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FAQs - Pro Bono Reporting Requirements - Attorney Registration


Reporting of Voluntary Pro Bono Service & Financial Contributions


WHAT IS THE PRO BONO REPORTING REQUIREMENT?

WHAT TYPES OF PRO BONO SERVICES ARE REPORTABLE?

WHAT FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS ARE REPORTABLE?

WHO MUST REPORT?

WHAT DOES “NO EXPECTATION OF A FEE” MEAN?

These FAQs were amended on June 19, 2013

 


 

WHAT IS THE PRO BONO REPORTING REQUIREMENT?

 

1. What is the new reporting requirement for voluntary pro bono legal services and financial contributions?

Section 118.1(e)(14) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator (22 NYCRR Part 118) requires that each attorney registering or re-registering in New York report both (1) the number of hours that the registrant voluntarily spent providing legal services free of charge to poor and underserved clients, and (2) the amount of voluntary financial contributions the registrant made to organizations serving the poor and underserved during the previous biennial registration period.

2. When did this reporting requirement go into effect?

May 1, 2013.

3. Does this reporting requirement mandate that I perform pro bono legal services?

No. Pro bono legal service by attorneys admitted in New York is completely voluntary. The rule addresses only the reporting of services voluntarily performed, if any, as well as any voluntary financial contributions.

4. Does the reporting requirement mandate that I maintain records of pro bono service and contributions?

No. While maintenance of such records might be sound business practice, the rule does not require it.

 


 

WHAT TYPES OF PRO BONO SERVICES ARE REPORTABLE?

 

5. What type of pro bono services should be reported under Part 118?

An attorney should report pro bono legal services that comport with the definition set forth in 22 NYCRR Part 1200, Rule 6.1(b), which provides in pertinent part:

(1) professional services rendered in civil matters, and in those criminal matters for which the government is not obliged to provide funds for legal representation, to persons who are financially unable to compensate counsel;

(2) activities related to improving the administration of justice by simplifying the legal process for, or increasing the availability and quality of legal services to, poor persons; and

(3) professional services to charitable, religious, civic and educational organizations in matters designed predominantly to address the needs of poor persons.

Further, “pro bono” refers to services undertaken without the expectation of a fee.

6. Who are the “underserved” and the “poor”?

Section 118.1(e)(14) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator mandates reporting of pro bono services “to the underserved and to the poor.” 22 NYCRR § 118.1(e)(14). The Chief Judge’s Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services has defined “poor” clients as those living below the federal poverty level, and the “working poor” as those living below 200% of the federal poverty level. See Report to the Chief Judge of the State of New York (Nov. 2010), p.4. “Underserved” clients are those who, though technically not “poor,” are unable to afford or obtain appropriate legal assistance for demographic, geographic or historical reasons – for example, victims in the aftermath of a hurricane or other natural or man-made disasters; the elderly; disabled veterans; domestic violence victims; persons seeking political asylum, and the like.

7. I perform many hours of pro bono legal services on corporate governance and transactional matters for a not-for-profit organization that provides services to the poor, but no legal services to the poor. I also contribute to that organization. Should I report those services and contributions under Part 118?

Since these types of services are described in Rule 6.1(b)(3) (“professional services to a charitable, religious, civic and education organizations in matters designed predominantly to address the needs of poor persons”), pro bono legal services to the not-for-profit organization are reportable.

However, the reporting requirements differ for financial contributions and for direct service in this example. Because only contributions to organizations that provide legal services to the poor are reportable, as described in Rule 6.1(c), contributions to this not-for-profit organization should not be reported.

8. I do not personally provide legal services to poor and underserved clients or to organizations whose principal purpose is to provide such services; nor do I personally supervise the provision of such services. However, other partners and associates of my law firm provide such services far in excess of 50 hours per year, often for work performed during work hours. Should I report a portion of this law firm service contribution under Part 118?

No. The reporting of pro bono legal services under Part 118 addresses only legal services personally provided by the attorney to a pro bono client or organization described in Rule 6.1(b). Supervision of work provided to such clients or organizations may be included in the report, but services provided by other attorneys in your firm may not be used to satisfy your reporting requirement.

9. I am an uncompensated member of the board of a not-for-profit organization. Should I report my services as a board member?

Whether the service is reportable depends on the nature of the organization:

a. If the organization provides legal services to the poor, service on the board is reportable.

b. If the organization does not provide legal services to the poor but is engaged “in improving the administration of justice by simplifying the legal process for, or increasing the availability and quality of legal services to, poor persons” (Rule 6.1(b)(2)), service on the board is reportable.

c. If the organization is not described in (a) or (b) but is a “charitable, religious, civic and educational organizations in matters designed predominantly to address the needs of poor persons,” service on the board is not reportable. However, the provision of legal assistance to the organization in the context of a board membership or otherwise is reportable.

