ESC Law Firm FAQ

Law Firms - How to Apply

Law firm pro bono counsel/coordinators must submit a single list of all firm attorneys in excel format, including NYSBA member IDs where known, indicating the pro bono hours contributed by each attorney from 12/1/15-11/30/16 together with a single verification form, attesting to the accuracy of the pro bono information provided.

Starting this year, awards will be presented to:

  1. Two small law firms (1-50 attorneys) – one small law firm outside NYC and one small law firm in NYC.
  2. Two mid-size law firms (50-100 attorneys) – one mid-size law firm outside NYC and one mid-size law firm in NYC.
  3. Two large law firms (100+ attorneys) – one large law firm outside NYC and one large law firm in NYC.

The law firms will be selected based on the number of pro bono hours their attorneys performed from 12/1/15-11/30/16.  These hours are calculated from law firm’s Empire State Counsel submission. Each law firm that falls within these categories will receive an award in honor of their exemplary pro bono work.

Important Dates:

  1. In order to qualify as a Law Firm Honoree, a firm must submit its list of attorney hours by December 15, 2016.
  2. Nominations for the Individual Attorney Honorees must be submitted by December 15, 2016.
  3. To be included in the 2016 Empire State Counsel® Program, your verification form must be received on or before February 28, 2017.

All submissions must be emailed as an excel file to

Excel file containing the following information in separate columns

  1.  First Name (as it appears on they attorney registration)
  2. Middle Initial (if applicable)
  3. Last Name (as it appears on their attorney registration)
  4. Suffix (if applicable)
  5. NYSBA member number 
  6. Total number of hours of pro bono, rounded up to a whole number
    For your convenience a template has been set up and can be downloaded by clicking HERE

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Q.        How do attorneys qualify for the Empire State Counsel® Program? 
    A.        To be eligible for the Empire State Counsel® Program, attorney must 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.        If an attorney is registered and admitted to practice in New York State does that make them a member of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA)?
    A.        No, the New York State Bar Association is a voluntary Bar Association; it does not license, regulate nor investigate an attorneys ability to practice law. Being a member of NYSBA is different then being a member of the New York State Bar for licensing and ability to practice. As with other voluntary membership organizations, an attorney must join the Association to be considered a NYSBA member and participate in the Empire State Counsel® Program.

    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 an attorney 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.        When are the Empire State Counsel® recognized?
    A.        At the Association’s Annual Meeting, Empire State Counsel® are recognized during the Justice For All Luncheon.  At the luncheon, awards are also bestowed upon the law firm and individual attorney honorees.
    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.        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 2016 Empire State Counsel® Program your verification form must be received on or before February 28, 2017.

    Q.        Does pro bono in another state, country, or at a previous law firm 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.