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President's Column: Mandatory Pro Bono?

by Bruce Weyhrauch

The American Bar Association adopted a rule that provides that lawyers should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono public legal services per year.

In fulfilling this responsibility, the majority of those hours should be provided without fee or expectation of fee to persons of limited means or to organizations in matters designed to address the needs of persons of limited means.

Under the ABA's model rule, lawyers should participate in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession, and voluntarily contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means. You can read the rule here

Florida has a rule that as part of the attorney's professional responsibility, each attorney should aspire to provide at least 20 hours of pro bono services or contribute $350 to a legal aid organization. The only mandatory requirement associated with the Florida rule is that each member of the Florida Bar must annually report whether they met the 20-hour goal. See www.flabar.org. Some officials in other state bars occasionally consider mandatory pro bono. These ripples of interest have not built any waves of support in any other state.

I don't think that the Alaska Bar Association or the Alaska Supreme Court are ready to require mandatory pro bono service. Alaska was not willing to impose a CLE requirement on its attorneys although the majority of states have pro bono service.

In any event, it appears that Alaska Bar Association members are doing a fair job of providing pro bono service. According to the May 2000 Access to Civil Justice Task Force Report, about 960 Alaska attorneys participate in the pro bono program. That is about 43 percent of active in state attorneys.

Recommendations by the Task Force related to pro bono services include recommending that the Alaska Bar adopt the ABA's model rule on aspirational pro bono service. The Task Force also recommends encouraging public sector attorneys to provide pro bono and public service assistance. As noted in the Task Force report, some public sector attorneys are prohibited from performing outside practice of law, and thus cannot represent individuals through the pro bono program. Some public sector attorneys are restricted by internal policies or their supervisors.

The Bar, public sector employers, the court, and the pro bono program should work on these institutional barriers to free up attorneys in the public sector to provide pro bono services.

Pro bono legal service to the disadvantaged is an integral and particular part of a lawyer's pro bono public service responsibility. We should all work to maximize that service to the public.

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