By Sharon E. Goldsmith, Esq.
In the most recent compilation of lawyers’ individual reporting forms filed with the Court of Appeals of Maryland from across the state, licensed practitioners donated 1,160,906 hours of volunteer or pro bono legal services to help the state’s indigent population. That statistic, according to the Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers, 2017 report, represents an increase of 10,701 hours over the prior calendar year. The report compiling the required reporting of pro bono legal service hours of 40,215 lawyers was recently submitted to the Maryland Court of Appeals by the Administrative Office of the Courts, which monitors lawyers’ involvement in pro bono activity.
For Key Findings of the report, visit the Maryland Judiciary’s website: https://mdcourts.gov/sites/default/files/import/probono/pdfs/keyfindingsprobonoreport2017.pdf
As Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera noted in a press release announcing the report, “Maryland’s attorneys have demonstrated their commitment to pro bono service, providing more than one million hours of free legal services again last year. Their commitment to meeting the legal services needs of people who cannot afford private counsel enhances access to justice for those they serve pro bono and, ultimately, for all Marylanders. Pro bono service means we come ever closer to keeping the promise of equal justice for all. We must keep striving until all who need legal services receive them, regardless of income.”
However, the increase in hours does not necessarily translate into an increase in the percentage of lawyers involved in pro bono activities. Approximately 52.1 percent of the lawyers practicing full-time in the state helped people of limited means and other vulnerable populations with free or substantially reduced-fee legal services. While still estimated to be one of the highest rates in the country, it indicates a slight decline in the percentage of lawyers engaging in pro bono work from the year before, and a continuing trend over the last few years. By contrast, lawyers reported increasing their financial contributions to legal services organizations serving people of limited means totaling $5,634,476.
The majority of those doing free legal work dedicated from 10 to more than 50 hours. The survey also revealed that the longer attorneys were in practice, the more likely they were to engage in volunteering, a trend that has continued over the years. As in the past, solo practitioners and small firm members, along with extra-large firms (those with 50 or more lawyers), tended to offer their time and skills more frequently than those in large and midsize firms. Overall, those in the more rural parts of the state, such as Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, also reported the highest percentage of pro bono involvement.
The report demonstrates that the goal of the professional responsibility rule on pro bono publico (Rule 19-306.1) of offering access to those without the means to hire counsel is being achieved, as approximately 73 percent of the services rendered involved legal help directly to people of limited means or assisting organizations serving the disadvantaged. The balance of volunteers advanced civil rights causes or offered assistance to other non-profits.
“The volunteer hours and financial contributions made by attorneys throughout Maryland help to fill the gap in serving those who simply cannot afford legal services,” said Senior Judge Karen Jensen, Chair of the Judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service in the Judiciary’s Dec. 11 news release. “Local attorneys are assisting people with matters that are critical to their lives, including family, consumer, housing, elder care, and other important matters that impact their daily lives or quality of life.”
The report further indicates that lawyers actively volunteer and financially support legal services in their local communities. It also reveals challenges for lawyers to engage in pro bono service. For example: 1) the types of law many attorneys practice do not necessarily correlate to the areas of greatest legal need; 2) a substantial number of lawyers licensed in Maryland are retired or practicing outside of the state; 3) a large percentage of lawyers are in government service where there are limitations placed on outside practices and potential conflicts of interest; and 4) many lawyers claim that they simply lacked the time or preferred to do non-legal charitable work.
To make volunteer opportunities easily accessible statewide, the Judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service works with the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC), the pro bono arm of the Maryland State Bar Association, and other legal services programs to ensure that training, mentoring, malpractice insurance, and service-learning opportunities are available on a local level. Lawyers who want more information on getting involved in pro bono work can contact PBRC at www.probonomd.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon E. Goldsmith, Esq., is Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.
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CHANGES IN THE REPORTING PROCESS EFFECTIVE JANUARY 2019: New rules regarding pro bono and IOLTA reporting have changed to permit the creation of a single compliance schedule. This year, attorneys will not receive pro bono and IOLTA reporting forms in January 2019. Pro bono and IOLTA reporting will now be done on a fiscal year basis and reports will be filed online. Attorneys will receive email notification once per year, in July, notifying them it is time to pay their Client Protection Fund assessment and file their pro bono and IOLTA reports online. Attorneys must pay the Client Protection Fund assessment and file both the reports no later than September 10 each year, for the prior fiscal year period (July 1 – June 30). To enable the transition from calendar year to fiscal year reporting, pro bono and IOLTA reports filed in 2019 will be for the period from January 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019. After that, the reporting cycle will be for a 12-month period from July 1 – June 30. All pro bono and IOLTA reporting will be done online through the Attorney Information System (AIS). Attorneys must first register in AIS to complete the online reports. Visit https://mdcourts.gov/lawyers/ais for additional information about AIS. To learn more about filing, visit https://mdcourts.gov/probono/probonoreportingrequirement.