The task force recommended a boost in state aid for civil legal services in the Judiciary's budget by $15 million to $40 million for the next fiscal year, which begins April 1, 2013. Lippman and Chief Administrative judge A. Gail Prudenti accepted that higher level of funding for civil legal services in the budget they proposed to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature (NYLJ, Dec. 3).
Barnett's task force said two state rules governing lawyers would have to be changed to effect its recommendations.
Proposed Rule Changes
Rule of Professional Conduct §6.1 would need to be altered to increase the recommended number of pro bono hours.
The task force said the 50-hour proposal makes sense because additional pro bono hours are needed, and that figure represents a level of commitment closer to what attorneys who are active in pro bono contribute each year.
According to an American Bar Association survey in which the New York State Bar Association participated, attorneys who provide pro bono service estimate that they spend an average of 66 hours a year donating their time.
Overall, the survey found that almost three-quarters of New York lawyers have performed some pro bono work this year, with a majority turning in the minimum of 20 hours, as encouraged in §6.1.
The task force also recommended that lawyers be required to report on their biennial registration forms the pro bono hours they worked over the previous two years and how much in monetary contributions they made to groups providing civil legal services.
Lawyers' awareness of the need to provide pro bono seems to have been enhanced in the seven states that require attorneys to report their pro bono hours.
In Florida, for instance, officials said that pro bono contributions have increased by about 100 percent since 1993, when attorneys were first required to list pro bono service. In Illinois, which adopted a self-reporting requirement in 2007, annual pro bono hours have risen by about 10 percent, according to the task force.
The panel recommended that attorney pro bono disclosures be accessible to the public.
It also said the 50 hours of annual pro bono service should remain "precatory…at least until results of the change in Section 6.1 upon the number of pro bono hours performed can be assessed."