New Lawyers in New York Must Give First 50 Hours Free


(Photo: Jorge Martínez)

Fascinating article in today’s Times, by Anne Barnard:

Starting next year, New York will become the first state to require lawyers to perform unpaid work before being licensed to practice, the state’s chief judge announced on Tuesday, describing the rule as a way to help the growing number of people who cannot afford legal services.

The approximately 10,000 lawyers who apply to the New York State Bar each year will have to demonstrate that they have performed 50 hours of pro bono work to be admitted, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said. He said the move was intended to provide about a half-million hours of badly needed legal services to those with urgent problems, like foreclosure and domestic violence.

I have no idea how this will play out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the new measure produces a few unintended consequences. Will it, e.g., discourage some lawyers from applying to the New York Bar? Will the flood of pro bono work from inexperienced lawyers actually produce the desired result? Will there arise a market in swapping/buying/fraudulently claiming pro bono hours? I am sure some people will frame this measure as a tax on lawyers, New York-style. And it will be interesting to see whether/when other states follow.

Also: what would happen if newly minted doctors were similarly seconded into pro-bono work?

Seminymous Coward

To hear them talk, 50 hours is about how much a new lawyer at a big NY firm works on a normal Tuesday, so I don't think it'll have a major impact.


OK, here's the plan: We gonna have a bunch unlicensed "lawyers", with zero experience, try to save your home from foreclosure. Sure, they might f**k it up, but they'll f**k it up for free!! The bar calls it pro bono, but it's more like amatuer bono.


I imagine a lot of new lawyers will have pro bono hours from time spent in clinic during Law School.

And doctors work well over 50 hours 'pro bono' before they can practice - it's called 'residency' (OK, not literally).


I wouldnt mind a stipulation in this law stating that the work had to be done for currently enrolled full time students. Thats an interesting twist on the legal system


Perfect. Why give those in need of legal aid licensed, experienced representation when you can let them rely on glorified law students that aren't even admitted to the bar?

NY requires practicing, licensed attorneys to take continuing legal education. Why not make them do pro bono work instead?


Isn't this a form of slavery?


Of course not. You can choose to do pro-bono work or not. And New York can choose to let you practice law there or not.

Kevin P.

Amendment 13:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

It makes sense that a statist state like New York would impose slavery upon those trying to exercise their right to livelihood.


Doctors already do multiple years of underpaid work for mostly state-supported's called residency.

Mango Punch

And before they even enter residency they intern at hospitals where they do pro bono work and still pay for medical school...


All jokes aside, this adds what could potentially be another financial burden on recent grads. I know many freshly minted JDs have to take off jobs to support themselves while studying for the bar, and this may stretch them too thin and jeapordize their ability to pass the bar!


How about anyone that got through University thanks to a state/federal scholarship to give 50 hours of pro-bono work?


Didn't anyone else here have a community service requirement to graduate high school and/or college? 50 hours ain't that much. If it doesn't work, they can nix it.


Teaser rate ...

Mr. Pro Bono, (almost) Esq. gives an indigent person three hours of legal service helping her (for example) rescue her house to foreclosure. Two weeks later, some follow-up is required. Mr. Pro Bono, (now fully) Esq. says, "I'll be glad to file those papers. Please send me a $1,000 retainer and I'll get started."

Robert Payne

You know what 'Residency' is right? Its so little money as to basically be Pro-Bono - its not a living wage that's for sure.

Carolyn Elefant

There will be a flood of lawyers - we've seen this before. Also, why are we dumping on newbies?

Eric M. Jones.

WTF? Is this "Be Kind to Lawyers Week"? What gives?

R Sun

This is like an unpaid internship: only those who do not want for money can afford to do it.


I dealt with new lawyers for a long time and the learning curve is just too steep. They don't know when to stand up for their clients or themselves. Even the simple stuff is just something they don't have any hands on experience with. Now, these are bright people and after about 12 months in their environment, they usually turn into subject matter experts, and after that they can pick up new things rather quickly as well. There are a lot of second-year associates who wouldn't mind stretching their skills in this manner, but a client is probably only marginally better off with a new lawyer. It's also okay if they're working with a seasoned hand, but it's also been my experience that older lawyers often believe in a "do what you're told" attitude rather than taking the natural enthusiasm and knowledge of their new hires and seeing what they think before pushing them in the right direction.


Mango Punch

"Also: what would happen if newly minted doctors were similarly seconded into pro-bono work?"

Because interning isn't pro-bono work?