Editor: W. Patrick Tandy
Maryland Attorneys Give 1+ Million
$2+ Million to Help State's Poor in 2002
~Court Report Shows Attorneys Support Legal Services~
A recent judicial report
summarizing data from the pro bono reporting forms that Maryland attorneys are
now required to submit annually to the Court of Appeals of Maryland indicates
attorneys across the state are very supportive of legal services to Maryland’s
indigent population. In 2002, Maryland attorneys donated over one million hours
in volunteer pro bono publico (free) legal service to help the state’s indigent
population with its legal needs. It is estimated that attorneys donated over
$150 million worth of legal services to help the poor. In addition, attorneys in
Maryland personally gave $2,208,001 as a financial contribution to support legal
services to the poor.
The 2002 attorney pro
bono activity information shows that a vast number of poor people and non-profit
legal services organizations are being assisted by volunteer attorneys on a pro
bono basis. Across the state, many attorneys volunteer through structured legal
services programs and even more help the needy by offering free civil legal
services on an individual basis. While 51 percent offer pro bono service to
people of limited means, 13 percent render service to organizations who serve
people of limited means.
The 2002 Current
Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers report, produced by the
Administrative Office of the Courts, reflects a comprehensive poll of Maryland
lawyers to determine the extent of the indigent’s need for legal services. In
2002, the Court began requiring Maryland attorneys to report their pro bono
hours so it could evaluate the status of pro bono service rendered by Maryland
lawyers, assess volunteer legal services for the poor and direct resources to
areas with the greatest need. The Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono
Service, chaired by Ward Coe, coordinated this effort.
According to this
document, almost 50 percent of the state’s lawyers engage in volunteer pro bono
service, with the highest level of volunteerism found on the Eastern Shore and
in Western Maryland. Lawyers who have practiced longer seem to engage in more
pro bono service, and those who concentrate in family, general and employment
law tend to provide the most pro bono hours.
The judicial report also
discloses that the greatest need for civil legal services for Maryland’s poor
falls in family law, an area of practice which lacks a sufficient number of
attorneys to handle the need. Attorneys seem to prefer pro bono service in their
particular area of law practice, and the highest level of attorneys in Maryland
are found in corporate and business law, followed by litigation defense and
The Court’s initial pro
bono reporting effort in 2002 was considered a success, especially as it was a
new measure, attorneys were not familiar with it and many were not aware that
they were required to return the form. In addition, the Rule took effect on July
1, 2002, and many attorneys had not kept track of their pro bono hours for the
period of January-June, 2002, part of the required reporting cycle. However,
over 98 percent of the state’s attorneys complied with this new measure, and
most who didn’t no longer practiced law or had a bad address.
On July 1, 2002,
revisions to Rule 6.1 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct and new
Rules 16-901, 16-902 and 16-903 took effect, modifying attorney pro bono publico
service in Maryland.
As revised, Rule 6.1
recommends “lawyers strive to render 50 hours of pro bono service annually. A
substantial portion of those hours should be devoted to representing the poor or
organizations that advance the needs of the poor, without expectation of fee or
with the expectation of a substantially reduced fee.” While attorneys in
Maryland did not hit the aspired goal of 50 hours of pro bono service in 2002,
most fell in the 10-50 hour range.
In addition, the Court
adopted new Rule 16-90, establishing a statewide Standing Committee on Pro Bono
Service to serve as a clearinghouse for pro bono materials, study long-range pro
bono issues, receive reports from Local Pro Bono Committees, receive data from
individual Lawyer Pro Bono Reports, offer guidance to the Local Committees and
prepare a State Pro Bono Action Plan for submission to the Court of Appeals by
July, 2005. Rule 16-902 created a Local Pro Bono Committee in each county in
Maryland to survey the need for pro bono service in that county and devise a
Local Pro Bono Action Plan to address the unmet need for services.
Finally, Rule 16-903
required all lawyer members of the Maryland Bar to file an annual Pro Bono
Service Report stating the number of hours of pro bono service they rendered in
the previous year. Lawyers failing to file a Lawyer Pro Bono Report after
receiving notice of default are decertified and prohibited from practicing law.
They can be recertified by filing the delinquent report.
Attorney pro bono
reporting has given Maryland’s Bar and Bench a broader picture of legal services
activity and attorney pro bono service across the state. The Bar and the Bench
now have a better grasp and a more realistic perspective as to the type of pro
bono work currently being done and the areas where additional service is
imperative. Generally, pro bono awareness has increased within the Bar and more
attorneys have expressed interest, come forward and volunteered.
However, while data from
the 2002 pro bono report demonstrates attorneys actively volunteer for and
financially support legal services in their local communities, it also
highlights the challenges Maryland’s Judiciary and the Pro Bono Resources Center
face in targeting areas of need, enhancing services for the poor and expanding
attorney pro bono opportunities.
One of the greatest
challenges lies in Maryland attorneys’ preference to volunteer in their own
practice area. In addition, resources for civil legal services to the state’s
indigent need to be increased and volunteer attorney service in larger
metropolitan and suburban areas needs to be expanded.
“Perhaps the biggest
challenge is meshing lawyers’ practice areas with the most critical areas of
legal need,” states Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of the Pro Bono
Resource Center, MSBA’s pro bono arm. “We are working hard to identify
meaningful pro bono opportunities for the large number of corporate, business
and real estate lawyers across the state. Delivering legal services to more
rural or isolated populations will also require new, innovative solutions.
Overall, these findings will help us significantly in developing a strategic
plan for expanding pro bono legal services in the state.”
By now, attorneys across
Maryland should have completed and returned their 2003 pro bono reporting form
to the Court of Appeals of Maryland, summarizing the pro bono service they
rendered last year. The data from this survey should be available in late 2004.