Bar Exams, Pro Bono, Public Interest, State Judges

New York Announces the Specifics of the New Pro Bono Requirement — and They’re Actually Not That Bad!

Back in May, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York Court of Appeals announced that a new bar admission hurdle would be foisted upon would-be lawyers in the state, in the form of a 50-hour pro bono requirement.

It was at that point that people started losing their minds. Some likened the decree to indentured servitude, while others called it “utterly wrongheaded.” Even law schools were pissed off about the requirement, citing worries that the requirement constituted a “significant barrier to entry” to those who attended law school outside of New York State.

Now, just four months later, Judge Lippman has unveiled the details of his pro bono plan — and, to tell you the truth, they’re really not that bad. What’s in store for future New York bar examinees?

Here’s the timetable for the implementation of Judge Lippman’s new rule, according to the New York Law Journal:

The first-in-the-nation requirement will take effect immediately for first- and second-year law students, who will have up to 34 months to fulfill the mandate. Current third-years are exempt.

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, every applicant to the bar will be required to fulfill the requirement.

Law students, you’re on notice — except for 3Ls, who get away scot-free! (Those waiting on their July 2012 bar exam results are also presumably off the hook for this new requirement.)

In other news, remember how Judge Lippman said that he’d prefer that all pro bono work take place in New York? It looks like out-of-staters just lucked out, because according to the new rule, 22 NYCRR § 520.16, your pro bono hours can be completed anywhere on the planet. Judge Lippman agreed that it was “logistically too difficult to require everyone to come into New York and to mandate them to do [pro bono work] here.”

In addition, Judge Lippman’s edict won’t require anyone to do additional work if they’ve already completed the requisite number of hours through a law school clinic or summer internship. If you haven’t done any public service in your career as a law student, well… it appears that you’re screwed. Sorry!

Will this force some people to bend over backwards to complete the new pro bono requirement? Definitely. Is this an optimal plan? Eh. In the words of Stewart Schwab, dean of Cornell Law School, “[i]t’s much better than it could have been,” and that’s really all that counts.

(To see the entirety of New York’s new pro bono rule for admission to the bar, flip through to the next page.)

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