Brooklyn judge names committee to facilitate pro bono efforts of in-house counsel in NY

July 17, 2013 NYS Court System
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New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on Wednesday announced the formation of a statewide committee to examine the potential impact that in-house counsel in New York can make in narrowing the state’s access to justice gap. 

Chaired by New York State Court of Appeals Judge Victoria A. Graffeo, the Advisory Committee on Pro Bono Service by In-House Counsel will spearhead an initiative to encourage all in-house lawyers who are not admitted to practice law in New York to comply with the state’s mandatory registration rule — a first step before any pro bono service can be undertaken.

As defined by the registration rule, an in-house counsel is an attorney who is employed full time in New York by a non-governmental corporation, partnership, association or other legal entity that is not engaged in the practice of law or the rendering of legal services outside such entity.

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The advisory committee will also examine ways in which registered in-house counsel can participate in the provision of voluntary pro bono legal services on behalf of New York’s poor.

Under Part 522 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals, an attorney admitted to practice and in good standing in another state or territory of the United States or the District of Columbia may provide legal services exclusively to an employer, provided that the attorney is properly registered with the courts.

Once registered with the Appellate Division, participating attorneys are subject to the New York Rules of Professional Conduct and attorney disciplinary oversight. However, under current rules, registered in-house counsel may not provide pro bono services, including appearances before tribunals.

Following recommendations issued late last year by the Chief Judge’s Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Services in New York, the advisory committee will consider possible revisions to the current practice rules to afford registered in-house counsel the opportunity to participate in pro bono work, subject to the ethical rules and disciplinary oversight applicable to lawyers licensed to practice in New York.

As part of this process, the advisory committee will review proposals for reform issued by the New York State Bar Association and the Conference of Chief Judges, survey rules adopted by other states allowing registered in-house counsel to engage in pro bono services, and consult with the Pro Bono Institute, which works to support and enhance the pro bono efforts of major law firms, in-house corporate legal departments and public interest organizations in the U.S. and around the globe.

Additionally, the committee will confer with legal services providers and corporate legal departments to identify suitable pro bono projects for attorneys employed as in-house counsel in New York.

 “Regrettably, the civil legal services needs of our most vulnerable New Yorkers continue to outpace the availability of resources. The Advisory Committee on Pro Bono Service by In-House Counsel will explore rule changes and other strategies that most appropriately and effectively leverage the expertise of the talented cadre of in-house counsel in our aim to broaden the state’s pro bono efforts,”  said Lippman.  

“I am honored to be called upon by Chief Judge Lippman to oversee this innovative undertaking that seeks to bridge the state’s justice gap by looking to a previously untapped resource — lawyers serving as in-house counsel in New York,”  said Graffeo.

The committee is expected to submit its recommendations to the Chief Judge and the Administrative Board of the Courts — the court system’s policy-making body — in fall 2013. A membership roster of the Advisory Committee on Pro Bono Service by In-House  Counsel follows.

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