Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2007

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Upward Swing in Attorney Pro Bono Continues

~Court report reflects strong level of attorney volunteerism~

The upward swing in volunteer attorney pro bono service in Maryland continues. For the last four years, attorney pro bono reporting, required by the Court of Appeals of Maryland since 2002, has tracked attorney volunteerism across the state. To date, results of the attorney pro bono surveys show a strong level of attorney pro bono volunteerism in Maryland, and this trend is expected to continue when the results of the 2006 pro bono reporting forms that Maryland attorneys are now completing are compiled. These forms must be filed with the Court of Appeals by February 15, 2007.

In 2005, Maryland lawyers gave 1,098,609 pro bono hours to assist the state's indigent population with civil legal services and, when combined with the 407,984 hours lawyers donated to activities to improve the legal system, the state's lawyers dedicated over 1.5 million volunteer hours to help other people. Plus, lawyers donated $2,759,360 in financial contributions to organizations that provide legal services to people of limited means. In 2004, attorneys gave 1,071,968 hours in pro bono service; combined with the 442,257 hours lawyers donated to activities to improve the legal system, they gave a total of 1,514,225 hours in 2004 and contributed $2.8 million in financial donations.

According to the 2005 Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers Report, the number of attorneys who provide pro bono service and who make financial contributions was up slightly, as was the number of full-time lawyers who individually gave 50 hours or more of pro bono service. As in past years, lawyers hailing from the Eastern Shore gave the most pro bono hours, followed by those in Western Maryland. Lawyers in rural areas render the most pro bono service while those in metropolitan areas provide the least.

Attorney pro bono service is still voluntary in the state, but revisions to Rule 6.1 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct, which took effect July 1, 2002, require all Maryland attorneys to file an annual Pro Bono Service Report with the Court. The form documents the number of hours of pro bono service the attorney rendered during the previous year. This pro bono summary gives the Court of Appeals a "snapshot" of the legal services landscape in the state.

As in the past, attorneys in Family Law rendered the most pro bono service, yet this area of law practice is still only ranked seventh in primary law practice areas. Business Law, Real Estate and Litigation accounted for the three top law practice areas for Maryland attorneys in 2005. Following Family Law practitioners, those from, respectively, Elder Law, Trusts, Estates and Wills, Personal Injury and Bankruptcy/Commercial engaged in the highest number of hours.

Over the last three years, pro bono reporting has indeed given the Court a snapshot of the legal services landscape and interesting pro bono trends have emerged. For one thing, it is clear that 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.

In 2005, new language was added to the pro bono surveys to divulge additional attorney trends. The minor changes added the category of "other" to primary practice area on the online form and increased the primary practice jurisdictions to a list of "up to three." A new question to determine the size and type of office in which a lawyer worked was also inserted. In addition, the language of question 11 was fine-tuned to specify "the number of hours of pro bono legal service without fee or expectation of fee, or at a substantially reduced fee."

These additions uncovered several patterns. First, pro bono activity varies greatly by firm type. The report disclosed lawyers in medium-size private firms tend to provide less pro bono hours than those in small and extra-large law firms. Second, "80 percent of government lawyers did not provide any pro bono service, as compared to 32 percent of lawyers in private firms." The report noted "government lawyers prohibited from rendering pro bono service by statute can provide pro bono service in areas other than their practices."

The Court compiles the data documented in the attorney pro bono forms and uses it as the foundation to determine if the legal needs of persons of limited means are being met. After evaluating attorney pro bono activity, the Court is better able to detect gaps in legal services and direct available resources to unmet needs. The ultimate goal of this effort is to increase access to justice for all Marylanders.

"The report reveals interesting data on which types of practitioners tend to donate the most time to pro bono activities assisting the low-income community," states Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland. "This helps us tremendously in our planning and development so we can target particular groups of lawyers and tailor programs accordingly. Just like the public attorney initiative in which we have promoted the use of pro bono policies in government agencies, the newest data will help shape future initiatives and hopefully, inspire innovative pro bono partnerships."

"The reporting results indicate Maryland lawyers are volunteering their legal skills in substantial numbers and continue to give back to the community each year," continues Goldsmith. "While we are engaging many of those lawyers inclined to render pro bono service, there are still some untapped segments of the legal community who we need to involve in meaningful work, including government lawyers, in-house counsel and other transactional attorneys."

By now, all attorneys in Maryland should have received their annual pro bono reporting forms from the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which are due on February 15, 2007. All Maryland lawyers are required to file a form with the Court documenting their pro bono service for the year to maintain Maryland Bar certification. For more information on the 2006 pro bono reporting forms or to review the entire report, refer to www.courts.state.md.us/probono/index.html. Goldsmith encourages attorneys interested in volunteering for pro bono service to contact the Pro Bono Resource Center at (410) 837-9379.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January 2007

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