New York State recently approved new requirements mandating that attorneys report their annual pro bono work in order to register for the bar. While many feel that this type of disclosure will encourage attorneys to perform more charitable work and increase access for legal representation for clients with low incomes, some see the regulation as the first step on the road towards mandatory pro bono work.
The new reporting requirements were approved by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and the presiding justices of the Appellate Division’s four departments. Lippman previously headed the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services, which also recommended increasing the voluntary pro bono goal from 20 hours to 50 hours in New York, which was also approved and implemented. New York’s attorneys currently contribute a total of 2.5 million pro bono hours a year, which averages out to 66 hours of free legal service provided by each of the state’s attorneys.
New York Law Journal reports that the new regulation will hopefully lead lawyers to contribute either their own time or their financial support towards pro bono providers. “I think it’s a moral and ethical obligation,” said Lippman. “I think it’s not unreasonable to say, ‘Gee, you know, I don’t have the time but I do want to make the contribution.’”
Lippman explained that the impetus for requiring the reporting of pro bono work is that similar requirements in other states are linked to increases in the number of pro bono hours or funds contributed.
However, many attorneys are questioning the new regulation, as some are saying it is a prelude to mandatory pro bono requirements, and others are saying that pro bono work, like charity, is the giver’s personal business, and should not be shared with the government.
New York State Bar President Seymour James Jr. told New York Law Journal, “The chief judge has assured us and said publicly in convincing terms that he does not intend to impose mandatory pro bono.”
Marian Rice, the president of the Nassau County Bar Association, was critical of the new reporting regulation, saying “The charitable efforts of these attorneys should not be subject to mandatory disclosure. It is wrong to legislate charity; and charity that takes place under compulsion of public disclosure is hardly charity at all.”