History of the Empire State Counsel® Program


Launched in 2006 by then Association president Mark H. Alcott, the Empire State Counsel® Program recognizes NYSBA members who, during the calendar year, performed 50 hours or more of  pro bono legal services either through direct legal representation of a low-income/vulnerable individual, or donating free legal services to an organization whose services are designed primarily to address the legal and other basic needs of persons of limited financial means, or providing free legal services to an organization dedicated to increasing the availability of legal services to vulnerable and/or low-income populations. 


The contributions of Empire State Counsel® Honorees and their law firms are recognized during the Association’s Annual Meeting at the Justice for All Luncheon.  Annual Meeting takes place during late January. The 2014 Annual Meeting dates are January 27 through February 1, 2014.  Law firm plaques recognize those firms which enrolled the largest number of Empire State Counsel® during the previous calendar year.  In addition, two attorneys will receive a plaque based on the substantial volunteer hours contributed or the extraordinary nature of the pro bono contribution.


Empire State Counsel® honorees receive a certificate suitable for framing, the signature Empire State Counsel® lapel pin, and may use this honorific designation as a credential on their resume.  The names of the individual honorees and their employers are published in a variety of Association publications.   


Since the recognition program was launched six years ago, more than 7,017 NYSBA members have earned this prestigious credential, collectively donating close to 1.3 million pro bono hours. Honorees pro bono service is not limited to New York. Empire State Counsel® proudly provide free legal services in virtually every state in the United States, as well as in Europe, Indonesia, Africa, Canada and India.  Thanks to the honorees’ free legal services tenants have avoided evictions, the elderly and senior citizens have obtained vital government benefits, and asylum seekers have found refuge.


Enrolling as an Empire State Counsel® is easy.  Individual attorneys may complete the fillable, on-line verification form attesting to the number of pro bono hours performed during the calendar year. Your name should be printed exactly as how you wish it to appear on the Certificate.  Law firm pro bono counsel/coordinators are encouraged to submit a single list of firm attorneys, indicating the pro bono hours contributed by each attorney together with a single verification form, attesting to the accuracy of the pro bono information provided.  Completed forms or lists should be submitted to the Department of Pro Bono Affairs at probono@nysba.org or faxing to (518) 463-4276.  Department of Pro Bono Affairs staff will verify each attorney’s NYSBA membership. Non-members will be advised and afforded an opportunity to join the association.

  • 2012 List of Empire State Counsel
  • 2012 Photo Gallery

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.        How do I qualify for the Empire State Counsel® Program? 

A.        To be eligible for the Empire State Counsel® Program you have to be a member of the New York State Bar Association and have performed 50 hours or more of pro bono during the calendar year.  

 

Q.        What types of pro bono service qualify for designation as an Empire State Counsel®?

A.        Providing direct, free legal representation to a low-income or vulnerable person, without expectation of a fee, is one way to qualify for Empire State Counsel®.  Direct legal services can be limited in scope or full representation.  Examples of limited scope representation include, but are not necessarily limited to, providing brief advice and consultation services to an individual through an “Ask-A-Lawyer,” or an “Attorney-for the-Day” program, or other clinical setting.   Examples of full service representation may include handling a client’s bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, contested divorce, eviction, or unemployment insurance benefits hearing or appeal.

Other qualifying pro bono work includes donating free legal services to an organization whose services are designed primarily to address the legal and other basic needs of persons of limited financial means or by providing free legal services to an organization dedicated to increasing the availability of legal services to vulnerable and/or low-income populations.   

For example, if you provide free legal services to the board of a shelter for homeless women and children, that work would qualify.  Similarly, advising a not-for-profit community based organization that provides job training to disabled clients would qualify. 

 

In contrast, if you donate free legal services to the board of an animal shelter, that would not qualify.  Neither would serving on the board of the local symphony orchestra qualify for the program.

 

Q.        Why is the definition of pro bono used by the Empire State Counsel® Program so narrow?

A.        The numbers of unrepresented litigants in New York State civil courts is estimated at 2.3 million. Many of these litigants are too poor to hire a lawyer to represent them when faced with the possible loss of basic necessities of life such as shelter, food, child custody, and safety. Free legal programs lack the resources to represent every eligible litigant, regardless of the potential merits of the case. To help bridge this access to justice gap, we narrowly define pro bono service so as to encourage our members to donate free legal services to help vulnerable individuals maintain basic life necessities.

   

Q.        How may I use the designation of Empire State Counsel®?

A.        Empire State Counsel® is an honorific designation which may be used as a credential on an attorney’s resume or curriculum vitae.

