A prospective lawyer who fails to meet the state’s new pro bono requirement for admission to the bar can seek a hardship waiver, but Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) said he expects few exemptions to be granted.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, all who seek admission to the New York bar will have to prove they performed at least 50 hours of supervised pro bono service for the poor (NYLJ, Sept. 20).
Lippman first outlined the requirement in May as a way to both provide more legal aid to poor New Yorkers and to instill a culture of public service among young lawyers.
He said in a recent interview that in the six months since he announced the pro bono requirement, he has not heard a good argument for why prospective lawyers cannot fulfill the mandate.
“I don’t believe by any reasonable standard that this is a great burden on law students in general,” Lippman said. “To tell any of us that you can’t do what in essence turns out to be seven days of pro bono over a two-and-a-half- or a three-and-a-half-year period, I just don’t see it as a barrier.”
Students who have not met the 50-hour requirement when seeking admission can petition the Appellate Division departments committees on character and fitness for a waiver, Lippman said.
Court of Appeals Rule 520.14 allows a waiver “where strict compliance will cause undue hardship to the applicant.” Applicants must file a verified petition “setting forth the applicant’s name, age and residence address, the facts relied upon [for seeking a waiver] and a prayer for relief,” under Rule 520.14.
Lippman, who devised the pro bono requirement and predicts it will make New York a bellwether for states seeking to promote public service among young lawyers, said he does not expect waivers to be commonly granted.
“It would have to be for pretty unusual circumstances,” Lippman said. “We think the instances where it would be invoked would be few and far between.”
Several legal observers, including Vincent Doyle, the past president of the New York State Bar Association, have said they were concerned that the pro bono requirement could burden, in particular, the part-time students working full-time jobs and often juggling the demands of married and family lives.
Nicholas Allard, dean of Brooklyn Law School, said working students are highly motivated, highly organized and “very mature.” They might need those attributes to meet the new mandate, he said.
Allard, who became dean at Brooklyn in July, said working students “are carrying an enormous amount on their shoulders. They have families, jobs, they might be working on projects through work, they have to make it to class…. For them, an extra burden could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Of Brooklyn’s 1,204 students, 172 are part-time.
Like Allard, New York Law School Dean Anthony Crowell supports the new pro bono requirement.
But Crowell said it will pose a challenge to all law schools to make more opportunities available, if not through work they perform in school-sponsored clinics, then through partnerships with organizations, government offices, private law firms and courts.
“The law schools are going to provide the framework for a student” to meet the requirement, said Crowell, who worked his way through American University Law School from 1994 to 1997 while a full-time employee with the International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C. “Law schools are going to have a vested interest in building a relationship with outside non-profits, outside governments.”
New York Law School announced on Sept. 19, the same day Lippman revealed the details of the 50-hour pro bono requirement, that it will create a Pro Bono Initiative to establish opportunities for students to meet the mandate.
Crowell credits working on legislation before Congress and on amicus curiae briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the International City/County Management Association, an advocacy group for town, city and county managers, with steering him into a legal career in government once he earned his law degree.
Crowell went from the municipal officials’ organization to a position as assistant corporation counsel in New York City. He was later counsel and senior adviser to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg before his appointment as dean earlier this year.
Crowell said working while a student opened his eyes to career paths he might not have taken and he counsels students to capitalize on the legal possibilities of jobs with their current employers.
“First and foremost, I tell them to look within to see if there is an opportunity to do legal work for their own employers,” Crowell said in an interview.
Two of New York’s 15 law schools, Touro and Columbia, currently require students to fulfill a 40-hour pro-bono requirement before getting their law degrees.
‘Part of Being a Lawyer’
Cory Morris, a 26-year-old third-year student at Touro, calculates that he has completed at least 250 hours of pro bono while working full-time since enrolling in 2010. That service has varied from an internship with the New York Civil Liberties Union to representing clients seeking unemployment insurance benefits to participating in the roaming legal services clinic Touro operates annually on the Gulf Coast of the United States for poor residents, he said.
“Psychologists and social workers must complete a requisite amount of hours before they can be licensed, medical doctors must complete residency requirements, teachers must student-teach before teaching on their own,” said Morris, who’s on track to graduate from Touro in December 2012. “As far as I am concerned, this is part of becoming a professional. Pro bono is part of being a lawyer.”
Another working Touro student, Bryan Bryks, 27, said he has learned to juggle his employment and school schedules while handling the 40-hour pro bono requirement.
Bryks, who is on track to graduate in July 2014, said the dedication and the organizational skills of students will dictate their commitment to pro bono following their admission to the bar.
“I have a strong propensity towards helping others and I will never stop assisting where I can,” Bryks said. “I am confident that no matter how many hours are dedicated to pro bono work in school or how early one starts, the individual’s personality will dictate the effort and quality of their community contributions.”
Lawrence Raful, the former dean at Touro, will serve as an unpaid coordinator to implement the requirement among law schools, student groups, pro bono service providers and the Unified Court System (NYLJ, Oct. 1).
Raful said he was selected by Lippman and A. Gail Prudenti, the chief administrative judge of the courts, in part because of Touro’s 25-year experience with a pro bono requirement.
Raful said part-time students may have to “put in a couple of Saturdays and take a couple of vacation days” from their jobs, but he said with the help of their law schools, they should find opportunities to make their 50 hours.
Of Touro’s 805 students, 225 are part-time.
Cornell Law School Dean Stewart Schwab said that while the pro bono requirement is admirable in concept, he questioned whether the burden should fall primarily on the shoulders of the students and the law schools.
“Some say ‘mandatory pro bono’ is an oxymoron,” Schwab said. “I personally think there is something to that.”
Schwab said Cornell wants to instill a “sense of professionalism” and a sensitivity toward public service in its students.
“But our mission is to educate the student in scholarly research and thinking,” Schwab said. “While this [pro bono requirement] is good, access to justice is not the prime mission of law schools.”
The Nassau County Bar Association issued a report on the requirement based largely on opposition to the idea of mandating the donation of a lawyer’s time. Marian Rice, president of the bar group, noted that Lippman did not extend a pro bono requirement to licensed lawyers because he believes the legal profession in New York is already doing its fair share voluntarily.
“We don’t think mandatory pro bono should be imposed on any attorney, whether they are admitted or not yet admitted,” said Rice, a partner at L’Abbate, Balkan, Colavita & Contini in Garden City. “I don’t see how you legislate, or should legislate, good works.”
Rice said the pro bono requirement may drive up the cost of law school even further.
“They are going to be very difficult for night students who are working their way through school to manage,” Rice said. “At the end of the day, the infrastructure for the requirement is going to fall on the law schools. If the schools have to hire faculty to supervise this, the logical assumption is that it will trickle down into tuition costs.”
Joel Stashenko is a reporter for the New York Law Journal, a Legal affiliate.