FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Anita Aboulafia
(212) 267-6646, ext. 225 (phone)
(212) 406-9252 (fax)
NYCLA RESPONDS TO UCS’S PRO BONO REPORT
APRIL 2, 2004 – NEW YORK, NY – The New York County Lawyers’ Association’s (NYCLA) Executive Committee has adopted a statement responding to the Unified Court System’s (UCS) two-volume report, The Future of Pro Bono in New York State, acknowledging the “significant commitment of UCS to pro bono services in New York State” and, at the same time, “urg[ing] a number of modifications.”
Recognizing the steep cutbacks in funding for institutional providers of legal services for the poor, NYCLA urges the UCS to make such funding “a top priority and to advocate vigorously, not only for the restoration of funds, but for significant increases in government support for legal services.” NYCLA’s statement focuses on several key issues–the definition of pro bono, the role of government and pro bono goals for lawyers.
Definition of Pro Bono
NYCLA recommends that the Administrative Board of the Courts’ definition of “qualifying” pro bono be broadened from services to the indigent to include programs serving low-and middle-income individuals as a means of recognizing the extensive pro bono activities of New York State’s attorneys. Thousands of lawyers provide free legal service in a myriad of contexts, benefiting many charitable endeavors and enriching society. Norman L. Reimer, President-Elect of NYCLA, said, “NYCLA is concerned that a constricted definition of pro bono may cause a decline in participation in many existing, worthwhile programs, jeopardizing their continued viability.” Many of NYCLA’s current programs, for example, which assist hundreds of clients annually, would not qualify as pro bono programs under the narrow definition of the term used by the Administrative Board.
The Role of Government
The UCS report estimated that a staggering “86% of all civil legal needs of the poor” is unmet and recommends the creation of statewide and local pro bono committees to oversee the development and implementation of pro bono action plans. NYCLA supports such a structure, recommending that it “be staffed and funded with grants available to support local programs.”
Pro Bono Goals
Citing statistics contained in its report, which noted the percentage of lawyers providing pro bono services decreased from 47% in 1997 to 46% in 2002, the UCS recommended attorneys annually provide at least 20 hours of pro bono services to the poor. NYCLA takes a more global view of these statistics by recognizing that despite a weakened economy and sharp declines in income, lawyers continued to provide significant pro bono services to the indigent. The Association concludes, “Pro bono service should remain voluntary for attorneys and any suggested number of hours should be purely aspirational.”
UCS’s report can be obtained from the court system website, www.nycourts.gov/reports/probono/.
New York County Lawyers’ Association was founded in 1908 as the first major bar association in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Since its inception, it has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.