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Our purpose | Why is Pro Bono necessary? | Sign up and participation information | Forms and other resources | Frequently asked questions

 

Our purpose

The Honorable James C. Tormey, III created and Co-chaired the Fifth Judicial District Pro Bono Committee in 2005. The Committee developed a Plan called the “Fifth Judicial District Pro Bono Action Now Program” whose goal is to increase pro bono legal services for poor people throughout the district through the cooperative efforts of judges, lawyers, bar associations and legal services providers. To learn more about the inspiration for the Plan, see the section below “Why is Pro Bono necessary?”.

The Committee would like to see that more of the legal needs of the indigent are met in the Fifth Judicial District. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct state that we should aim to provide at least 50 hours of Pro Bono legal services each year. The New York Lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility describes the lawyer’s “professional obligation to render public interest and pro bono service” and states that lawyers “should aspire to provide at least 20 hours of pro bono services annually”.We hope that attorneys will realize how important their work is to indigent clients and find the work rewarding so that they will make Pro Bono a regular part of their practice of law.

 

Why is Pro Bono necessary?

The Administrative Board of the Courts created the post of Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives in 1999 and appointed Hon. Juanita Bing Newton to that position. Judge Bing Newton hosted a number of Pro Bono Convocations throughout New York state in order to determine how best to increase Pro Bono in New York. What follows is a portion of the Executive Summary of the report and recommendations that were the result of those Convocations:

The scope and complexity of New York’s law and court structure make the assistance of a lawyer critical for obtaining civil justice. New York’s one million households living in poverty cannot afford to hire a lawyer; moreover, the amount of free legal help available to them for their civil legal needs is wholly insufficient.

A study of the New York State Bar Association reported that New York’s poor households experience an average of 2.37 unmet civil legal needs annually – a total of approximately 2.5 million legal problems for which no lawyer is available. Providing even a minimal amount of legal help for each of these legal problems would require many millions of hours of legal assistance.

How are these additional hours to be provided? Placing emphasis on educational programs and materials for those without a lawyer, while useful, has practical limitations and begs the fundamental unfairness of leaving the poor to fend for themselves in New York’s challenging legal arenas. Moreover, while identifying sources of additional public and private funding for civil legal services continues to be essential, those efforts, however successful, are unlikely ever to raise sufficient funds to meet more than a relatively small percentage of the need.

Thus, it is important to consider whether and how New York State lawyers can increase their pro bono activity to serve the legal needs of poor New Yorkers. A statewide survey of the 2002 pro bono activities of the New York Bar found that 46% of New York’s lawyers provided some pro bono service for the poor, with 54% providing no such service. Moreover, just 27% provided more than 20 hours of service – the amount recommended by the Administrative Board of the Courts in its 1997 Pro Bono Resolution.

In 2002, the New York State Unified Court System hosted four Pro Bono Convocations to brainstorm issues and develop tangible, feasible ideas and strategies for expanding pro bono service in New York. Judges, Bar leaders and other practicing attorneys, and legal educators from New York and elsewhere were among those participating in the Convocations.

 

From these Convocations the following findings emerged:

  • A need exists to increase pro bono services in New York State
  • A formal statewide initiative is necessary and desirable
  • All stakeholders should be involved in the statewide program that is developed to expand pro bono
  • The Judiciary should have a significant role in the statewide program, but local leadership, design, implementation and control are essential for a comprehensive and workable program
  • Pro bono service should be voluntary.

 

Convocation recommendations include the following:

  • Local pro bono action committees throughout New York State, supported by a statewide Standing Committee on Pro Bono, should develop local pro bono action plans.