By Charles F. Otey, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Bar Association Board of Trustees has left no doubt as to where its membership stands with regard to the controversial debate revolving around a proposal to require 50 hours of pro bono service as well as the publication of dollar amounts lawyers had contributed to legal-service-related organizations.
At the April 9 session, during which the unequivocal views of outgoing BBA President Andrew Fallek opposing the OCA proposal were likely aired, the Trustees published the following “Page One” item in the Brooklyn Barrister:
“Brooklyn Bar Resolution – The following resolution regarding mandatory pro bono and mandatory reporting of pro bono service and contributions was adopted by the Board of Trustees at the April 9, 2014 meeting: While the Brooklyn Bar Association supports the voluntary pro bono services of its members, as evidenced by its creation and support of a volunteer lawyers project that provides free legal services to the poor and underserved, and supports adequate public funding of organizations engaged in providing legal services to the poor and underserved, the association strongly opposes mandatory reporting of pro bono services and mandatory reporting of financial contributions to organizations engaged in providing legal services, as well as any form of mandatory pro bono service for members of the New York State Bar.”
Within weeks of the resolution’s appearance on the Barrister’s front page, a story — almost in reply to the BBA’s resolution — appeared in the New York Law Journal, headlined “Courts Offer Olive Branch on Pro Bono Rule” (NYLJ, May 29).
Was the decision to hurl an “olive branch” a direct result of the well-publicized BBA resolution? Not entirely, of course. Yet if the BBA’s outgoing president even considered leaving a “legacy” to mark his term of service, Andrew Fallek could justifiably cite his very effective leadership against the pro bono rule proposals. (But Andrew Fallek is not the kind of guy to “claim” a legacy. He’s too “cool.”)
Actually, it would seem that “the courts” were reacting to a yearlong series of dissents and disagreements over the rule changes. One such critic inveighed against the pro bono measures, responding to the May 29 New York Law Journal.
Attorney Kenneth Ryesky of East Northport made several points, choosing to parse the use of the term “pro bono,” noting, “The term ‘pro bono’ comes from the Latin ‘pro bono publico,’ which means ‘for the public good.’ There are causes other than impecunious individuals that inure to the public weal and which attorneys, by dint of their training, experience and law licensure, are uniquely situated to aid by rendering unpaid volunteer services.”
Attorney Ryesky sees a darker, even conspiratorial intent looming from “the courts” — a view possibly shared by some barristers.
“Examined from one direction,” he argues, “... the system is wide open to manipulation along lines of political orientation, an evil the American public is now witnessing in various and sundry governmental quarters. The rank-and-file bar membership needs credible assurances from the Office of Court Administration that the pro bono rule will not be used as a pretext to compel unpaid labor for a “politically correct” cause towards which the attorney has no empathy, or, perhaps, great revulsion.
While most barristers we’ve spoken with do not share — some even scoff at — Ryesky’s portent of coerced “unpaid labor,” very few (and not one who desired to be identified and quoted) embraced the proposed rule (22NYC-118.1(e)(14)). This remains a hot issue that isn’t going away anytime soon.