In our tough economic times, many people are in dire need of help and lawyers across the country are responding, volunteering for pro bono service to support the indigent. In fact, there has been such a dramatic increase in pro bono service across the country that lawyers now volunteer at a rate of three-to-one compared to the general public. The American Bar Association (ABA) reports that “nearly three-fourths of the lawyers in this country provide free legal services to disadvantaged individuals or to organizations that serve them.”
A recent pro bono study, conducted by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, disclosed that the nation’s lawyer pro bono volunteerism rate jumped 7 percent in the last four years, up from 66 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2008. The ABA Committee’s Study, Supporting Justice II: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers, indicates 73 percent of the country’s lawyers do pro bono work, compared to the general population’s 26.2 percent volunteer work, a big difference. Overall, the study highlights an upward trend in volunteer lawyer pro bono participation in the U.S.
Nowhere is this volunteer lawyer trend more palpable than in Maryland, where, in the last seven months, 800+ attorneys have volunteered for pro bono service, plus training, to help thousands of homeowners in the state who may lose their homes. To date, these volunteers have helped hundreds of homeowners facing foreclosure in the state. This is just one example of the many pro bono initiatives undertaken by volunteer Maryland lawyers everyday.
In 2007, Maryland’s most recent pro bono report reveals Maryland attorneys donated more than 1.4 million volunteer hours in pro bono service and donated roughly $3 million to financially support legal services to the state’s indigent. Maryland’s increase in lawyer volunteer pro bono hours also parallels the national trend. The ABA study tracked an upward trend in volunteer lawyers’ pro bono hours, jumping from 39 pro bono hours in 2004 to 41 hours in the 2008.
It also found lawyers provide pro bono service because “they are aware of the needs of people or organizations, the personal satisfaction of giving back and the belief that lawyers should give back to their communities.” In addition, more than 75 percent of attorneys who performed pro bono service in the past year indicated “they do not seek pro bono opportunities; rather, the opportunities find them.” The lawyers who do not do pro bono cite “a lack of time or support from their employers.”
It is interesting to note that most attorneys define pro bono “as legal work that is delivered for free” and indicate that “when serving a person, the person has to be of limited means.” Moreover, it shows most attorneys have a profound sense of responsibility to do pro bono work and they gain personal satisfaction from doing so.
The ABA study, conducted by an independent consultant, interviewed close to 1,000 attorneys from all types of law practices in all 50 states. Its results are considered a “representative sampling of the legal profession” in the U.S. A copy of the survey may be found at www.abanet.org/media/nosearch/2008_report_pro_bono_work_americas_lawyers.pdf.
Overall, this study underscores U.S. lawyers’ commitment to access to justice by providing pro bono legal services. However, the ABA reports that “even though U.S. lawyers donate more than 20 million hours to pro bono service every year, the poor still do not have access to the legal help they need 80 percent of the time.”