The Results Are In…

For the past four months the legal world has been wondering what the New York rule requiring 50 hours of pro bono for admission would say:  Would clinical hours count? When would the rule take effect?   Would pro bono work done out of state meet the requirement?  Possibly the greatest area of concern surrounded how pro bono would be defined.  Last week the full details of the requirement were released, answering all of these questions. Future lawyers can now begin planning on how best to accomplish the task.

The new rule (Section 520.16) applies to applicants who seek admission on or after January 1, 2015 and is closely in line with ABA Model Rule 6.1. Like Model Rule 6.1, Section 520.16 defines pro bono as work that assists in the provision of legal services, without fee, for persons of limited means, non-profit organizations and individuals or organizations seeking to promote or secure access to justice. The rule also provides for service through work with the judiciary.

The rules differ in two main areas: First, section 520.16 expands its definition of pro bono to include clinical work which traditionally has been considered separate and distinct from pro bono in the law school context. Second, Section 520.16 includes any type of non profit whereas Model Rule 6.1 specifies organizations “designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means.”

The rule also allows admission seekers to perform pro bono in any of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or any foreign country. This provision expands the reach of this rule beyond the borders of New York State and could potentially increase pro bono participation across the country. Any law student or practicing attorney from another state who wishes to sit for the New York state bar will also need to participate in pro bono service. This not only encourages participation on a larger scale but forces law schools across the country to assess the quality of pro bono support they provide their students.

Despite the decision not to distinguish between clinical work and pro bono, or the failure to distinguish service for non-profits that serve persons of limited means, section 520.16 seems be on the right path to the expansion of pro bono in the United States. There has been concern about the potential stresses to infrastructure this new rule creates but every ABA accredited law school has long had a requirement that they offer substantial opportunities for pro bono. (See Accreditation Standard 302(b)(2)). This coupled with the fact that the rule encompasses clinical programming should alleviate any real fear that law schools and local programs will be over stressed by the new requirement.

One issue that may arise from the inclusion of service outside of Model Rule 6.1’s definition of pro bono is the effect on law schools with mandatory pro bono programs.  Several New York law schools, as well as many law schools across the country, have mandatory pro bono programs. These programs often define pro bono more similarly to Model Rule 6.1 and do not include clinical or judicial work within that definition.  This new expanded definition for New York Bar admission creates a challenge for those institutions that require more of their students than the bar set by Section 520.16.

Section 520.16 seems to be a step in the right direction. By increasing the number of students and new lawyers who participate in pro bono, the legal profession encourages future participation and, hopefully, improves access to justice for the thousands of individuals who are denied such access on a daily basis.

Now that you’ve gotten the details on this requirement, what are your thoughts as to its implementation? Share your opinion in the comments below.

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