule, which was adopted earlier this month by the New York Court of Appeals, applies to individuals who will submit applications for admission after January 1, 2015. According to the press release issued last week by the New York State Unified Court System, the requirement is pursuant to new Rule 520.16, which mandates that applicants for admission demonstrate the completion of 50 hours of “qualifying pro bono service.” While some law schools in the area already require that their students perform a certain number of hours of pro bono work before they graduate, New York is the first state in the nation to introduce this requirement for all applicants seeking to practice law in the state. The qualifying services can be performed anywhere in the United States or abroad, as long as they comply with the other aspects of the rule, including, but not limited to, the following requirements:

  • The pro bono work must be law-related
  • The services must be performed under the supervision of an attorney, a judge, or a member of a law school faculty
  • The work should aim to improve access to justice for low-income or disadvantaged individuals whose unmet legal needs prevent their access to justice

For more detailed information on the requirements, see the New York State Unified Court System’s pro bono information page. Among the examples of qualifying pro bono work listed in the press release are services that advocate for victims of alleged human rights violations, which include the representation of immigrants and asylum seekers. As the Honorable Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recognized last year, the state of immigration representation in our country is in a “dire crisis.” Judge Katzmann has explained that the “sheer number of immigrants in need of competent legal representation is so large as to suggest that the legal profession must do more . . . to expand pro bono assistance.” This new rule is a step in the right direction. Human Rights First matches indigent asylum seekers with lawyers and participants in law school clinics who represent them on a pro bono basis. We are honored to have received the Leon Levy Fellowship, which was created with the help of Judge Katzmann’s Study Group on Immigrant Representation to increase quality pro bono representation of indigent asylum seekers in New York. Through that fellowship, we have increased our ability to provide pro bono counsel to asylum seekers. Working on asylum cases provides a great opportunity for applicants to the New York State bar – who may represent asylum seekers under the supervision of an admitted attorney – to meet the 50-hour pro bono requirement while helping to meet the tremendous need for high quality legal representation of refugees. For more information about Human Rights First’s pro bono program, click here. Law students who are interested in meeting their pro bono requirement through assistance to indigent asylum seekers should consult Human Rights First’s website for a listing of internship positions, which provide work opportunities that qualify for pro bono credit under the new rule.


Published on September 28, 2012


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