Pro Bono Service by Maryland Attorneys Continues to Climb
~Attorneys Give 1.5 Million Volunteer Hours to Help
In 2004, Maryland
attorneys gave over 1.5 million volunteer hours to pro bono service and over $
2.8 million in financial donations to assist Maryland's indigent population with
civil legal services. According to a recently released judicial report
summarizing the 2004 attorney pro bono reporting results, Maryland attorneys
gave 1,071,968 hours in pro bono service in 2004, up 4 percent from 2003.
Combined with the 442,257 hours attorneys donated to activities to improve the
legal system (up 10 percent from 2003), volunteer pro bono attorneys gave a
total of 1,514,225 in 2004. Every year, Maryland attorneys are increasing their
support of civil legal services to Maryland's poor.
The 2004 Current
Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers report indicates 23.1
percent of the state's 31,226 lawyers provided more than 50 pro bono hours on an
individual basis, and 63.2 percent of in-state full-time lawyers reported
rendering some pro bono hours. Findings show attorneys in rural areas
consistently render the most pro bono service. However, Western Maryland
attorneys engaged in the highest amount of pro bono service in 2004, followed by
those on the Eastern Shore, a reversal of 2003, when Eastern Shore attorneys
captured the lead. Baltimore City trailed with the lowest.
As in the past,
attorneys in Family Law rendered the most pro bono service, yet this area of law
practice is only ranked seventh in primary practice areas. Litigation,
Corporate/Business Law and Government accounted for the top three law practice
areas for Maryland attorneys in 2004. Following Family Law practitioners, those
from, respectively, Elder Law, Trusts and Estates, Bankruptcy and General
Practice engaged in the highest number of hours.
Over the last three
years, several pro bono trends have emerged. Lawyers are most comfortable in the
areas of law they know and provide the highest percentage of pro bono service in
their primary areas of practice. Lawyers who have practiced law longer volunteer
for the most pro bono service. Younger attorneys with fewer years of experience,
and those who work for the government and are prohibited from engaging in it at
all render the least.
The report also
discloses that, with the exception of lawyers in Corporate/Business Law and
Litigation, lawyers in practice areas where pro bono activities are lower tend
to compensate their lack of pro bono activities by making financial
contributions. In 2004, attorneys donated a total of $2,821,759 to organizations
that provide legal services to people of limited means.
Family Law is still the
greatest area of need for civil legal services to the poor and this need
continues to outweigh the number of practitioners. The report reveals that 60
percent of Family Law pro bono service is provided by attorneys who engage in
the Family/Domestic, Litigation and General Practice areas of the law. Still,
these efforts fall short of meeting the extreme needs of the indigent in the
Family Law area.
"Overall, we believe
Maryland family law practitioners have been tremendous in their support,"
stresses Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center
of Maryland (PBRC). "Nonetheless, the overwhelming number of domestic cases,
juxtaposed against the relatively small percentage of lawyers who practice in
that area, a certain fatigue factor and limited staff resources, all make
adequately addressing the need particularly challenging. For those reasons, we
are looking increasingly at other avenues as well, including the Reduced Fee
Child Custody Projects across the state, brief service clinics, pro bono
mediation services, greater resources for paid staff attorneys, and limited
In 2002, the Court of
Appeals of Maryland adopted Maryland Rule 16-903, requiring 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 2004 report, which is
published by the Administrative Office of the Courts, reflects the third
attorney pro bono reporting cycle in Maryland. The 2004 pro bono survey, which
received a 99 percent response, represents a comprehensive poll of Maryland's
31,226 lawyers to determine the extent of pro bono service and the need for
legal services to the indigent.
"Over the last three
years, we have been quite pleased with how Maryland lawyers are responding to
the call for pro bono legal assistance," Goldsmith continues. "However, the Bar
as a whole has the potential to offer even more and have a profound impact in
our community. PBRC welcomes the opportunity to help direct lawyers to
meaningful pro bono opportunities within the state and support their efforts in
any way we can."
By now, Maryland
attorneys should have completed and submitted their 2005 pro bono activity
reports, which are due on February 15, 2006. This upward trend of volunteer
attorney pro bono service is expected to continue so that even more people of
limited means will be helped in 2006.