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Pro Bono Reporting to Remain Confidential for Now

Sep 13th All Day

Pro Bono Reporting to Remain Confidential, for Now

New York Law Journal

2013-09-13 00:00:00.0

ALBANY - Information provided by New York attorneys about the number of pro bono hours and the amount of money they donate annually will not be subject to public disclosure, at least for now, the Office of Court Administration said Thursday.

The confidentiality policy will start immediately and continue through at least April 2015, according to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti. Attorneys will be allowed to waive confidentiality and make their reports subject to disclosure, though the courts said it will take time for new forms to be issued to reflect that option.

Court administrators had been criticized by attorneys, including New York State Bar Association President David Schraver, for making the reporting subject to public scrutiny (NYLJ, June 19).

Beginning May 1, 2013, lawyers have been required to report their pro bono donations on their biennial registration forms.

Prudenti said in a statement Thursday that as a way of giving lawyers "more notice as to the public nature" of the pro bono reporting requirement, the Administrative Board of the Courts was creating a "two year phase-in period to give attorneys the right to choose whether their reported data should be publicly disclosed."

"This strikes a balance between the bar's privacy concerns and the court system's long-term interest in sharing information about our attorneys' extraordinary pro bono efforts," Prudenti said.

The Administrative Board is comprised of Lippman and the four presiding justices of the Appellate Division.

Lippman argued that while the pro bono efforts of the New York bar are laudable, it is unclear precisely how much pro bono work is being done, and consequently, how large the unmet legal needs of low-income New Yorkers are.

Pro bono disclosure is required of attorneys in seven other states.

Schraver and other attorneys have countered, however, that no other professionals are required to report on their charitable contributions.

In a June letter of protest to Lippman supported by the executive committee of the state bar, Schraver said lawyers consider the public disclosure of their pro bono requirements an "invasion of privacy" that some feel is designed to coerce attorneys into donating more time or money.

"While we recognize the important need for legal services funding, it cannot be achieved through breaching the privacy rights of individuals," wrote Schraver, a partner at Nixon Peabody in Rochester.

In 2004, the state bar's House of Delegates approved a resolution in opposition to mandatory pro bono and against required reporting of pro bono activities by attorneys.

The state bar had no immediate comment on Thursday's announcement by court administrators.