October 24, 2019
Digest: A court attorney-referee may not volunteer with a local bar association group by providing pro bono legal services in another jurisdiction.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(G); 100.6(A); Opinions 18-20; 16-19; 11-41; 03-129; 99-84; 96-141.
A court attorney-referee asks if he/she may volunteer with a local bar association group by providing pro bono legal services in another jurisdiction, several hours away from New York.
As quasi-judicial officials, court attorney-referees must comply with the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct in performing their duties and must otherwise “so far as practical and appropriate” use the Rules to guide their conduct (22 NYCRR 100.6[A]). A full-time judge may not practice law with very limited exceptions inapplicable here (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[G]).
We have applied the prohibition on practice of law to full-time quasi-judicial officials such as court attorney-referees (see Opinions 18-20; 11-41) and support magistrates (see Opinions 16-19; 99-84). Moreover, the prohibition “is not limited to the geographic boundaries of New York State” (Opinion 96-141) and applies even to pro bono representation (cf. Opinion 03-129 [rule permitting judge to give uncompensated legal advice to a family member “in a non-lawyer-client context” does not permit judge to prepare wills for anyone, even “on a pro-bono basis”]).
Here, too, we conclude the inquiring court attorney-referee may not provide pro bono legal services.