As States Consider Mandatory Pro Bono Hours, What Would That Mean for Practitioners?

By April 23, 2013

By Alan J. Kluger
A recent article in the National Law Journal discussed changes and proposed changes to state bar requirements, which include mandatory pro bono hours for new attorneys.  New York’s recent changes require applicants to the New York Bar to complete 50 hours of pro bono work.  Work done in law school, work for non-profits and clerkships and externships can count towards the fifty hours.  California is considering a similar rule that would also allow lawyers to complete the hours during their first year of practice.  Currently Florida has no rules regarding pro bono service.

While I am fully supportive of pro bono legal work, I believe that these new rules are misguided insofar as they place the pro bono requirement on new lawyers and not all lawyers.  Most new bar applicants in any state are recent law school graduates, often saddled with student loan debt and first year associate duties.  These attorneys do not have the time or experience to devote to meaningful pro bono opportunities.
However, those of us who are more seasoned in our profession should devote some time to pro bono legal services.  While no state bar has made pro bono service mandatory at all levels of the profession, it is something that we should consider doing as part of our community service and foster a sense of pro bono obligation in our firms and amongst our peers.  Just like lawyers pay dues and complete CLE credits, so should we be required to do pro bono work and give back to our community in order to remain in good standing.