Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

February, 2004

 

Maryland Attorneys Give 1+ Million Hours,
$2+ Million to Help State's Poor in 2002
~Court Report Shows Attorneys Support Legal Services~

By Janet Stidman Eveleth

A recent judicial report summarizing data from the pro bono reporting forms that Maryland attorneys are now required to submit annually to the Court of Appeals of Maryland indicates attorneys across the state are very supportive of legal services to Maryland’s indigent population. In 2002, Maryland attorneys donated over one million hours in volunteer pro bono publico (free) legal service to help the state’s indigent population with its legal needs. It is estimated that attorneys donated over $150 million worth of legal services to help the poor. In addition, attorneys in Maryland personally gave $2,208,001 as a financial contribution to support legal services to the poor.

The 2002 attorney pro bono activity information shows that a vast number of poor people and non-profit legal services organizations are being assisted by volunteer attorneys on a pro bono basis. Across the state, many attorneys volunteer through structured legal services programs and even more help the needy by offering free civil legal services on an individual basis. While 51 percent offer pro bono service to people of limited means, 13 percent render service to organizations who serve people of limited means.

The 2002 Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers report, produced by the Administrative Office of the Courts, reflects a comprehensive poll of Maryland lawyers to determine the extent of the indigent’s need for legal services. In 2002, the Court began requiring Maryland attorneys to report their pro bono hours so it could evaluate the status of pro bono service rendered by Maryland lawyers, assess volunteer legal services for the poor and direct resources to areas with the greatest need. The Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Service, chaired by Ward Coe, coordinated this effort.

According to this document, almost 50 percent of the state’s lawyers engage in volunteer pro bono service, with the highest level of volunteerism found on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland. Lawyers who have practiced longer seem to engage in more pro bono service, and those who concentrate in family, general and employment law tend to provide the most pro bono hours.

The judicial report also discloses that the greatest need for civil legal services for Maryland’s poor falls in family law, an area of practice which lacks a sufficient number of attorneys to handle the need. Attorneys seem to prefer pro bono service in their particular area of law practice, and the highest level of attorneys in Maryland are found in corporate and business law, followed by litigation defense and criminal law.

The Court’s initial pro bono reporting effort in 2002 was considered a success, especially as it was a new measure, attorneys were not familiar with it and many were not aware that they were required to return the form. In addition, the Rule took effect on July 1, 2002, and many attorneys had not kept track of their pro bono hours for the period of January-June, 2002, part of the required reporting cycle. However, over 98 percent of the state’s attorneys complied with this new measure, and most who didn’t no longer practiced law or had a bad address.

New Pro Bono Rules

On July 1, 2002, revisions to Rule 6.1 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct and new Rules 16-901, 16-902 and 16-903 took effect, modifying attorney pro bono publico service in Maryland.

As revised, Rule 6.1 recommends “lawyers strive to render 50 hours of pro bono service annually. A substantial portion of those hours should be devoted to representing the poor or organizations that advance the needs of the poor, without expectation of fee or with the expectation of a substantially reduced fee.” While attorneys in Maryland did not hit the aspired goal of 50 hours of pro bono service in 2002, most fell in the 10-50 hour range.

In addition, the Court adopted new Rule 16-90, establishing a statewide Standing Committee on Pro Bono Service to serve as a clearinghouse for pro bono materials, study long-range pro bono issues, receive reports from Local Pro Bono Committees, receive data from individual Lawyer Pro Bono Reports, offer guidance to the Local Committees and prepare a State Pro Bono Action Plan for submission to the Court of Appeals by July, 2005. Rule 16-902 created a Local Pro Bono Committee in each county in Maryland to survey the need for pro bono service in that county and devise a Local Pro Bono Action Plan to address the unmet need for services.

Finally, Rule 16-903 required all lawyer members of the Maryland Bar to file an annual Pro Bono Service Report stating the number of hours of pro bono service they rendered in the previous year. Lawyers failing to file a Lawyer Pro Bono Report after receiving notice of default are decertified and prohibited from practicing law. They can be recertified by filing the delinquent report.

Challenges

Attorney pro bono reporting has given Maryland’s Bar and Bench a broader picture of legal services activity and attorney pro bono service across the state. The Bar and the Bench now have a better grasp and a more realistic perspective as to the type of pro bono work currently being done and the areas where additional service is imperative. Generally, pro bono awareness has increased within the Bar and more attorneys have expressed interest, come forward and volunteered.

However, while data from the 2002 pro bono report demonstrates attorneys actively volunteer for and financially support legal services in their local communities, it also highlights the challenges Maryland’s Judiciary and the Pro Bono Resources Center face in targeting areas of need, enhancing services for the poor and expanding attorney pro bono opportunities.

One of the greatest challenges lies in Maryland attorneys’ preference to volunteer in their own practice area. In addition, resources for civil legal services to the state’s indigent need to be increased and volunteer attorney service in larger metropolitan and suburban areas needs to be expanded.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge is meshing lawyers’ practice areas with the most critical areas of legal need,” states Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center, MSBA’s pro bono arm. “We are working hard to identify meaningful pro bono opportunities for the large number of corporate, business and real estate lawyers across the state. Delivering legal services to more rural or isolated populations will also require new, innovative solutions. Overall, these findings will help us significantly in developing a strategic plan for expanding pro bono legal services in the state.”

By now, attorneys across Maryland should have completed and returned their 2003 pro bono reporting form to the Court of Appeals of Maryland, summarizing the pro bono service they rendered last year. The data from this survey should be available in late 2004.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February, 2004

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