 

Q.        How often do I have to verify my pro bono contribution? 

A.        Since the Empire State Counsel® designation is valid for the year in which it is bestowed, attorneys are urged to verify annually.

 

Q.        When are the Empire State Counsel® recognized?

A.        During the Association’s Annual Meeting, Empire State Counsel® are recognized during the Justice For All Luncheon.  Law firms are encouraged to reserve a table for the free luncheon celebration during which awards are bestowed upon the law firms enrolling the greatest number of Empire State Counsel®. Two individual attorneys also are recognized for their outstanding pro bono contributions with a plaque.

The names of the Empire State Counsel® and their law firms are publicized on the Pro Bono webpage.  In addition, a special edition of the Pro Bono newsletter is devoted to the Empire State Counsel®.

 

Q.        I am an associate at a law firm. Does the firm have to nominate me for the Empire State Counsel® Program?

A.        No; no formal nomination process is required.  To enroll as an Empire State Counsel® an attorney may complete the on-line verification form and submit it to the Department of Pro Bono Affairs at probono@nysba.org.

 

Q.        I did pro bono in another state, country, or at my previous law firm. Does that pro bono work count for the Empire State Counsel® program?

A.        Yes, provided the pro bono was donated during the calendar year in which you are applying for recognition.  The Empire State Counsel® program recognizes our members’ pro bono contributions throughout the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia.

 

Q.        What is the Empire State Counsel® Photo Gallery?

A.        Each Empire State Counsel® is encouraged to submit a high resolution photograph and a brief statement about his/her pro bono contribution for inclusion in The Photo Gallery.  For example, comments could be about why the lawyer does pro bono or what the volunteer learned from the experience.  The Photo Gallery is prominently displayed during Annual Meeting and on the Pro Bono Website. It serves as an incentive to others to do pro bono.

 

Q.        When does the verification form have to be submitted?

A.        Although the verification form may be submitted at any time during the calendar year, to be included in the current year’s program the form must be received no later than the last day of February of the next calendar year.  For example, to be included in the 2013 Empire State Counsel® Program your verification form must be received on or before February 28, 2014.

 

Q.        What information must be included on the verification form?

A.        The attorney’s name, indicate attorney’s gender by checking Mr. or Ms., the approximate number of pro bono hours donated, and an email address.  Attorneys are strongly encouraged to legibly print your name on the verification form exactly as you wish it appear on the Empire State Counsel® certificate. 

 

Q.        Do I have to include a statement about my pro bono experience on the verification form?

A.        No. It is not required, but attorneys are encouraged to comment and submit a high resolution photograph for inclusion in The Photo Gallery.

 

Q.        I am a law firm pro bono counsel/coordinator.  May I send in a single list of firm attorneys for inclusion in the Empire State Counsel® program? 

A.        Yes.  Law firm pro bono counsel/coordinators are encouraged to submit a single verification form together with a list of firm attorneys who performed 50 hours of pro bono during the calendar year to the Department of Pro Bono Affairs at probono@nysba.org.

Please include attorneys’ full name, not nicknames, and approximate amount of pro bono hours each contributed.  The single verification form should be signed by the pro bono counsel/coordinator attesting to the accuracy of the information contained in the list.

 

Q.        The verification form asks for my NYSBA Id#, but I don’t know what it is. Can I submit the form without my NYSBA Id#?

A.        Yes. The Department of Pro Bono Affairs is responsible for verifying each applicant’s NYSBA membership and will notify the attorney if s/he is not a member.

 

Q.        I am a law firm pro bono counsel/coordinator, but I don’t know which of the firm’s attorneys are members of the New York State Bar Association.  May I still send in a list of firm attorneys who performed 50 hours of pro bono?

A.        Yes. The Department of Pro Bono Affairs is responsible for verifying each applicant’s NYSBA membership and will notify the firm pro bono counsel/coordinator of their attorneys’ membership status.

 

Q.        I submitted the verification form, but later learned I was not a member. If I join NYSBA, will I be eligible for inclusion as an Empire State Counsel®?

A.        Yes, provided you join the Association on or before the last day of February you would be included in the program for the previous calendar year. Attorneys who become NYSBA members after the last day of February, would be eligible for the next year’s program.  For example, if you become a NYSBA member on or before February 28, 2014, you would be included in the 2013 class of Empire State Counsel®.  If you become a NYSBA member on March 1st, you would be eligible for the 2014 program.

 

Q.        I do pro bono through a volunteer lawyers’ project/Court Help Center/ corporate counsel’s office. Am I eligible for the Empire State Counsel® Program?

A.        Absolutely.  The  eligibility criteria is exactly the same, whether you do pro bono through a bar association program, court program, law firm or corporate counsel office.