To The Readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
The New York legal landscape is constantly evolving. Not only does the substantive law change; so do the rules and regulations governing the way that lawyers practice law. Some of these rules and regulations are enacted based on a broad consensus of the bench and bar. Others are more controversial. NYCLA looks at a wide variety of long-standing, newly-enacted and proposed rules governing our profession, recommends changes when appropriate, and works closely with the judges and administrative bodies responsible for the rules to make sure that the concerns of our members are heard.
NYCLA’s Task Force on Meeting the Challenge, for example, is looking at the new “50-hour rule,” which will require every applicant to the New York State bar on or after January 1, 2015 to certify that he or she has completed at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono service. New York is the first jurisdiction in the United States to require pro bono service as a condition for bar applicants to obtain their licenses, and the plan remains controversial. NYCLA’s Task Force, chaired by past President Catherine Christian, is identifying the most significant problems likely to be faced by bar applicants when the rule becomes effective next year; researching the ways in which law schools, law firms, public interest organizations and bar associations are planning to meet the challenge; and identifying best practices across a wide spectrum of stakeholders. The Task Force will also recommend changes to the rule and/or to its enabling regulations as necessary to remove unnecessary barriers to compliance. Meanwhile, NYCLA is taking steps to ensure that its own pro bono projects—to the extent permitted under existing student practice rules—are open to law student and law graduate members who are interested in serving the public and satisfying their pre-admission pro bono requirement.
More recently, NYCLA formed a working group, led by NYCLA Board of Directors member Megan Davis, to take a careful look at an even newer set of rules, which require New York attorneys to report their pro bono hours, as well as contributions made to pro bono organizations, on their biennial disclosure forms. As originally enacted, these rules would also have permitted the press and the public, on request, to obtain information concerning the pro bono hours and charitable contributions of individual attorneys. Due in part to protests from NYCLA, however, the public-disclosure feature of the rules has been “suspended” until 2015. Long before that deadline, NYCLA’s working group will have completed its analysis and the Association will work toward a set of rules that appropriately encourages pro bono work by New York lawyers without unnecessarily intruding into the intimate financial decisions made by those lawyers and their families as they strive to balance their professional and personal obligations.
NYCLA is also significantly involved in the local legal landscape. In New York City, where City Hall is largely responsible for arranging indigent criminal defense services, those services have been consolidated in recent years, with more and more cases going to a few large legal aid organizations. Uneasy about that consolidation — and the corresponding budget pressure on the organizations to take more and more cases, and to spend less time and money on each one — NYCLA has appointed a Task Force on Indigent Criminal Defense. Chaired by NYCLA Board of Directors member Jonathan Prestment, the Task Force will scrutinize the current system for budgeting, financing and selecting the lawyers tasked with meeting New York City’s indigent defense obligations, hold the City accountable for any shortfalls, and make recommendations for improvement.
If you are interested in getting involved in initiatives like these, and are not already a NYCLA Member, I encourage you to join us. Visit nycla.org/joinus to learn more or call 212-267-6646 x208. If you are already a Member, I encourage you to get involved in our groups making an impact — join a new Committee, volunteer for one of NYCLA’s pro bono programs, or pick up new skills through NYCLA’s CLE offerings. Feel free to tweet me at @nyclapres, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and share how you think NYCLA can best impact such industry decision making initiatives.