NY Judge, Cooley Partner To Lead Pro Bono Rules Committee (Law360)

By Pete Brush

The potentially tricky details of New York's plan to require pro bono work for bar admission will be hashed out by a committee helmed by Court of Appeals Associate Judge Victoria A. Graffeo and Cooley LLP's Alan Levine, the state's top judge said Tuesday.

The duo was tasked with building out the first-in-the-nation program, which could go a long way toward putting a dent in New York's critical unmet need for civil legal services, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said.

Levine told Law360 on Wednesday the newly constituted committee, consisting of Empire State judges, legal aid experts, law school deans and bar association leaders, represents a "diverse group" representing a variety of stakeholders with concerns about the groundbreaking effort.

"We're trying to bring in everybody that has a point of view and get all of these views around the table," said Levine, a New York-based partner in his firm's litigation department.

The 19-member committee includes the presiding justices of New York's four appellate division departments, Legal Aid Society attorney-in-chief Steven Banks, civil legal services expansion task force chairwoman Helaine Barnett, SUNY Buffalo Law School Dean Makau Mutua and former New York State Bar Association President and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP partner Stephen Younger.

The committee likely will face challenges on several fronts. It will have to determine, for example, whether the participation of students in for-credit law school clinical programs — representing criminal and housing court defendants among other litigants in court — would count toward the 50-hour requirement.

It also will have to decide whether participation in clinical programs in schools located out of state would count.

And it will have to consider whether budding legal eagles already in their third year of law school would have to complete the full 50 hours — or whether their burden would be lower as a result of their proximity to graduation.

Judge Graffeo said the committee, which will meet throughout the summer and recommend rules to the state's appellate court divisions for approval, would "help implement this new pro bono requirement that aims to instill in our next generation of lawyers a career-long commitment to public service."

About 10,000 lawyers pass the New York bar exam each year, meaning the pro bono requirement could potentially provide 500,000 service hours to the state annually.

"The courts are the emergency rooms of our society — the most intractable social problems find their way to our doors in great and increasing numbers. And more and more of the people who come into our courts each day are forced to do so without a lawyer," Judge Lippman said in announcing the new program May 1.

Levine, the former chairman of the Legal Aid Society, said the effort, if successful, has the potential to be replicated in other states.

"Judge Graffeo and I will be spending a lot of time on this," he said. "New York has students applying to the state bar from around the country, so this could have a national impact."

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Alan Levine Senior Counsel, New York
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Pro Bono