10. I perform many hours of volunteer work on a bar association committee. Should I report those hours under Part 118?

This volunteer work is reportable only so long as the committee’s activities are directly related to “simplifying the legal process for, or increasing the availability and quality of legal services to, poor persons” (Rule 6.1(b)(2)). Although serving on a bar association committee performing other functions is a valuable contribution to the legal profession, it is not reportable for purposes of Part 118.

11. I serve meals to the poor at a local church soup kitchen. Should I report this service under Part 118?

No. Rule 6.1(b)(3) requires reporting only of “professional services” to organizations in matters designed predominantly to address the needs of the poor. Though laudable, direct non-professional services are not reportable.

12. I am employed by a firm or corporation that expects me to perform pro bono legal services for the poor and underserved as a part of my job, so I am compensated for performing those services. Should I report these services under Part 118?

Yes, those services should be reported, so long as there is no expectation of a fee from the clients.

13. I performed pro bono legal services outside New York State and contributed to organizations located outside New York State. May I report such service and contributions?

Yes, as long as the services and contributions comport with the requirements set forth in 22 NYCRR Part 1200, Rule 6.1(b).

 


 

WHAT FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS ARE REPORTABLE?

 

14. What type of contributions should be reported under Part 118?

An attorney should report contributions that comport with 22 NYCRR Part 1200, Rule 6.1(c), which states that appropriate organizations for financial contributions are:

(1) organizations primarily engaged in the provision of legal services to the poor; and

(2) organizations substantially engaged in the provision of legal services to the poor, provided that the donated funds are to be used for the provision of such legal services.

15. How do I know whether an organization to which I contribute provides legal services to the poor and underserved?

Registrants are responsible for undertaking an appropriate inquiry to ascertain whether recipient organizations provide such services.

16. I am a partner in a firm that made financial contributions to a legal services organization serving the poor during my biennial reporting period. However, I made no personal contributions to such organizations. May I report a portion of my firm’s contributions under Part 118?

For purpose of reporting under Part 118, firm contributions may be allocated by the firm to individual members. Of course, such allocations should not exceed the total amount of contributions by the firm. No position is taken here on whether such allocation has tax or other reporting implications. The registering attorney may report the best and most recent information provided by the law firm in allocating the attorney’s contributions.

 


 

WHO MUST REPORT?

 

17. I am employed full-time by an organization providing legal services to the underserved and poor. Must I report pro bono service performed or pro bono contributions made outside of my employment?

Attorneys employed by organizations providing legal services to the underserved and poor are exempt from the requirement to report pro bono service under Part 118. Accordingly, you may, but need not, report such service and contributions.

The instructions for reporting provide that, if you are “employed by an organization primarily or substantially engaged in the provision of pro bono legal services,” you may choose not to report financial contributions or pro bono services by checking the box marked “Exempt."

18. I am an attorney employed in the governmental sector. Do I have to report pro bono service and contributions?

Yes. Attorneys employed by local, state, county or federal government or their agencies are not exempt from the reporting requirement. In registering, government attorneys should check the box marked “GOVERNMENT” on the registration form.

Note also that, in contrast to government service by law students and candidates for bar admission (which is considered pro bono service under 22 NYCRR § 520.16(b)(2)), government employment is not reportable pro bono service under Part 118.

19. I am a registered attorney but presently do not generally perform legal services professionally. Do I still have to report pro bono service and contributions?

Yes, you are required to do so.

20. I am listed as “retired” from the practice of law in the attorney registration database. Must I report pro bono service or contributions?

Attorneys who are “retired” from the practice of law under Part 118 (including judges and quasi-judicial officers who have entered “retired” status) are exempt from the requirement to report pro bono service under Part 118. Accordingly, you may, but need not, report such service and contributions.

The instructions for reporting provide that if you are “retired' from the practice of law as defined in §118.1(g)” you may choose not to report financial contributions or pro bono services by checking the box marked “Exempt."

21. Are attorneys who work outside New York State or outside the United States required to report contributions and pro bono services?

Yes. Registering and re-registering attorneys are required to report this information, without regard to their residence or work location.

 


 

WHAT DOES “NO EXPECTATION OF A FEE” MEAN?

 

22. I commenced an engagement on behalf of a client with the expectation of receiving compensation, but was later unable to collect my fee. Should I report services to that client under Part 118?

No. Under Part 118, pro bono services are only those provided without expectation of receiving a fee.  Here, since there was an expectation of a fee (even though, thereafter, none was actually paid), no services should be reported. 

23. I have performed legal services on behalf of an impoverished client under a contingency fee arrangement. Should I report those services under Part 118?

No, those services should not be reported.

24. I performed legal services on behalf of an impoverished client, and was subsequently awarded attorney’s fees as part of a judgment or settlement of the action. Should I report those services under Part 118?

Yes, assuming there was no expectation of being compensated at the time of engagement.

25. I commenced a legal action with the expectation of receiving payment from my client, but later expressly altered the arrangement to provide such services without charge. Should I report those services under Part 118?

Yes, but only for such period as the attorney and client acted with the express understanding that the attorney would receive no compensation for the services.

 


 

FOR ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS, please email probonoreporting@nycourts.gov and include a contact telephone number.