In 2007, Maryland attorneys devoted over 1.4 million volunteer hours in pro bono service to help the state’s poor with their legal needs. They also donated close to $3 million to financially support legal services to the indigent. Maryland lawyers have always shown tremendous support for Marylanders in need and this trend continues, reflected in the latest Court report documenting attorney pro bono volunteerism in Maryland.
The 2007 Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers Report (Report) indicates 55 percent of Maryland’s full-time lawyers volunteered to give legal assistance to the state’s indigent population in 2007. Over 22 percent gave more than 50 hours in pro bono service. In Caroline County alone, 50 percent of its full-time lawyers donated 50+ hours, with Garrett a close second at 41.7 percent.
“The report demonstrates that Maryland lawyers continue to lead the way in delivering pro bono legal services to those in need,” states Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC) President Brian Hochheimer. “While the volume of volunteer hours and financial support underscores the fact that we have much more to do in terms of ensuring that our legal system is accessible to all, these reported numbers energize organizations like the PBRC.”
As always, lawyers hailing from rural regions like the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland render the most pro bono hours in the state while those in metropolitan areas tend to give the fewest hours. The Eastern Shore led the way with 78 percent of its attorneys giving pro bono service, followed by Western Maryland with 73. The highest percentage of lawyers rendering 50+ hours also came from these two regions.
Holding with tradition, practitioners in Family Law and Trusts/Estates/Wills provide the most pro bono service, followed by those in Personal Injury, Bankruptcy and Commercial Law. Solo practitioners donate the most pro bono service, followed by their counterparts in extra-large law firms and small law firms. Again this year, government attorneys, by far, provided the least.
According to the Report, lawyers gave 1,069,666 hours in pro bono service in 2007, plus an additional 409,853 hours in activities to improve the legal system. Their financial contribution to pro bono provider organizations totaled $2,957,450. The actual number of pro bono hours dipped slightly from 1,097,692 hours in 2006.
“The report continues to highlight the fact that access to legal services is paramount to our system of justice,” stresses Sharon E. Goldsmith, PBRC Executive Director. “The current stress on the economy is impacting more people from all walks of life who are finding themselves in need of legal help. Lawyers are continuing to do their part but will need to be even more creative and find new ways to reach out to those who may be able to find relief through the justice system. It is a challenge that all of us in the legal profession must be willing to shoulder or the system will unravel.”
But “with this level of continued support,” Hochheimer stresses, “we will continue to develop new opportunities for Maryland lawyers to devote their time and talents for those struggling and without the means to help themselves.”
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 2008 results. All Maryland attorneys are required to file annual pro bono reports and should now be completing their 2008 forms and filing them with the Court of Appeals by February 15, 2009.