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An Overview of Pro Bono Requirements

Pro Bono Service Requirements for Bar Admission
In 2012, New York became the first jurisdiction in the United States to require pro bono service as a condition for bar applicants to become licensed to practice law.  Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in his announcement of the unprecedented initiative indicated that it is aimed at providing additional legal resources to expand access to justice for low-income New Yorkers.  Since then, a number of other jurisdictions have taken the matter under consideration, although none have yet enacted a comparable requirement. 

The American Bar Association has created a chart tracking where initiatives stand in jurisdictions that are considering initiating a preadmission pro bono requirement:  

 ABA Preadmission Pro Bono Requirements 

California

In 2012, the State Bar of California Board of Trustees (BOT) approved the appointment of the Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform that examined whether the State Bar should develop a regulatory requirement for a pre-admission competency training program.  The Task Force subsequently issued three recommendations for pre-and post-admission competency training requirements, including 50 hours of legal services specifically devoted to pro bono or modest means clients.  The Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform Phase II - Implementation unanimously voted to send the final recommendations to the BOT.  In November 2014, the BOT adopted the final implementing recommendations and directed the California State Bar staff to pursue adoption of the recommended Rule of Court, legislation, and State Bar Rules. 

California State Bar Task Force on Admissions Regulations Reform  

Connecticut

The creation of a task force to consider a preadmission pro bono requirement was proposed, but in 2013 the Connecticut Judicial Branch’s pro bono committee declined to pursue that approach at that time. 

Montana 

In December 2014, Montana’s Supreme Court ordered the following:

“[T]his Court’s Statewide Pro Bono Coordinator and the State Bar of Montana shall develop a process to give all applicants for the bar examination the opportunity to submit voluntarily a statement of any pro bono law-related activities they have performed as of the date of their application.  Neither the information provided in the statement nor an applicant’s choice not to submit a statement will be allowed to affect the applicant’s candidacy for admission to the Montana bar in any way.”  

Three purposes for the voluntary statement are articulated:

1. To inform bar applicants of the high value Montana places on the obligation imposed by Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct and to notify them that admitted attorneys are encouraged to submit similar reports annually; 

2. To gather non-identifying information and data about pro bono opportunities available to law students and about volunteer services already being provided by bar applicants in order for the Court and the State Bar to evaluate pro bono activities generally and to develop resources for pro bono attorneys; and 

3. To provide bar applicants with an opportunity to indicate their interest in receiving information about training and their willingness to be contacted about pro bono opportunities upon admission to the bar. 

The reporting process was ordered to be implemented beginning with the February 2016 Montana Bar Examination. 

December 2014 Order

Montana State Bar Admissions 

New Jersey 

A New Jersey Supreme Court Working Group formed in Fall 2012 determined that New Jersey should require applicants to perform preadmission pro bono work, but the New Jersey State Bar Association issued a dissenting resolution in February 2013.  The initiative has not advanced to date. 

Report of the Working Group on the Proposed Preadmission Pro Bono Requirments

New York 

New York remains the only jurisdiction with a requirement in full effect.  Up-to-date information can be found on the New York Courts’ website

Other resources

National Center for Access to Justice

ABA Accreditation Standard 303(b)(2), noting Interpretation 303-3

ABA white paper on preadmission pro bono requirements

 

Category: Pro Bono