Vermont Bar Journal
Pro Bono Service Gains Momentum
THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 35, No. 2Summer 2009 Pro Bono Service Gains MomentumBy Mary C. Ashcroft, Esq.More lawyers are doing pro bono work, and pro bono lawyers are logging more volunteer hours. That good news comes from a survey released by the American Bar Association in February of this year. The data in Supporting Justice II: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of American's Lawyers,(fn1) resulted from phone interviews with 1100 practicing lawyers throughout the country who were asked about their volunteer legal work for the previous year-from April of 2007 to April of 2008. The focus was on Tier One pro bono work-free legal help for indigent individuals and organizations that serve them.
Close to three-quarters (73 percent) of the lawyers surveyed provided some amount of pro bono service. The respondents averaged forty-one hours of pro bono service for the previous twelve months. This is an upward trend when compared to a previous ABA study(fn2) completed in 2005. In that survey, 66 percent of lawyers reported doing pro bono work, with an average of thirty-nine annual hours.
The ABA's Supporting Justice II study went beyond the numbers to better understand the lawyers, their view of pro bono, what motivates them, and what barriers they face. Key facts emerged that will assist the bar and the legal community to design future pro bono programs.
What is pro bono service? Lawyers' views vary somewhat, but there is general agreement on important parameters:
* Most attorneys surveyed (64 percent) considered pro bono to mean free, rather than reduced fee, legal service. Most lawyers (70 percent) agreed that the client had to be of limited means, as determined by a referral source or their own knowledge of the client's finances, or by accepting the client's word or by requesting financial evidence of need. * Most lawyers indicated that some, but not all, non-profit organizations should qualify for pro bono legal help. Determining factors include the organization's purpose, the population it serves, and its budget. Only slightly more than a third of lawyers surveyed felt that a government agency should qualify for free legal help. * Some activities other than direct legal services were perceived as being pro bono work. Over half of the...