New York Changes Pro Bono Rules for In-House Attorneys

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on December 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a decisive move, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, of the New York Court of Appeals announced a rule change that affects in-house attorneys, and their ability to do pro bono work, reports The New York Times. And we're left wondering, will other states follow suit?

The New Rule

The New York rule allows attorneys who are not admitted to the NY Bar, but who work in corporate law departments in the state, to do pro bono work. The sole requirements are that the attorney is admitted to another state bar, and in good standing, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Chief Judge Lippman stated: "These are some of the best most talented lawyers in our state, and in our country ... So many of them are not necessarily from New York or admitted here, but yet their corporations are committed to the work," reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Anticipated Effect

The new rule took effect last week, on December 4, 2013, and it's anticipated that as a result of the new rule, 5,000 to 10,000 attorneys may be added to the pro bono pool of attorneys.

The reaction to the rule has been positive; Vice President and Chief Legal Strategist of the Association of Corporate Counsel stated: "In-house counsel in New York will no longer face any unnecessary restrictions as they look for ways to give back to individuals, families and non-profit organizations that rely on free legal advice." President and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute ("PBI"), Esther F. Lardent, also lauded the new rule proclaiming: "With thousands of in-house counsel coming from all around the country to work in the state, this is a huge victory for access to justice and the organizations and clients that stand to benefit."

Wider Reach

While pro bono work is an important part of a lawyer's ethical obligations and responsibilities, New York is only the fourth state to change its pro bono rules, and follows the lead of Colorado, Illinois, and Virginia according to the PBI. However, in most other states, "[m]ultijurisdictional practice rules pose a significant obstacle for many in-house attorneys participating in pro bono activities," according to Corporate Pro Bono. Hopefully, as the efficacy of this practice is recognized, more states will change their pro bono rules.

Would you take on more pro bono cases if a rule similar to New York's was adopted in your state? Let us know on LinkedIn.

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