State Bar to Hire Counsel Over New Pro Bono Rule

, New York Law Journal

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Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman addresses the House of Delegates at the annual meeting of the New York State Bar Association Friday.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman addresses the House of Delegates at the annual meeting of the New York State Bar Association Friday.

The New York State Bar Association will retain private counsel to explore whether the state's requirement that all lawyers disclose the hours and money they contribute to pro bono can be undone through legislation or litigation.

On a day when opposition to the mandatory reporting rule was evident during an extended discussion by the state bar's House of Delegates, President David Schraver said Friday his group would also cooperate with local bar associations to coordinate anti-disclosure efforts and encourage lawyers to write to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman opposing the rule.

"I think we are representing the position of the house and the association effectively, reasonably and responsibly and we will continue to do so," said Schraver, of Nixon Peabody in Rochester.

In an interview following his report to the House of Delegates at the New York Hilton Midtown, Schraver said the outside counsel will look into whether the mandatory reporting rule can be "repealed or overturned" legislatively.

If not, Schraver said, the counsel would examine whether the state bar has a cause of action to repeal it through litigation. The hiring of outside counsel was authorized by the executive committee in response to the state's adoption of the pro bono reporting requirement beginning May 1, 2013, Schraver said.

While Lippman has stepped away, at least for now, from his original plan to make individual lawyers' pro bono contributions public information (NYLJ, Sept. 13, 2013), the House of Delegates has been on record since 2004 as being opposed to both mandatory pro bono programs and requiring lawyers to disclose the extent of their pro bono activities.

Lippman did not mention of the pro bono disclosure controversy during his annual appearance before the House of Delegates. Instead, he told bar leaders that the state court system and the state bar have enjoyed a relationship that is "so strong and so enduring" over their agreement about the legal profession's "core values," including aspiring to the highest ideals of the profession. Among those ideals are making legal services available to those in need through state aid or pro bono.

"Our profession is not parochial and it is not insular," Lippman said.

He noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has criticized the Judiciary's proposed 2014-15 state budget as calling for a too-high increase in spending by the courts (NYLJ, Jan. 22) and he asked the state bar for help.

"I think it important that we hear the voice of the state bar to let [Cuomo] understand, and our friends up in Albany ... that ensuring that the Judiciary has the funds to meet its constitutional mission is so vital to the well-being of the court system and the well-being of the legal profession in New York," he told the House of Delegates. "This is something that we have to work on together."

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