Court Report Reveals Over 1 Million Hours of Pro Bono Service with Telling Trends

PBRC was cited in a recent press release issued by the Administrative Office of the Courts which reveals that Maryland lawyers donated over 1.15 million hours of pro bono legal services to people of limited means and organizations serving those vulnerable populations.
According to the Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers, 2016, the majority of full-time lawyers donated somewhere between 10 – 50+ hours (19.2% reporting 10-49 hours; and 19.2% reporting more than 50 hours). Overall, among full-time lawyers practicing in Maryland, 53% reported engaging in some type of pro bono activity. Those in solo or small firm practice provide the majority of the free and reduced fee assistance, and the rate of participation tends to be the highest in more rural communities, such as in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore, continuing the trend of years past. For Key Findings from the report, click here.
What was new to the report, were questions about why lawyers choose to work directly with low-income clients (as opposed to with an organized program) and why they choose not to engage in pro bono. The results and other motivational factors regarding pro bono work were confirmed to some degree in the ABA’s own recent survey of pro bono of Maryland practitioners. (see more below)

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Interestingly, those responding to the question as to why they work directly with clients state that the clients find their way to them. Most lawyers in both surveys reported that the primary reason they do not engage in pro bono legal service is simply “lack of time”; with a significant percentage also reporting that they prefer “non-legal charitable work”. in the ABA survey, “lack of skills or experience in the practice areas needed by pro bono clients” was also cited as a barrier to pro bono.

While the response to the ABA was low, those attorneys who did respond say they are most likely to engage in pro bono work through groups targeting specific geographic locations and areas of law. Of the 53.8% of respondents who provided their most recent pro bono service in 2016, 77% had provided free legal services to low-income individuals. About 42% of the attorneys responding say they use their own judgment when assessing whether or not a client is low-income.

Most ABA respondents suggested offering more limited scope opportunities as a way to improve pro bono programs, a finding consistent with most indicating their pro bono activity consisted of providing limited scope legal representation. They also generally indicate altruistic motivations for their pro bono work, but also that they lack the time and educational resources to offer specialized help to those most in need. When asked what motivates them, attorneys largely indicated “helping people in need,” “ethical obligation,” “professional duty,” “it would make me feel like a good person,” and “participating in reducing social inequalities” as primary factors. The least motivating factors appear to be “recognition from colleagues and friends” and “recognition from employer.”

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