Should Pro Bono Be Considered Mandatory?


New York Bar's Pro Bono Requirement -

Recently the Chief Judge of the New York Appeals Court announced a pro bono requirement to gain admission to the New York Bar. Under this requirement, every new lawyer will have to prove their performance of 50 hours of pro bono practice before being admitted to the New York State Bar. As the Chief Judge explained this decision, "If pro bono is a core value of our profession, and it is-and if we aspire for all practicing attorneys to devote a meaningful portion of their time to public service, and they should – these ideals ought to be instilled from the start, when one first aspires to be a member of the profession."

Is Pro Bono a "Core" Value of the Legal Profession?

I believe that characterizing pro bono as a "core value" of the legal profession is faulty. While many lawyers "give" many hours freely of their time and talent, that does not define the essence or "core" of the profession's values. Those values are embodied in the Rules of Professional Conduct, and Rule 6.1 calls pro bono service a "professional responsibility" that lawyers should "aspire" to. This has been substantiated many times over when bar associations call on their members to provide free services for low and moderate income people. Many do step up to the plate, but not all. Thus, it is distinct from true core values like maintaining client confidentiality.

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