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How often do you have an opportunity to help others in need, fulfill a professional obligation and obtain Continuing Legal Education credit all at once? With the new amendment to the New York CLE rules you can do just that. Lawyers can now earn up to six hours of CLE credits during a two-year period for doing pro bono work. This rule change is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2000, so if you volunteered earlier this year and met the requirements, at the risk of sounding like Ed McMahon, you may have already earned some CLE credits. While many of us volunteer for its own reward, it certainly does not hurt to pick up a few CLE credits along the way. This new rule is a clear recognition that doing pro bono work can be a valuable educational experience. Pro bono lawyers often handle cases in areas of law outside of their usual sphere of experience. In those instances they may receive special training or mentoring assistance by a pro bono program. Also, a number of pro bono programs offer free training in exchange for a lawyer taking a pro bono case. Much of the credit for the enactment of this rule belongs to New York’s Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who introduced and strongly supported the amendment. Kaye has been a tireless booster of pro bono participation, and New York is now one of only a few states to have enacted a rule allowing CLE credit for it. There is a tremendous need for volunteer lawyers and very few concrete ways to encourage greater participation. A recent survey showed that 47 percent of the lawyers in New York state reported doing some pro bono work. While we can be proud that so many lawyers are volunteering, more than half are still not meeting their professional obligation. This proposal arms pro bono programs with something they can offer lawyers beyond the rewards of helping others. Surveys have shown that the pro bono participation rate for lawyers in New York has remained constant during the past decade, so a creative kick start, like granting CLE credit, may help to boost that rate. THE NEW RULE Before you start counting those pro bono hours, you should know a few things about this new rule. Your volunteer work must be done pursuant to an assignment either by the court or a CLE-accredited program of a bar association, legal services provider or other entity. Therefore, if you have forgone a client’s fee or provided legal assistance to someone through a program that is not CLE-certified for this purpose, those hours are not eligible. Only pro bono service in New York through a CLE-accredited program will qualify, and it must be service directly to low-income clients. If the case meets those qualifications, you may receive one credit hour of CLE for every six hours of legal work performed. It now makes more sense than ever not only to volunteer but to do so through an established pro bono or legal services program. A recent survey conducted by the Office of Court Administration found that a large percentage of lawyers in fact do not obtain pro bono clients through a pro bono program. This is unfortunate because there are some significant benefits to doing so. These programs properly screen clients for legal issues and financial eligibility so you are less likely to wind up with a client or legal issue that does not suit your experience and does not qualify for CLE credit. In addition, the programs can provide training, mentoring services and malpractice insurance. New York has some of the finest pro bono programs in the country, and there are now more ways than ever to find one that can help you take advantage of the benefits of this new CLE rule. The Association of the Bar of the City of New York publishes a pro bono opportunities guide that lists more than 70 programs throughout the city. You can obtain the guide by calling 382-6629, or contacting the New York State Bar Association at (518) 487-5641. You can also obtain the guide by visiting the City Bar’s Web site at www.abcny.org. Another valuable pro bono Internet site is probono.net. Finally, you can visit the New York State Bar Association’s Web site at www.nysba.org for references to all of these sites and for information on volunteer opportunities outside of New York City, including Long Island and Westchester. To many lawyers who already volunteer, this new CLE benefit will be a windfall. However, for those who have only been considering it, it may tip the scales toward taking a pro bono case. If the rule change has that impact, then it will be a winning combination not only for those lawyers but for the clients who will be helped.

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