Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pro Bono

Perhaps as a response to arguments against mandatory pro bono, in 2006 the Illinois Supreme Court amended Rule 756 of the Rules on Admission and Discipline of Attorneys to require attorneys to report the amount of pro bono work performed every year. Attorneys are not obligated to perform pro bono work, but if they do, they are obligated to report it. This approach was first adopted in 1992 by the Florida Supreme Court and is now also used in Maryland, Nevada and Mississippi. The idea behind this approach is the hope that attorneys will get more involved in pro bono activities when they see that others are. It seemed to work very well during the first 8 years in Florida where the plan resulted in an initial dramatic increase in participation in pro bono services and in an apparent higher level of commitment by lawyers to pro bono work. See, Pro Bono in 2000, The Nat’l Law J., December 25, 2000, p. A-11.

Unfortunately, things have apparently remained the same since then. A new study commissioned by the Florida Supreme Court shows that the number of Florida attorneys donating their time to pro bono work has remained stagnant since 2000. During the same period, Florida pro bono programs such as legal aid reported a 30% decline in the number of attorneys who volunteered through their agencies. See the full story here.

I have always argued that the benefits of the reporting requirement are lost unless there is a also an element of publicity attached to it. Requiring lawyers to report will not result in more commitment to pro bono unless the results are publicized and celebrated by the bar associations. I hope the Illinois project generates more attention to the need for lawyers to provide pro bono services, or at least to contribute to organizations that do.

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