New pro-bono rule fills need for legal services

October 1, 2012

Earlier this month, the New York State Court of Appeals adopted a new state rule that will go into effect in 2015. The rule says New York lawyers are obligated to perform 50 hours of pro bono work before receiving their license to practice law in the state.

The requirement aims to provide the destitute with access to legal resources, enhance the quality of the public sector and improve the legal system at large. And now underrepresented litigants will have a greater
opportunity to mount an adequate defense.

The benefits could potentially extend beyond satisfying the need of underrepresented litigants: the state of New York will receive 50 hours of free legal services for each recent law graduate, resulting in money saved in the state budget. The state can use the saved money to meet other public service demands.

Regardless of career ambitions, this rule brings a diverse group of potential lawyers into the public sector to serve those most in need of legal representation. Due to a lack of financial incentives, the most skilled usually set their sights on more lucrative private jobs, leaving thousands of public cases on the shoulders of a few lawyers. These public defenders cannot adequately serve the constitutional rights of these individuals, not because of a lack of skill, but because of an overwhelming caseload.

Thus, the new rule would directly serve a dire need for representation. Only 20 percent of legal needs are currently being met in New York City, despite the fact that funding for legal services doubled this last year to $25 million dollars.

However, there are concerns regarding the level of dedication overworked law students will realistically give to the venture, even though many have attested to having engaged in pro bono work that already exceeded the 50 hour prerequisite. But young lawyers will most likely view this as an opportunity to build their profile and gain experience and exposure. All in all, the new rule will provide the state with both money and services that go right back to helping fellow New Yorkers.

A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 1 print edition. Email the WSN editorial board at edboard@nyunews.com. 

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