Pro Bono Work Now Required to Pass NY Bar

By Edward Tan, JD on May 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Becoming a New York lawyer just got a little tougher. Aspiring attorneys will now be required to do pro bono work in order to pass the NY bar, Reuters reports.

This is on top of the state's already tough two-day exam. Applicants will have to volunteer at least 50 hours of free legal services as part of admission to the bar. The initiative will take effect in 2013, so 2012 examinees can breathe a sigh of relief. The requirement's goal is to provide more legal services to the growing number of poor people.

New York's requirement is the first of its kind in the nation. But could it also be the beginning of sweeping pro bono reform for the rest of the country?

It might just be. Right now, 21 law schools require its students to perform pro bono work as a condition to graduate. Like New York, the reason is to meet the needs of those who can't afford representation.

The ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct also recommends attorneys give at least 50 hours of free legal services a year. Every state's bar association makes similar recommendations, as well.

And for good reason. In New York alone, only about 20 percent of the need for legal services for the poor is being met, according to New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

The rest of the country isn't faring much better. There is always a need for more pro bono work. However, with the ever-increasing cost of law school, finding time to volunteer isn't high on most attorneys' priority list. It's easy to put off.

With 10,000 applicants passing the NY bar each year, the new requirement should net the state about 500 million pro bono hours annually. That should help fulfill much of the demand. And it probably won't be long before other states recognize this as an easy fix, too.

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