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
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.