Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: January 15, 2004

Seal of the Unified Court System
www.nycourts.gov
Creation of Statewide System Called For to Boost Numbers of New York Attorneys Providing Free Legal Services for the Poor

NEW YORK - A report today released by the Unified Court System recommends instituting a statewide pro bono system to increase the amount of time New York attorneys spend rendering free legal services to the poor and to promote participation in pro bono by a greater percentage of the state’s bar. The report, entitled “The Future of Pro Bono in New York,” showed that less than half of lawyers in New York (46 percent) performed pro bono work for indigent citizens in 2002. This number represents a slight decrease since 1997 when the number of attorneys participating in pro bono was 47 percent, despite the fact that in that year the State’s Administrative Board of the Courts adopted a resolution urging attorneys to provide annually at least 20 hours of pro bono services to poor persons. According to the report, only 27 percentage of New York attorneys fulfilled the Administrative Board’s Resolution minimum of 20 hours in 2002.

Legal services for the poor are most drastically needed in the area of civil disputes, since legal representation in criminal cases and certain Family Court cases is required by law and provided through public funds. However, according to the report, pro bono service in civil matters is the category that experienced the greatest decline over the past five years: dropping from 39 percent in 1997 to 34 percent in 2002.

The two-volume report was compiled by the Office of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, Hon. Juanita Bing Newton, and consists of a survey of 2002 pro bono activity in New York and recommendations for increasing pro bono that emerged from four Pro Bono Convocations held throughout the state in 2002. The convocations were attended by representatives from bar associations, legal services and pro bono providers, judges, lawyers and legal educators. The convocations’ key recommendation of instituting a statewide pro bono system includes the creation of local committees to oversee the development and implementation of pro bono action plans in jurisdictions throughout the state, with the support of a central statewide standing committee. The recommendations outlined in the report are subject to a 90-day comment period.


“It is a sad reality that the poor are often left to fend for themselves in New York’s challenging legal arenas because they cannot afford to hire a lawyer,” said Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye. “In particular, the lack of legal representation for poor persons in civil matters is reaching epidemic proportions and threatens to create an unfair system of justice in this state. For some families, not having an attorney to help them could mean wrongful eviction or financial ruin, yet countless low-income households are forced to handle these trying circumstances without the benefit of any legal assistance whatsoever. This is a situation that we as a democratic society simply cannot tolerate. All members of the bar and those in the wider community must work together and earnestly examine what they can do to address these inequities. In this regard, the Pro Bono Convocations’ recommendation to create a statewide planning infrastructure, locally administered, to expand pro bono services has great promise. The implementation of these thoughtful and creative recommendations will surely be a monumental step forward in helping to bridge the critical gap of legal services for the poor in New York.”


In 1997, New York’s Administrative Board of the Courts, the body that sets standards and policies for the administration of the state court system, adopted the Pro Bono Resolution, urging all attorneys to provide a minimum of 20 hours of pro bono service annually and to support financially the work of organizations providing free legal services to the poor. At that time, the Administrative Board directed that a survey be conducted to assess pro bono activity around the state, and that 1997 survey now serves as the benchmark for such data.


The report indicates that the percentage of New York attorneys participating in pro bono dropped from 47 percent in 1997 to 46 percent in 2002. Other notable findings are as follows:

· The average number of hours spent by attorneys who performed pro bono remained essentially unchanged from 1997 to 2002 (in 2002, 41.3 hours; in 1997, 41.9 hours).

· The decline in attorney participation in pro bono was not uniform throughout the state: Albany, Erie, Monroe, Nassau, Onondaga, Suffolk and Westchester Counties showed decreases, while Bronx, Kings, Queens Counties and the remaining 50 counties outside New York City viewed as a group experienced increases.

· Nearly two-thirds of attorneys would be willing voluntarily to report their pro bono work as a means of helping to assess the unmet legal needs of the poor.

· The percentage of attorneys giving financial support to organizations that provide legal services to the poor decreased slightly: 56 percent in 2002 from 57 percent in 1997. However, the average contribution rose from $191 to $212.

Presently, there are over 100 pro bono programs in New York State, operated by local bar associations, legal services agencies, public interest groups and court personnel.

Copies of the report, “The Future of Pro Bono in New York,” can be obtained from the court system website at www.nycourts.gov/reports/probono/ or by calling 212-428-2500.

 
Web page updated: August 16, 2006