New York State Bar Association still fighting for clarity on pro-bono rules
At a meeting of House Delegates this past weekend, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) passed a resolution to push for anonymity in the pro bono reporting requirements.
“[A] great amount of concern and emotion” went into the decision, NYSBA President Glenn Lau-Kee said at the meeting in Albany on Saturday.
In May 2013, New York state Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has announced a new reporting requirement for New York attorneys requiring lawyers to report the amount of hours spent providing free volunteer legal services and the amount of financial contributions made to organizations that provide legal services to the underserved.
“While the legal profession in our state selflessly provides millions of hours of probono work to help people of limited means each year, the civil legal needs of low income New Yorkers are enormous and continue to grow as a result of the uncertain economy and the recent devastation of Superstorm Sandy,” Lippman said in a statement at the onset of the new requirement.
Lau-Kee did not dismiss the need for free and competent legal services for the underserved, but privacy concerns of the attorney members weighed heavily on the organization’s decision to challenge the pro-bono reporting. According to the New York Law Journal, NYSBA member complaints generally settled around whether the disclosures were an invasion of lawyers’ privacy, especially if they were subject to release publicly under the Freedom of Information Law, and whether they were a precursor to adoption of a mandatory pro bono requirement by the state.
“I think that we should recognize that this, to my way of thinking anyway, is a very reasonable, workable compromise,” Lau-Kee said of the resolution seeking a level of anonymity in pro-bono reporting. “There are some who’d rather not deal with it at all. I understand that. But we have what we have.”
“Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman is a true visionary enhancing the groundwork for New York state lawyers and their pro bono activities,” Brooklyn attorney Bruce Barron said of the pro-bono requirement back in May. “All of us fortunate enough to be members of this noble profession, should be committed to serving the disadvantaged and those less fortunate whenever possible.”