Pro Bono in New York: are lawyers doing enough?

January 17, 2011 New York’s 161,000 registered lawyers are providing an estimated 2 million hours of free legal work each year, but there are still millions of people in the state for whom legal assistance is out of reach.

Steve Banks, the attorney in chief at the Legal Aid Society in New York City, said Legal Aid turns away eight out of nine people who come needing civil legal help, mainly "essentials of life." Banks pointed out that these individuals will end up among the 2.3 million New Yorkers who are handling their cases without legal representation. "And the outcomes for people in court by themselves, judges have repeatedly remarked, are worse than New Yorkers with representation could obtain."

While the Code of Professional Responsibility for New York lawyers says each "should aspire to provide at least 20 hours" of pro bono service annually, surveys show that more than half of the registered lawyers in 2002 did no pro bono work, while only a quarter did 20 hours or more.

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