Last week the 2012 Report of the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services was submitted to NYS Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. The report is the work of a diverse group of leaders from private practice, the judicial system, civil legal assistance providers, and others charged with  finding new solutions to the acute and growing need for free legal services for low-income New Yorkers. The report makes for sobering reading:

“Each year, more than 2.3 million low-income New Yorkers must navigate the complexities of the State’s civil justice system without the assistance of counsel in disputes over the most basic necessities of life… Indeed, even before the most recent natural disaster in the form of Hurricane Sandy, the Task Force determined that at best only 20 percent of the legal needs of low-income New Yorkers are currently being met.”

This access-to-justice gap is not only denying justice to many people, it has also placed a burden on the state, increasing costs and reducing quality. The recession in 2008 exacerbated the problem and now Hurricane Sandy presents a whole new set of pressing legal needs for those affected by the storm.

The report has many worthy recommendations, including increases in funding and more involvement of law schools and non-lawyers. But in particular, I heartily endorse the idea that all lawyers be encouraged to perform 50 hours of pro bono service annually, up from 20 hours currently. I believe this is the right next step in expanding access to civil legal services – following on Judge Lippman’s own initiative earlier this year, leading to a new rule requiring 50 hours of pro bono work as a condition of admission to the New York bar. By doubling or tripling their pro bono involvement, today’s seasoned practitioners will not only bring justice to those in need, but stand in solidarity with a new generation of lawyers behind  the central importance of pro bono work in the life of every lawyer.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge