Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2007

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 PRO BONO Profile:  

Measuring Up to Pro Bono

In both business and science, an object measured is an object understood. When something is measurable, trends can be spotted and solutions devised for areas of deficiency. The study of pro bono activity data is no different. Taking a look at where pro bono work is being done in the state and by whom is important in understanding pro bono service as well as in the development of strategies to assist growth. Not "whom" as in specific attorneys or firms, but rather "whom" as in large vs. small firms and solo practitioners, family law vs. general practice, metro areas vs. rural, etc.

Data from recent years shows that attorneys generally provide a high percentage of their pro bono service time in their own field. Also, certain practice areas consistently lead the field in service hours; family law, elder law and estates & trusts have been the top three every year. In addition, statistics show that the percentage of attorneys participating in pro bono work increases the longer they have been working in their field. Another statistic that has remained consistent over the years is governmental attorneys reporting lower pro bono service hours than other attorneys. Why is that? An investigation into that statistic revealed that while some governmental attorneys are actually prohibited by rule from the outside practice of law, most are merely restricted by policy or convention. The restrictions seemed to be the norm across most branches of local, state and federal government, but not all.

There are a few agencies that have developed policies which encourage their attorneys to perform pro bono service that does not present a conflict of interest. One such agency is the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). The OAG's policy establishes guidelines and makes it possible for governmental attorneys to take certain types of pro bono cases. This policy has become a model which is being shared with other agencies in the hopes of generating the same interest in pro bono work.

Recently, the Standing Committee on Pro Bono approached the Office of the Public Defender about developing a pro bono policy. "Given the significant unmet need for civil legal services by disadvantaged citizens of our State," said Nancy Forster, Public Defender for the State of Maryland, "the Office of the Public Defender encourages and seeks to facilitate efforts by attorneys employed by the Office to provide pro bono publico legal service within their communities." The agency recognized immediately that establishing a policy paved the way for badly needed pro bono work while at the same time establishing necessary guidelines.

One of the areas where Public Defenders saw the need for pro bono service was in criminal record expungement. A plan was established that allowed Public Defenders to receive training in record expungement from volunteer instructors recruited through the Pro Bono Resource Center's "Bridge the Gap" program. This instruction enables the Public Defender's to perform a service for their clients and help pave the way for the offender to reenter society. It also removes a source of future pro bono requests. In addition to that, it also develops a cadre of trained volunteers that can be called on to assist clients from other legal service agencies within the guidelines of policy.

The collaboration between the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and the Office of the Public Defender is just one example of how the tracking of pro bono reporting has been instrumental in making adjustments to promote greater pro bono service. It helps keep the goal of equal access to justice for all citizens of Maryland in focus and moving forward. Equal access to justice may be perceived as a lofty goal, but it is a worthy and attainable one. It is worthy of your time, effort and energy and thereby worthy of measurement.

Be on the lookout for the envelope in the mail. It will also be made available online. The whole reporting process only takes about three minutes. If you need assistance, call the Pro Bono Resource Center and we will be happy to help.

Support the legal service agencies in your community. Add your resources to the fight.

For more information on volunteer opportunities in Maryland, please contact Jon Moseley, Director of Volunteer Services and Community Outreach, Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January 2007

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