June 7, 1990
Please Note: Opinion 22-56/22-67 distinguishes this opinion and may potentially limit its application going forward.
Digest: A judge's solicitation of lawyers for voluntary pro bono representation of the poor is permissible, except that the judge should avoid any appearance of coercing attorneys to participate.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.3.
A judge inquires whether it is permissible to use a form which asks attorneys to volunteer to represent poor persons on a pro bono basis. The form recites the Code of Professional Responsibility which says, “[e]very lawyer...should find time to participate in serving the disadvantaged,” and requests attorneys to indicate whether they would accept or decline appointment, and requests the lawyer to return the form to the judge.
Nothing in the rules prohibits judges from soliciting pro bono representation. However, the judge should avoid the appearance of coercion. Accordingly, the attorneys should not have to indicate whether they would accept or decline pro bono appointment; rather the forms should be filled out only by those attorneys who agree to accept pro bono assignments. In addition, in cases of acceptance, the forms should be returned not to the judge, but to the clerk.