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Should lawyers be required to do pro bono work?

Written By | May 2, 2014

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2014 — There is an increasing demand for pro bono work nationally. Low and middle-income individuals continually have unmet legal needs. States like Maryland, Virginia, and New York have each explored making pro bono work mandatory.

In debt-collection cases or custody battles, low-income individuals often have to represent themselves. Most often, they go up against lawyers and have no opportunity to succeed.

In Maryland, 78% of lawyers do less than one hour of pro bono work a week, while 43% do none at all.

A 50-hour-a-year requirement, which works out to about one hour per week, would not be demanding for lawyers. It would also double the total amount of pro bono work down in the state.

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In 2012, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman made it mandatory that all prospective lawyers complete 50 hours of pro bono work before they can receive their law license in the state.

The American Bar Association (ABA), in Model Rule 6.1, states, “A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year.”

Not everyone is excited about this news. Some small practice lawyers argue against pro bono work. On an ABA message board, one lawyer named George said, “I pay my self employment tax, my health insurance, have no paid sick or vacation days, pay my licensing costs, CLEs, malpractice insurance, and bar dues but that’s just not good enough! Let the big boys pay and leave us struggling little guys alone!”

Others will argue that those that voluntarily do pro bono work will do great work. Those required to do pro bono work may not be effective. There are many lawyers that don’t want to be forced to work for free.

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With this in mind, large firms create incentive programs to make it easier for lawyers to perform pro bono work. For others like Stephen Diaco, an attorney in Florida, the incentive is not monetary, it’s in being able to help the community.

“I love helping people. We’ve done a lot of pro bono work and it’s something I believe strongly in. It’s what every lawyer should do, and feel the responsibility to do. We’ve spent hundreds of hours as a business, and a practice, giving back to the community,”said Stephen Diaco.

In Virginia, State Bar guidelines ask attorneys to donate at least 2% of their time to pro bono legal services. That would equal over 900,000 hours. Virginia lawyers logged less than 4% of that number.



Jeff Barrett is an experienced columnist and digital public relations professional. He has been named Business Insider’s #1 Ad Executive on Twitter, a Forbes Top 50 Influencer In Social Media and has contributed to Technorati, Mashable and The Washington Times.