Pro Bono is a Priority in New York: Chief Judge Lippman’s State of the Judiciary Speech

CJLippmanNew York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman delivered his annual State of the Judiciary speech this week, and in it, he reassured New Yorkers of his commitment to improve and enhance the justice system as it faces evolving challenges.

Pro bono was once again a focal point of Chief Judge Lippman’s speech.  Building on the mandatory pro bono requirement for prospective attorneys that he implemented last year, he has proposed a new Pro Bono Scholars program, which would allow students to dedicate the final semester of their third year of law school to doing pro bono. Pro Bono Scholars will receive a significant professional advantage – early entry into the profession as they may elect to sit for the February bar exam in their third year of law school.  Chief Judge Lippman’s hope, as he outlined in his speech, is that this program will help promote legal assistance to the poor among attorneys and law students.  He explained:

Pro Bono Scholars will each contribute 500 or more hours of pro bono in their last semester of law school and will easily satisfy the 50 hour admission requirement with their participation in the Program.  The overarching goal for the Pro Bono Scholars Program is to instill in future members of the New York bar the value of public service to the poor and to provide them with the opportunity to acquire valuable legal skills that will prepare them for the practice of law.

Chief Judge Lippman also highlighted the importance of non-lawyer participation in pro bono. While many cases require the expertise of licensed attorneys, there are matters where non-lawyers can provide assistance to individuals who cannot afford to be represented by a lawyer. He noted that going forward, in certain boroughs, trained and supervised non-lawyers, “navigators,” will be able to provide supplementary pro bono assistance to unrepresented litigants in housing and consumer debt cases.

Chief Judge Lippman is confident that these new programs will open new doors and create a new outlook on how the legal system provides civil legal services.  Read Chief Judge Lippman’s complete speech here.

We at The PBEye applaud this bold and progressive move, and hope it inspires other jurisdictions to consider new ways to try to close the justice gap in the U.S.

To further explore these cutting-edge developments, we are offering an exclusive program as part of the 2014 PBI Annual Conference:  “The Next Pro Bono Frontier: Law Students and Interns” (Thursday, March 6, 4:00pm to 5:00pm). This session will analyze how pro bono can be utilized to enhance experiential learning opportunities while increasing access to justice. The discussion will examine how law firms, legal departments, law schools and public interest organizations can successfully engage with law students and interns and the related challenges.

Online registration closes on February 18. Please call 202.973.8720 or e-mail for assistance.