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Experienced lawyers now can earn more than 40 percent of the continuing legal education credits they must complete every two years by providing pro bono services to low-income New Yorkers.

posted Mar 9, 2012, 4:16 AM by Pete Weinman

The four presiding justices of the Appellate Division departments recently voted to increase to 10 from six the credits for uncompensated work in family and other civil courts that lawyers with more than two years of experience can apply to their 24-hour CLE requirement.

Moreover, the presiding justices increased to 15 from six the pro bono credits practicing attorneys in the court system's Attorney Emeritus Program can use to renew their registrations.

There are 242 lawyers enrolled in the emeritus program. An estimated 45,600 attorneys are eligible to participate.

Lawyers in the emeritus program must be at least 55, have practiced law for at least 10 years and be willing to provide at least 30 hours annually in unpaid legal assistance.

Program participants who are retired are not required to meet CLE requirements or pay the state's $375 biennial registration fee. But older attorneys in the program who are still practicing must pay the fee and meet the CLE requirements.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has attempted to induce more attorneys to perform pro bono work, given the heightened need for legal representation of the poor with the struggling economy.

The Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York, which was appointed by Judge Lippman, has estimated that only about one in five poor New Yorkers who needs free legal services receives them.

"This is directly related to the chief judge's efforts concerning the Attorney Emeritus Program and programs overall to increase efforts to boost pro bono participation by the legal community," David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Unified Court System, said of the pro bono CLE change. "They are among Judge Lippman's highest priorities."

The changes approved on Feb. 15 affect only experienced attorneys. However, some recent law school graduates also can earn CLE credits for pro bono service.

Attorneys who have practiced for less than two years usually have to complete 32 CLE credits. But under the new "Bridge-the-Gap CLE" program, about 30 recent graduates were specially trained last fall to provide legal assistance to clients in housing, consumer credit and uncontested divorce cases in New York City.

They will be granted a total of 16 CLE credits if they provide 50 hours of pro bono service in their first two years as attorneys (NYLJ, Oct. 28, 2011).

A second training session for recent law grads will be held on March 26-29 at 111 Centre St. in Manhattan. About 110 participants have been signed up so far for a program court system officials said can accommodate about 150.

 Thanks to Hon. Matthew Sciarrino for sharing this information.