In 2006, Maryland attorneys provided over one million hours in pro bono service to assist the state’s poor with their legal problems. In addition, Maryland lawyers donated $3.2+ million to financially support legal services to the indigent. The strong level of attorney pro bono service in Maryland continues, as lawyers volunteer to assist those in need.
The 2006 Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers Report (Report) indicates 55.9 percent of Maryland’s full-time lawyers volunteered to give legal assistance to the state’s indigent population. Attorneys on the Eastern Shore continue to engage in the most pro bono service, with Somerset County leading the way, then Dorchester and Caroline Counties. Western Maryland attorneys followed.
The Report finds lawyers in rural areas of Maryland render higher proportions of pro bono service than their counterparts in metropolitan regions. It further divulges lawyers in smaller law firms, and those in extra-large law firms, provide the most pro bono hours while those in large and mid-size law firms offer the fewest. Practitioners in Elder Law, Family Law and Trusts/Estates/Wills provide the most pro bono service and government attorneys, by far, provide the least.
According to this Report, lawyers gave 1,097,692 hours in pro bono service in 2006, and an additional 382,324 hours in activities to improve the legal system. Their financial contribution to pro bono provider organizations totaled $3,220, 691. While the actual number of pro bono hours and percentage of participation dipped slightly from last year (.06 percent decrease in rate of participation overall), the number of attorneys actually rendering volunteer service increased.
“It is important to realize that each year, attorneys are accepting new cases or providing additional legal services for free or at a substantially reduced rate to ensure that people have access to the legal system,” explains Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland. “They are renewing that commitment each time they accept a new client or assist another disadvantaged community or non-profit serving the poor. The lives that are impacted speak volumes about the type of contribution they are making.”
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.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland has tracked attorney volunteerism across the state since 2002, reporting its findings each year in the Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers Report. It is now in the process of compiling the 2007 results. All Maryland attorneys are required to file annual pro bono reports and should now be completing their 2007 forms and filing them with the Court of Appeals by February 15, 2008.