Benkiran Law: ThumbnailJonathan Lippman, chief judge of the State of New York Court of Appeals – the state’s highest court – announced the details of a new rule requiring law students to perform 50 hours of pro bono work as a condition for getting a license to practice in New York. It is the first rule of its kind in the nation.

 

Details of the New Mandate

Law students must do pro bono work:

  • For the poor, nonprofit or civil right groups, or any of the 3 branches of government
  • Between the first year of law school and the time they apply for a license
  • Anywhere in the world, so long as it is under the supervision of a practicing lawyer, judge, or member of the law school faculty

The law goes into effect for new students January 1.

This law was proposed back in May by Judge Lippman as a way to address what he calls the “justice gap”, created by an increased demand for civil legal services brought on by the financial crisis and slow economy and a lack of resources to meet that demand. It helps to address the growing number of people who can not afford legal services, including those facing eviction, foreclosure, and domestic abuse.

A task force created by Judge Lippman to evaluate need in the state revealed that a vast majority of the legal needs of New York residents – 80 percent – was not being met. The Legal Aid Society, which provides a substantial portion of these services in the state, turns away 8 of every 9 people seeking help.

Judge Lippman says New York is setting a new standard: “We’re going to write the script nationally…I think what we’re doing will be replicated around the country.”

 

Controversy

The decision is not without its controversy. Opponents of the requirement say New York is trying to solve its problems by pushing the burden onto people who have no choice: young would-be lawyers, who may be just as poor as the people they are charged with serving and who are facing a remarkably difficult job market.

The requirement also affects those who have not yet been admitted to the bar, so by design, the needy will be helped by those who are yet unlicensed to practice law.

Perhaps there are better ways to answer New York’s legal problems? Or is this where it has ultimately come, considering the sheer volume of the cases that are not being attended to?

 

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Benkiran Believes in Service

We are in a service industry. We believe pro bono work – and service to the needy – should be a part of every lawyer’s service record. This pro bono requirement in New York raises important questions, and we will be following the issues surrounding it with interest.

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