In his Law Day address in May, 2012, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced a new 50 hour pro bono requirement for attorneys seeking admission to the New York State bar. The Court of Appeals then adopted the new rule, known as Rule 520.16.  Soon after, Judge Lippman unveiled the details at a news conference in New York City.

Guidance for prospective Bar applicants is available at the New York State Unified Court System Pro Bono website.

In short:

  • The definition of the types of pro bono work that qualify is broad: The work must involve the use of legal skills, and can be for a tax-exempt organization, a government agency, or a court.  Clinical courses, externships and summer internships (paid or un-paid), and pro bono work performed at a private law firm also qualify.
  • Work may be performed in any U.S. state or a foreign country, so long as it otherwise complies with the pro bono requirements.
  • Work must be performed under the supervision of a member of the law school faculty, an attorney admitted to practice in the jurisdiction where the work is performed, or a judge or attorney employed by the court system.
  • For JD students, the 50 hours can be completed during law school, or any time after graduation but before applying for admission to the bar.
  • LL.M. students may count qualifying pro bono service completed outside of the United States during the one year before the commencement of their LL.M. course of study. LL.M. students may also perform some or all of their 50 hours of qualifying work in the United States, either during or after their LL.M. course of study but before applying for admission to the bar.
  • Our analysis of Cornell’s J.D. class of 2012, as a typical graduating class, demonstrates that well over 90% of students would have satisfied the 50-hour requirement in the normal course of their activities, through summer public-sector work, clinics, externships, or law-related volunteer projects. Others will qualify by doing a pro bono project as a summer associate at a law firm.

New York State’s 50 hour pro bono requirement is the first of its kind in the nation. This is an important policy decision intended to improve the delivery of legal services to underserved clients and to reinforce the state bar’s commitment to our profession’s pro bono ethic.

J.D. students should direct any questions to Akua Akyea, Assistant Dean for Public Service ( LL.M. students should contact Aimee Houghton, Assistant Dean for Graduate Legal Studies (