Members of the Thomas M. Cooley Law Review have been writing on a broad range of topics. This post summarizes an article by Brittany Mills about New York’s new requirement that bar applicants have pro bono experience.
New York has adopted a novel approach in motivating aspiring attorneys to provide pro bono legal services—mandating fifty hours of pro bono legal services prior to granting a license to practice law in New York State. New York is the first state to implement such a requirement as a prerequisite to gaining a law license. Pro bono work must be legal related. For for example, the founder of the mandate, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, stated that building houses for Habitat for Humanity would not fulfill the requirement, but that doing legal work for Habitat for Humanity would. Moreover, the work can be performed in any state, not just in New York.
The new mandate is intended to serve two purposes. First, it is meant to increase the accessibility of legal services to low-income individuals who traditionally have had very little access to legal assistance. Second, the mandate is designed to instill in lawyers the desire to serve the public throughout their careers. Although some controversy surrounds the mandate, the move has been hailed as “potentially revolutionary.” This is because of the sheer number of pro bono hours that will now be provided to the public, and because of the mandate’s potential to create a ripple effect of similar mandates, nationwide.