ALBANY – Responding to concerns voiced by law school deans, New York will give foreign master of law degree students more time to meet the requirement that new lawyers perform 50 hours of pro bono service before being admitted to the bar.
The Advisory Committee on New York State Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements has decided that the previous interpretation of the state pro bono rules giving LL.M. students as little as a year to fulfill the 50-hour requirement was too limited.
Under an updated guide to the new rules released on Aug. 26, the committee said pro bono work performed by foreign students one year before they begin their course of study will count toward meeting the 50-hour obligation for entry to the New York bar.
Court of Appeals Judge Victoria Graffeo, cochair of the committee, said the panel adopted the change based on comments it received during a meeting this spring with deans of the 15 law schools in New York state.
Graffeo, who cochairs the committee along with Cooley LLP partner Alan Levine, said the change was also based on comments from law school administrators outside New York since Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the pro bono requirement last year (NYLJ, May 2, 2012).
"Those schools that have graduate LL.M. programs had concerns about the short period of time students had to fulfill their 50 hours," Graffeo said.
LL.M. programs are typically completed by full-time students in one academic year, although there are a few exceptions in highly specialized and complex areas.
Lippman has said the pro bono requirement for prospective lawyers, which becomes effective for all new applicants to the New York state bar beginning on Jan. 1, 2015, is designed to provide badly needed help to legal services providers and to instill in lawyers a career-long sense of duty to donate their time to the poor.
While the state is giving candidates for the bar the three years it typically takes to complete a J.D. degree—plus the months between their graduation and when they have learned they passed the bar exam—the LL.M. programs present a compressed period for master's students to perform their pro bono duties, law schools said.
Graffeo said a large proportion of those seeking LL.M. degrees at New York law schools are from foreign countries. The state will allow them to do their pro bono duties in foreign countries or states outside New York if they provide affidavits that the work was done under the supervision of an attorney and concerned valid legal services to benefit the poor.
Trevor Morrison, the dean of New York University, praised the pro bono committee for "listening to the law schools' concerns and addressing them so constructively." Morrison said his predecessor, Richard Revesz, argued before the committee to give LL.M. students more time to fulfill the requirement.
"A number of law schools were concerned about the proposed pro bono service requirement for LL.M. candidates, because many of these students would have had difficulty in meeting the requirement during the eight months or so when they are here and not taking exams," Morrison said Friday.
NYU awarded LL.M.s in nine specialties to more than 500 students in 2013, by far the most of any law school in the state. Its LL.M. program dates to 1890.
Columbia Law School, with more than 250 LL.M. graduates this year, is also "pleased" that the Graffeo committee has expanded the time frame to meet the requirement, said Ellen Chapnick, Columbia's dean for social justice initiatives.
A task force within the New York County Lawyers' Association chaired by Catherine Ann Christian, an assistant Manhattan district attorney and former NYCLA president, is studying the pro bono requirement as it applies to LL.M. students. Christian said Friday the task force initially thought the committee was not giving LL.M. students enough time to meet the 50-hour requirement, even with the change announced on Aug. 26. But she said the panel is not so sure of its first impression and is reaching out to law schools both in New York and nationally to gather more information.
Among the other new information available in the updated FAQs issued by the committee to supersede those put out by the panel on Sept. 19, 2012, is elaboration on what the committee regards as adequate supervision, Graffeo said.
"Constant, physical presence of a supervisor during the performance of pro bono work may not be necessary, but supervision must be reasonable to the extent that adequate training, guidance, instruction and evaluation will be provided to assure that appropriate services are being performed," the committee explained.
@|Joel Stashenko can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tania Karas contributed to this story.