Top Judge Makes Free Legal Work Mandatory for Joining State Bar


To help the many who cannot afford legal services, New York will become the first state to require lawyers to perform unpaid work before being licensed to practice.
News Story (New York)

Anne Barnard
New York Times (NYT)
May 1, 2012
Link to story

Tags: Benefits of Legal Aid, Domestic Violence, Housing: Foreclosure, Legal Needs, Pro Bono

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Society (New York City), Pro Bono Institute


DETAILS

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.
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The Legal Aid Society, the nation’s largest provider of free legal services, turns away eight of every nine people seeking help with civil legal matters, said Steven Banks, the New York group’s attorney in chief. Since the economic downturn began in 2008, Mr. Banks said, requests for assistance have jumped 40 percent for health care issues, 54 percent for unemployment insurance and work-related problems, 16 percent for domestic violence and “a stunning 800 percent” for foreclosures.

While criminal defendants have a constitutional right to free legal representation, defendants in civil cases — as well as people who need legal help for essential needs like applying for disability benefits — do not.