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New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said he would make pro bono a requirement and as of Thursday that's the law of the land in the Empire State.
The rule makes aspiring New York lawyers complete 50 hours of pro bono work before they can be admitted to the New York State Bar Association. That's of course in addition to graduating from an accredited law school, passing the bar exam, the MPRE, and showing 'good moral character.'
The requirement will affect lawyers seeking admission in 2015 which means law students already have to hop-to if they don't want to delay their admission.
All 1L and 2L students who are hoping to practice law in New York will be affected by the new requirement since they will be admitted to the bar after 2015 if they graduate on time. This gives them two years to start preparing for the requirement.
Lippman announced the additional task as a way to deal with the lack of legal services available in the state.
While New York State provides millions of dollars to fund legal service programs, only 20% of the need for civil legal services is being met, reports Reuters. Lippman was hopeful that this program would help and estimated that it would provide an additional 500,000 of pro bono hours each year.
But his estimate may be overly optimistic. Many students already participate in pro bono programs either through school-run clinics or legal aid offices. At least 21 law schools across the country require students to do pro-bono work to graduate, reports The Wall Street Journal.
While those students may start counting their hours for the requirement, it won't add to the total amount of pro bono in the state.
Still, with 15,000 applicants to the New York Bar last year, the added pro bono hours will be nothing to sneeze at.
New York only has reciprocity with 36 states which means many lawyers who want to practice in New York must sit the state bar exam before they can be admitted to practice. Whether and when those attorneys will also have to perform pro-bono hours remains to be seen.