Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services Issues New Report to Chief Judge

Monday, December 10, 2012

  • Pro Bono Net

The Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services, created by New York's Chief Judge in 2010, issued its third report in November. The report includes a number of new recommendations, including increasing funding in the Judiciary budget for civil legal services, raising the recommended number of annual pro bono hours for New York lawyers, and increasing the role of non-lawyer advocates to bridge the justice gap.

One of the Task Force's key proposals is an increase in the amount of Judiciary budget funding dedicated to civil legal services. In the current fiscal year, the budget allocation was $25 million; the Task Force recommended an additional $15 million for the coming fiscal year. In addition to increasing capacity to provide services, the authors noted that investment in civil legal services benefits New York state economically, returning approximately six dollars for every dollar of funding.

Another highlight of the report was a recommendation to increase the number of pro bono hours New York lawyers are encouraged to perform. While New York Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 currently encourages lawyers to perform at least 20 pro bono hours annually, the Task Force recommends increasing that number to 50. Additionally, the Task Force would create a new pro bono hours reporting requirement as part of the Biennial Attorney Registration.

The report also noted the contribution that non-lawyers make to civil legal services provision, and proposed creating a pilot program to increase this involvement. The Task Force cited a number of roles that non-lawyers currently play, including providing courthouse information to litigants but not individualized assistance, and participating in administrative hearings on public benefits issues. Given their present involvement, the Task Force recommended that the pilot program focus on housing assistance, consumer credit, or foreclosure.

The Task Force's full report is available at http://www.nycourts.gov/ip/access-civil-legal-services/PDF/CLS-TaskForceREPORT_Nov-2012.pdf.