Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2006

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Pro Bono Reporting: True Essence of Attorney Volunteerism
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

By Janet Stidman Eveleth

In 2003, Maryland attorneys gave over one million volunteer hours in pro bono service and over $ 3.8 million in financial donations to assist the state's indigent population. These impressive numbers hail from the 2003 Maryland attorney pro bono reporting forms, showing the value of the information collected on these documents. Pro bono reporting not only provides a snapshot of pro bono service in Maryland but also captures the true essence of attorney volunteerism. Maryland attorneys support civil legal services to the poor.

For years, Maryland's Bar and Bench knew that attorneys volunteered their time for pro bono service and financially supported legal services programs for the indigent, but no hard data ever existed to back up this knowledge. This is one of the reasons the Court of Appeals of Maryland implemented mandatory attorney pro bono reporting in 2002, to document volunteer attorney support for civil legal services for the poor.

By now, all attorneys in Maryland should have received their annual pro bono reporting forms from the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which are due on February 15, 2006. All Maryland lawyers are required to file a form with the Court documenting their pro bono service for the year to maintain Maryland Bar certification. This year, practitioners may notice slight changes in the pro bono forms as the Court tries to better define attorney volunteer pro bono service in Maryland.

Essentially, the minor changes add the category of "other" to primary practice area on the online form and change the primary practice jurisdictions to a list of "up to three." A new question to determine the size and type of office in which a lawyer works has also been added. In addition, the language of question 11 has been fine-tuned to specify "the number of hours of pro bono legal service without fee or expectation of fee, or at a substantially reduced fee."

This year marks the fourth annual reporting period. Although attorney pro bono service remains voluntary in Maryland, revisions to Rule 6.1 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct, effective 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.

To date, results of the pro bono reporting surveys are encouraging. Overall, they indicate Maryland attorneys are very supportive of legal services to the state's indigent population. The Court compiles the data documented in the attorney pro bono forms and uses it as the foundation to determine if the legal needs of persons of limited means are being met. After evaluating attorney pro bono activity, the Court is better able to detect gaps in legal services and direct available resources to unmet needs. The ultimate goal of this effort is to increase access to justice for all Marylanders.

The most recent available reporting results are for the year 2003. They indicate that a vast number of indigent citizens and non-profit legal services organizations are being assisted by volunteer lawyers on a pro bono basis. "Pro bono reporting has had a positive impact on the pro bono effort in Maryland," states Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of Maryland's Pro Bono Resource Center.

"It has raised the profile and visibility of the need for legal services and the myriad of opportunities available to lawyers who want to give back to their communities," Goldsmith adds. She encourages attorneys interested in volunteering for pro bono service to contact the Pro Bono Resource Center at (410) 837-9379.

The Administrative Office of the Courts should release the 2004 pro bono reporting results later this month. For more information on the 2005 pro bono reporting forms, refer to www.courts.state.md.us/probono/index.html.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January 2006

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