Rule would allow more lawyers to serve disaster victims for free
7/3/2007, 4:35 p.m. ET
By JESSICA M. PASKO
The Associated Press
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York State Bar Association is pushing for a
new rule that would allow more lawyers to voluntarily help disaster
victims across state borders.
Under the measure, lawyers from other states would be allowed to perform
pro bono services temporarily in New York after a major disaster,
whether in their home state or New York.
"When a disaster strikes, families are affected in many different ways
and lawyers can play a significant role in helping victims recover,"
said New York State Bar Association President Kathryn Grant Madigan.
Generally, lawyers can only practice in jurisdictions where they are
registered, said Madigan. At present, an out-of-state lawyer must file a
motion with the state court system for what's called "pro hac vice"
admission to perform any legal services in New York. Decisions are made
on a case by case basis, and the process can be time-consuming.
The new proposal, endorsed last week at the bar association's summer
meeting, has been forwarded to state Chief Justice Judith Kaye for
review. If adopted by the Unified Court System, the court could
temporarily waive the process and allow lawyers to provide pro bono, or
free, services after a state of emergency is declared by officials.
Gary Spencer, spokesman for the Court of Appeals, said Tuesday that Kaye
had not seen the bar association's proposal yet and could not comment on
The proposal, modeled after a similar measure approved in February by
the American Bar Association, was inspired by the aftermath of
Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005. The ABA's rule allows
out-of-state attorneys to perform voluntary service for disaster victims
for a short time, through established, designated programs.
Many New York lawyers went down to the Gulf Coast to assist after the
disasters, said Madigan. In January 2006, the Supreme Court of Louisiana
issued a one-year emergency rule that allowed non-admitted lawyers to
volunteer service to hurricane victims, according to the Katrina Legal
Aid Resource Center.
The rule would also permit an out-of-state lawyer to work in New York if
there is a disaster in their home jurisdiction.
"Lawyers from Pennsylvania, for instance, would be allowed to
temporarily shift their operations to say, Binghamton, to continue
serving their clients," said Madigan, who works at the firm Levene,
Gouldin and Thompson LLP in Binghamton.
Iowa is the only state with a rule allowing lawyers not admitted to the
state bar to practice in the event of a mass disaster there, bar
association spokesman Scott Eisenstein said. Other states are looking
into the issue.
The New York State Bar Association, the oldest and largest voluntary
state bar association in the country, is a separate entity from the
state's licensing body - the state Office of Court Administration.