NY courts to require 50 hours of pro bono work before getting licensed. How about foreign-educated lawyers taking the bar exam?

2 05 2012

(This post is not about Mexican law, but deals with the New York bar exam, and how it could affect foreign-trained lawyers (FELs) that traditionally sit to take the exam (I was one of the nervous, exhausted FELs that took it in 2007).)

The ABA Journal reported that New York will require “would-be lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono before they can get a law license.” NY will take the lead in the pro bono debate with the measure, as reported by the New York Times. The prestigious newspaper endorsed the measure in one editorial.

We know lawyers generously provide thousands of pro bono hours, all over the country, in several different areas of law. Noting on the importance of the topic, the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division’s  acclaimed magazine, GP Solo, dedicated their January/February 2012  issue to that topic. On it. I even proposed that pro bono work is not only good for the soul, but also good for business (Mexican masked warrior photo included).

The forthcoming new New York rule on pro bono, in my opinion, is good, and pretty common in other countries (in Mexico, for example, all college students -not just lawyers- must perform 480 hours of community work to graduate and get licensed!).

However, I wonder how will this new yet to be drafted rule work for foreign-educated lawyers (FELs) sitting for the NY bar exam.

NY is one of the most generous states when it comes to letting FELs sit for the bar exam. The NY bar allows law graduates from common law tradition countries to take for the bar exam, without much trouble. Law graduates from non-common law countries can also sit for the exam if they earn an LLM at an ABA-accredited law school.

Would FELs be required to complete their 50 pro bono hours during their LLM (it is plausible)? How about those FELs from common-law foreign countries that do not have to take classes (LLM) in US soil? Will the pro bono hours done at their countries (if any) count towards the 50 hours now to be required in NY?

The new rule on pro bono, in my opinion, is good. As an attorney first licensed in Mexico and then, after an LLM at UHLC, in New York, I appreciate the state’s openness to allow foreign trained lawyers to test their capabilities by sitting to take the bar exam. Hopefully NY courts will include in their new pro bono rule some option for FELs.

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6 responses

2 05 2012
Concerned

Thisight as well close the door for FEL LLM graduates who already finished their programs of study. Or at least for the ones not living in New York and/or who cannot afford to take one or two weeks from their real jobs so they can go do pro bono (unlicensed work?)

3 05 2012
Ignacio Pinto-Leon

I hope the NY courts will come up with a rule to accommodate out-of-state residents. It does not make sense to require candidates to provide the pro bono in NY. It will be all in the definition of pro bono. Because lawyers do pro bono work inside and outside the legal field (building a house with Habitat for Humanity should count as pro bono, in my opinion).

Let’s wait to see the rules. And thanks for your comment.

3 05 2012
John

Do you think the “Saving Clause” will apply on this case for FEL attorneys who already finished their program of study and have yet to sit for the bar?

4 05 2012
Ignacio Pinto-Leon

Saving clause? Which? How? I think it would make sense to accommodate cases like the one you describe. Will past pro bono count? Why not? Again, we will have to wait for the rule. In the meanwhile, opine…

4 05 2012
John

Oh, it’s some rule that says that the rules that applied to someone when he/she began the study of law would apply in case newer rules were more restrictive (like this case obviously).

5 05 2012
Ignacio Pinto-Leon

OK. Similar to a grandfathering clause.

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