Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : February 2006

Previous | Next

Pro Bono Service by Maryland Attorneys Continues to Climb

~Attorneys Give 1.5 Million Volunteer Hours to Help Poor~

In 2004, Maryland attorneys gave over 1.5 million volunteer hours to pro bono service and over $ 2.8 million in financial donations to assist Maryland's indigent population with civil legal services. According to a recently released judicial report summarizing the 2004 attorney pro bono reporting results, Maryland attorneys gave 1,071,968 hours in pro bono service in 2004, up 4 percent from 2003. Combined with the 442,257 hours attorneys donated to activities to improve the legal system (up 10 percent from 2003), volunteer pro bono attorneys gave a total of 1,514,225 in 2004. Every year, Maryland attorneys are increasing their support of civil legal services to Maryland's poor.

The 2004 Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers report indicates 23.1 percent of the state's 31,226 lawyers provided more than 50 pro bono hours on an individual basis, and 63.2 percent of in-state full-time lawyers reported rendering some pro bono hours. Findings show attorneys in rural areas consistently render the most pro bono service. However, Western Maryland attorneys engaged in the highest amount of pro bono service in 2004, followed by those on the Eastern Shore, a reversal of 2003, when Eastern Shore attorneys captured the lead. Baltimore City trailed with the lowest.

As in the past, attorneys in Family Law rendered the most pro bono service, yet this area of law practice is only ranked seventh in primary practice areas. Litigation, Corporate/Business Law and Government accounted for the top three law practice areas for Maryland attorneys in 2004. Following Family Law practitioners, those from, respectively, Elder Law, Trusts and Estates, Bankruptcy and General Practice engaged in the highest number of hours.

Over the last three years, several pro bono trends have emerged. Lawyers are most comfortable in the areas of law they know and provide the highest percentage of pro bono service in their primary areas of practice. Lawyers who have practiced law longer volunteer for the most pro bono service. Younger attorneys with fewer years of experience, and those who work for the government and are prohibited from engaging in it at all render the least.

The report also discloses that, with the exception of lawyers in Corporate/Business Law and Litigation, lawyers in practice areas where pro bono activities are lower tend to compensate their lack of pro bono activities by making financial contributions. In 2004, attorneys donated a total of $2,821,759 to organizations that provide legal services to people of limited means.

Family Law is still the greatest area of need for civil legal services to the poor and this need continues to outweigh the number of practitioners. The report reveals that 60 percent of Family Law pro bono service is provided by attorneys who engage in the Family/Domestic, Litigation and General Practice areas of the law. Still, these efforts fall short of meeting the extreme needs of the indigent in the Family Law area.

"Overall, we believe Maryland family law practitioners have been tremendous in their support," stresses Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC). "Nonetheless, the overwhelming number of domestic cases, juxtaposed against the relatively small percentage of lawyers who practice in that area, a certain fatigue factor and limited staff resources, all make adequately addressing the need particularly challenging. For those reasons, we are looking increasingly at other avenues as well, including the Reduced Fee Child Custody Projects across the state, brief service clinics, pro bono mediation services, greater resources for paid staff attorneys, and limited representation."

In 2002, the Court of Appeals of Maryland adopted Maryland Rule 16-903, requiring 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 2004 report, which is published by the Administrative Office of the Courts, reflects the third attorney pro bono reporting cycle in Maryland. The 2004 pro bono survey, which received a 99 percent response, represents a comprehensive poll of Maryland's 31,226 lawyers to determine the extent of pro bono service and the need for legal services to the indigent.

"Over the last three years, we have been quite pleased with how Maryland lawyers are responding to the call for pro bono legal assistance," Goldsmith continues. "However, the Bar as a whole has the potential to offer even more and have a profound impact in our community. PBRC welcomes the opportunity to help direct lawyers to meaningful pro bono opportunities within the state and support their efforts in any way we can."

By now, Maryland attorneys should have completed and submitted their 2005 pro bono activity reports, which are due on February 15, 2006. This upward trend of volunteer attorney pro bono service is expected to continue so that even more people of limited means will be helped in 2006.

Previous previous

next Next

Publications : Bar Bulletin: February 2006

Back to top