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?

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. Seminymous Coward says:

    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.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 3
  2. Rexter says:

    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.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 3
    • alex in chicago says:

      I think you overestimate the difficulty of this work. Most of their clients are going to lose no matter what (the facts are that they have a mortgage that they haven’t been paying).

      I did this work my summer after 1 year of law school and made no mistakes. Essentially you job is to:
      1. File stock motions that give your client some extra time in the house.
      2. File simple responses to the bank’s complaint and motions.
      3. If your client HAS paid his/her bills, submit the evidence + a motion for dismissal and easily win.

      All of this pro bono work on foreclosures is rubbish anyways because if you can read, you can do it yourself.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1
  3. Mordechai says:

    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).

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 1
    • CB says:

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

      You imagine wrong. Clinics are entirely optional and difficult to get into at most schools even for those who apply. My law school offered 32 spots a year for a graduating class of 150.

      Facts > imagination.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
      • Goldenlull says:

        Disagree. Most will have it done in law school. At my law school, anyone who wants to be in a clinic can do it–just have to enroll just like any other class, and they don’t usually fill to capacity. Depending on what exactly they count, I have literally done hundreds of “pro bono” hours in the last three years.

        Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3
  4. James says:

    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

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3
  5. Erik says:

    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?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 3
  6. Sam says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 36
    • Phil says:

      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.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 18
      • Kevin P. says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

        Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 34
    • FDUK says:

      Slavery, Really?

      Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4
  7. Burke says:

    Doctors already do multiple years of underpaid work for mostly state-supported patients…it’s called residency.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 3
    • Mango Punch says:

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

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
    • Travis says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

      Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 21
  8. SM says:

    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!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3
    • Jason says:

      It seems like, no matter how many obstacles are put in their path, people keep going to law school and joining the Bar. Yet, we have a glut of lawyers in this country. More lawyers make work for more lawyers = Market failure. A government intervention seems appropriate.

      Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4
    • Enter your name... says:

      I doubt it. Most people have a four-month gap between graduation and attempting the bar exam for the first time. If you did this during those months, it would take you just three hours a week, otherwise known as “less time than the average American spends watching television in one day”. (Also, you might learn things that were useful for passing the exam.)

      But there’s nothing in this post that says it has to be done before taking the exam, rather than in the week afterwards.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
      • Mr.T says:

        I completely agree with Travis because lawyers are paid high amounts so why not make them do it. Something that requires hard work makes the success all the much greater

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3