New York's Pro Bono Requirement:
Legal Professionals Doing Justice and Doing Good

     

One year ago in January 2013, New York State launched an innovative solution to address a continuing crisis in access to justice. The New York Court of Appeals created a requirement that all applicants to the state bar must perform 50 hours of pro bono work before they are permitted to practice law. “Pro bono” which in Latin means “for good,” has become synonymous in the United States with access to justice – a lawyer’s responsibility to “do good” by assisting vulnerable people to “do justice.”  The new pro bono rule will help provide free legal aid to the more than two million unrepresented litigants in New York each year while fostering a culture of public service and volunteerism among new lawyers.

If replicated elsewhere, New York's innovative approach could help address the diverse challenges to the provision of legal services in jurisdictions around the world. In countries like Bangladesh, where NCSC is currently working to improve access to justice, many poor litigants and vulnerable groups like women and minorities do not have access to legal aid, and pro bono legal services are virtually non-existent. By following New York's example, other jurisdictions can integrate a culture of volunteerism into legal education, and encourage lawyers to contribute their time to ensure that all citizens have equitable access to justice. NCSC President Mary McQueen said, "Pro bono programs like the New York Pro Bono Rule provide lawyers with the basic foundation for doing justice in their communities to improve access to justice and guarantee public trust and confidence in the Rule of Law. This is only the beginning – the Court of Appeals in New York has sown the seed – now lawyers around the globe can provide the resources for doing good and doing justice.”