Pro Bono Requirement Modified to Help LL.M. Students
ALBANY - Responding to concerns voiced by law school deans, New York will give foreign master of law degree students more time to meet the requirement that new lawyers perform 50 hours of pro bono service before being admitted to the bar.
The Advisory Committee on New York State Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements has decided that the previous interpretation of the state pro bono rules giving LL.M. students as little as a year to fulfill the 50-hour requirement was too limited.
Under an updated guide to the new rules released on Aug. 26, the committee said pro bono work performed by foreign students one year before they begin their course of study will count toward meeting the 50-hour obligation for entry to the New York bar.
Court of Appeals Judge Victoria Graffeo, cochair of the committee, said the panel adopted the change based on comments it received during a meeting this spring with deans of the 15 law schools in New York state.
Graffeo, who cochairs the committee along with Cooley LLP partner Alan Levine, said the change was also based on comments from law school administrators outside New York since Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the pro bono requirement last year (NYLJ, May 2, 2012).
"Those schools that have graduate LL.M. programs had concerns about the short period of time students had to fulfill their 50 hours," Graffeo said.
LL.M. programs are typically completed by full-time students in one academic year, although there are a few exceptions in highly specialized and complex areas.
Lippman has said the pro bono requirement for prospective lawyers, which becomes effective for all new applicants to the New York state bar beginning on Jan. 1, 2015, is designed to provide badly needed help to legal services providers and to instill in lawyers a career-long sense of duty to donate their time to the poor.
While the state is giving candidates for the bar the three years it typically takes to complete a J.D. degree—plus the months between their graduation and when they have learned they passed the bar exam—the LL.M. programs present a compressed period for master's students to perform their pro bono duties, law schools said.
Graffeo said a large proportion of those seeking LL.M. degrees at New York law schools are from foreign countries. The state will allow them to do their pro bono duties in foreign countries or states outside New York if they provide affidavits that the work was done under the supervision of an attorney and concerned valid legal services to benefit the poor.