The New York bar is calling upon law firms in the city to sign up to ambitious pro bono targets in a new initiative to coordinate standards.
Towards the end of last year, the New York City Bar Association called on its member firms to pledge their names to a 'statement of principles' requiring them to commit to pro bono work for 50 hours per lawyer per year.
"These principles are more than a promise of a number of hours," says bar president Betsy Plevan. "They're a set of best practices to help ensure that those pro bono efforts receive the requisite recognition and support."
In fact, the bar's proposal is consistent with the profession's model code of conduct, which urges, but does not require, all lawyers to spend at least 50 hours on pro bono services annually.
According to the New York bar, this is the first time law firms have been asked to sign a pledge to reach that goal. It describes the statement as a "roadmap to achieving the goal of more involvement and a greater focus on pro bono".
Plevan adds that the need for civil legal services "far outstripped" the resources available. "Each year more and more New Yorkers facing the loss of parental rights, benefits and housing, or other crises, are unable to obtain the legal advice and representation necessary to enable them to resolve these problems. It's every lawyer's professional and ethical responsibility to do his or her part to address this crisis," she insists. So far the city's profession has responded favourably to the initiative, with 30 firms signing up to the statement. These include Arnold & Porter, Clifford Chance, Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw and Weil Gotshal & Manges.
The firms make a number of commitments by signing up to the statement, such as that pro bono hours will be "counted in the same way as billable hours and looked upon favourably when making personnel decisions".
The signatories also pledge that newly hired lawyers will be required to participate in at least one pro bono matter in their first year with their new firms and that lawyers undertaking pro bono work will have "access to training materials, mentoring, manuals and other relevant support for their efforts".
Firms are also asked to contribute "a substantial majority of the pro bono work" to persons of limited means and organisations committed to serving the needs of persons of limited means.