NJ SUPREME COURT MOVES FORWARD WITH RECOMMENDATION TO ADOPT 50 HOUR PRO BONO BAR ADMISSION REQUIREMENT

images by David Udell

A working group appointed by the NJ Supreme Court released on May 16, 2013 a report and recommendations dated April 30,2013 in which it urges adoption of a 50 hour law-related pro bono service requirement as a condition of admission to the NJ Bar.  The proposed rule is modeled on New York’s rule, but differs in various respects, as described below.  NJ is the third state, after California and Connecticut in which a recommendation to adopt a pro bono service requirement inspired by the NY model is now awaiting final approval.  The  NJ Court has invited submission of comments on the proposed rule by June 21, 2013.

In its report, the working group explained that adoption of the requirement is warranted in order to:

  • “help serve the growing population of New Jersey residents who are in need of legal services but are unable to afford them”
  • “provide law students legal experience assisting underserved populations in a wide variety of legal contexts”
  • “provide positive pro bono experiences for law students and prospective attorneys in order to instill a career-long habit of pro bono service,” and
  • “assist our legal system and democracy by ensuring that the court’s adversarial system is able to operate as intended.”

While deriving the recommended rule from the NY rule, the working group’s report is distinctive in the following respects:

  • “law school community education projects such as the Street Law Project in which all New Jersey law schools participate” would count toward satisfaction of the requirement;
  • activities performed outside of the United States would not count toward satisfaction of the rule;
  • legal services performed for a nonprofit would count only if the organization is “primarily dedicated to addressing the needs of low-income persons” or if  in “a matter designed primarily to assist the needs of low-income clients”;
  • applicants may perform their pro bono service prior to the date of bar admission (in contrast to NY where the service must be completed prior to the date of filing the application for admission);
  • the rule would become effective as of the February 15, 2015 bar examination;
  • the program would be evaluated within two years of implementation to see “whether it will truly increase support for those in need”;
  • the report further states that law schools will “make an effort to guide students into work that helps to meet the legal needs of low-income people and communities and the nonprofits that serve them.”
  • the report further states that the NJ Board of Examiners will “post a list of organizations that have indicated they can supervise students looking to fulfill their pro bono requirement for purposes of this rule.”  The report further explains that pro bono work  supervised by these organizations will “be deemed to qualify for the preadmission pro bono requirement.”  Finally, it explains that other organizations not on the list “may also offer and supervise qualifying pro bono projects.”
The working group’s April 30, 2013 Report is available here.
The Court’s May 16, 2013 Notice to the Bar, inviting comments on the April 30, 2013 recommendations via mail or via email by June 21, 2013 (at comments.mailbox@judiciary.state.nj.us) is available here.