ABA Poll Shows Majority of Nation's
Lawyers Volunteer for Pro Bono Service
~Findings parallel pro bono trend in Maryland~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth
The first national poll tracking
attorney pro bono service across the country reveals that a majority of America’s
lawyers volunteer for pro bono service and offer free legal services to people
of limited means. The American Bar Association’s (ABA) 2004 pro bono
survey found two-thirds, or 66 percent, of this nation’s attorneys volunteer
for pro bono service annually. This parallels the pro bono trend in Maryland,
where 63.7 percent of full-time attorneys with offices in Maryland volunteered
for pro bono service in 2003.
On the national front, the average individual attorney devotes
39 hours of pro bono service to persons of limited means and an additional
38 hours to individual community organizations, non-profits, protecting civil
rights and improving the legal system. Further, the prime motivator for 70
percent of pro bono attorneys is a combined sense of professional duty and
personal satisfaction derived from the work.
This ABA poll, the first of its kind in the nation,
“shows both the profound sense of responsibility that attorneys have
for engaging in public service and the need that exists for increasing the
amount of pro bono legal services that attorneys provide to the poor,”
according to Supporting Justice: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s
Lawyers. The document, released last month, summarizes the survey results.
The ABA will use this data as a tool for measuring pro bono activity and identifying
strategies for expanding pro bono service around the country.
Maryland has been tracking pro bono service since 2002, when
the Court of Appeals of Maryland implemented annual mandatory pro bono service
reporting for all lawyers in the state. The 2003 Current Status
of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers report, which reflects the most
recent data on attorney volunteer service in the state, reported that Maryland
attorneys donated 1,031,216 hours of pro bono service and devoted 402,018 volunteer
hours to activities geared to improve the law, legal system and the legal profession
in 2003. In addition, they gave $3,812,263 million in financial donations to
assist the state’s indigent population.
The ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public
Service initiated the ABA poll to produce a national survey to capture the
amount of pro bono work being done by U.S. lawyers and obtain a clearer understanding
of why attorneys do or do not volunteer for pro bono service. It consisted
of a telephone survey of 1,100 lawyers across the U.S., randomly selected on
a geographic basis and representative of all 50 states. The survey ran from
November 2003 to November 2004 and included attorneys from private practice,
corporate counsel and government and academic settings.
Many of the ABA findings correspond with those found in Maryland.
Both surveys indicate more seasoned, older attorneys engage in pro bono service
than younger attorneys, family law lawyers provide the most pro bono hours
and private practitioners offer more pro bono service than government lawyers.
In addition, Maryland lawyers seem to be most comfortable
with the areas of law they know and provide the highest percentage of pro bono
service in their primary areas of practice. The Eastern Shore boasts the highest
percentage of lawyers donating 50 hours or more, followed by Western Maryland.
Overall, these surveys show that lawyers in Maryland and
across the nation provide a substantial amount of free legal service to people
of limited means and organizations that serve the poor. Most attorneys believe
pro bono work is something attorneys should do, and engage in it out of a sense
of duty and the personal satisfaction that accompanies helping someone in need.