From very early on in my legal career, I have always been very devoted to volunteering my time and legal skills to those in need. For those of you who may not know, on or after Jan. 1, 2015, every applicant to the New York State bar shall complete at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono service prior to filing an application for admission with the appropriate Appellate Division department of the Supreme Court. See, 22 § NYCRR 520.16.
Even though attorneys applying for admission in New York are required to partake in pro bono efforts, I think some of us do so because it is a rewarding experience and a great way to give back to those who are less fortunate. On the other hand, for those of you who have not accepted a pro bono assignment, I urge you to do so—not because it is required of you, but because “we have a professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice.”
Since moving back to the Rochester area in 2005, I have been involved in several volunteer pro bono matters that I volunteered to handle through Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County, Inc. (VLSP). Ironically, although I specialize in civil litigation, the matters have typically had very little to do with litigation. While I have handled some litigation cases, my volunteer work often involved name change petitions for a wide variety of individuals. In the last two to three years, my focus has been on handling name change petitions for members of the LGBTQ community in Rochester and the surrounding areas.
Some of the proudest moments I have experienced as an attorney have not occurred in the courtroom, but within the four walls of my office upon completing one of my VLSP matters. I reflect fondly on the point in time when the name change order has been signed and the affidavit of publication has been filed, as I then get to call the client to inform them that they can start using their new name. For members of the LGBTQ community, hearing the news that today is the day they can start using the name they most identify with is a life-changing event—one that I have had the honor of being part of. The thank-you notes, cards and pictures I have received in the mail following the completion of a name change application for clients of all ages have been priceless.
I am very passionate about giving back to the community, specifically to those less fortunate than most of you who are reading this article. Several local firms in our area have incorporated pro bono hours into their yearly billing budgets and provide credit to timekeepers for a certain number of pro bono hours. This way an attorney is not deterred from accepting a pro bono matter in fear that it will take too much time, thereby negatively affecting his/her chances of achieving a yearly billable hour requirement.
Based on my own personal experience, VLSP is a wonderful organization that is always looking for volunteer attorneys to take on legal matters. There are a wide variety of cases that VLSP handles, so no matter what your area of expertise, there is certainly something for everyone. As Judge Lippman stated in his decision that mandated the 50- hour pro bono requirement as part of bar admission in New York, “The legal profession should not be seen as argumentative, narrow or avaricious, but rather one that is defined by the pursuit of justice and the desire to assist our fellow man.”
I encourage all of you to continue volunteering with VLSP or, if you are a newbie to the pro bono world, I am confident you will be a success and that it will be one of the most rewarding experiences in your career.
Jodie Ryan is of counsel in the Rochester office of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP, and president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys.
 Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (November 2002).