Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said today that New York will become the first state in the nation to require pro-bono service as part of admission to the bar.
But the plan was met warily by the state Bar Association and other legal groups.
Some groups and law schools raised questions about how the program would work and whether law students would react negatively to a new mandate on top of their heavy workload.
“We haven’t seen details of the proposal. Once we do, we will study it,” said Lise Bang-Jensen, a spokeswoman for the Bar Association.
Alicia Ouellette, associate dean at Albany Law School, said Lippman’s proposal “comes as a little bit of a surprise.” She said the law school already has a dozen volunteer pro bono programs for law students. Some students may not support making it mandatory, she said.
“I certainly expect that there will be pushback, but I also think some of the students and others who push back will come around and say, ‘I’m glad I got this opportunity,’” Ouellette said.
Greg Thomas, the managing attorney for Legal Assistance of Western New York in Ithaca, said the pro bono help is welcomed, but he also said it’s unclear how legal-aid organizations would manage such an influx of free labor. For example, law students working for 50 hours might not be able to accomplish much, he said.
“I think it would take time to develop a more sophisticated program with the law schools and the various legal-aid organizations,” he said, “to coordinate meaningful opportunities for the volunteers, while also not distracting too much from the ongoing business of the existing programs.”
But Lippman said the program would work. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman hailed it, saying the program could be “life changing” for people who can’t afford attorneys and for students to gain experience.
Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief for the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan, said the group turns away most people in civil cases because of the lack of attorneys to help them.
“This initiative will help bridge that gap,” Banks said.
Here’s Lippman talking to reporters about the plan, which will take effect in 2013.