New Rule to Expand Roster of In-House Pro Bono Lawyers

, New York Law Journal

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Chief Judge Lippman announces the new rule
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announces a new rule that will allow in-house counsel not licensed in New York to represent clients pro bono.

In-house counsel for New York corporations who are not licensed to practice in the state will now be permitted to represent clients pro bono, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced Monday. The rule change will take effect tomorrow.

The addition of in-house lawyers to the pro bono roster is the latest in a series of initiatives by the chief judge to help bridge the "justice gap" in New York by delivering low-cost or free civil legal services to those who can't afford an attorney. Only about 20 percent of New York residents' civil legal services needs were met last year, Lippman said.

An advisory committee on pro bono services by in-house counsel, which is chaired by Court of Appeals Judge Victoria Graffeo, proposed the reforms (NYLJ, Oct. 1). The new rule was approved on Nov. 15.

Though there is no figure on how many additional lawyers will sign up for pro bono, Lippman put the number in the "thousands."

Between 5,000 and 10,000 in-house counsel are based in New York, Lippman said, and many have been unable to perform pro bono work until now.

"We believe strongly this new measure will allow hundreds of thousands of pro bono hours to be performed on behalf of those who are most disadvantaged in society," Lippman told a group of supporters Monday at a New York University School of Law event.

Calling the old rule "restrictive," Lippman said the amendment will open the door for more pro se defendants to obtain sound legal advice from practicing attorneys.

Previously, Part 522 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals required in-house attorneys not licensed in New York to register with the Appellate Division. But they could only provide legal services to the public, including pro bono clients, under the supervision of a New York-licensed attorney.

That created unnecessary barriers for in-house lawyers interested in volunteering for pro bono projects, explained Randal Milch, general counsel of Verizon Communications and a member of the advisory committee. Usually, only lawyers licensed to practice in New York could participate.

"In-house counsel should have the same opportunity to fulfil their obligation to those less fortunate," Milch said.

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