I truly feel privileged, humbled and honored to be the President of the Richmond County Bar Association. I am very excited about the upcoming year. I want to express my personal thanks to Tom Sipp, our Immediate Past President, for his outstanding dedication, hard work and overall fine job that he did in leading our Association.
Attorneys and Bar Associations all over this state do good things for the public day in and day out. These good deeds typically go largely unnoticed and are often unappreciated. One small example of a good deed that is done year in and year out by the RCBA is the Summer Law Intern program where the RCBA provides a stipend to law students who work for the Court System. Although the stipend is unquestionably modest, the program provides a valuable opportunity for law students to gain first hand experience in the judicial system. Another example of ongoing good deeds is the RCBA Volunteer Lawyer Project (“VLP”). As most of you know, the VLP provides pro bono legal services to indigent homeowners faced with foreclosure of their home mortgages. Finally, individual attorneys, in all types of practices, frequently provide pro bono legal services without any fanfare.
In fact, the American Bar Association released a comprehensive report in March of this year which concluded that, on average, practicing attorneys perform nearly 60 hours per year of pro bono legal services. I think most people would agree, that this is a truly remarkable statistic. The ABA model Rules of Professional Conduct contain an aspirational goal that every lawyer should provide 50 hours of pro bono service each year. The ABA study is empirical proof that most attorneys voluntarily adhere to the aspirational goal of providing significant amounts of pro bono.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, as most of you probably know, new law school graduates will soon be required to perform fifty (50) hours of mandatory pro bono legal service as condition to their admission to practice law in New York State. While I understand the importance of providing adequate legal services to the poor, this is a societal obligation, and not something that should be foisted upon the shoulders of lawyers or, worse yet, upon graduating law students (many of whom are already saddled with a staggering amount of student loan debt). Moreover, making pro bono “mandatory” takes the aspirational aspect out pro bono. I can’t help but think that mandatory pro bono may be resented by many incoming attorneys - making it less likely that they will voluntarily perform pro bono in their future years. Only time will tell.
Whatever one’s personal feelings are on the mandatory pro bono topic, as a Bar Association, we should provide a vehicle for Staten Island residents to provide their pro bono service in their home community. The RCBA Volunteer Lawyer Project is the perfect conduit for providing law students and law graduates with an opportunity to fulfill their pro bono requirements on Staten Island. Accordingly, I would like to see the VLP partner with the New York law schools and provide an opportunity for Staten Island law students, in particular, to perform their pro bono work in their own community. This is one goal that I am looking forward to accomplishing in the upcoming year. I am sure that we will be able to do so.
On a lighter note, the summer season is upon us!! I hope that you all have a healthy, safe and enjoyable summer.