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  SBM Study: Lawyers Give Significant Pro Bono Support for Civil Legal Aid to the Poor

3/30/10

The new State Bar of Michigan study entitled "And Justice For All" shows that in 2007 nearly two-thirds of Michigan lawyers provided some volunteer legal service, and one-third provided financial donations to assist civil legal aid for low-income persons. The study also notes that the need for legal services for the poor still far outstrips available resources, and even more pro bono hours and dollars are needed from Michigan lawyers. Over three million people in Michigan now qualify for free help from legal aid because they live below 200 percent of the federal poverty limit. Due to lack of resources, however, legal aid programs must turn away three of every seven people who request help.

"Under the State Bar's Voluntary Pro Bono Standard, pro bono involves both volunteer legal assistance and financial donations to support nonprofit civil legal aid services for the poor," said Charles Toy, president of the State Bar of Michigan. "Because this report provides insights about why lawyers give both service and donations, it will be a tremendous resource to the Bar, lawyers, and law firms, and to non-profit groups seeking to engage lawyers in pro bono activity."

The State Bar standard specifies that each year attorneys should provide pro bono services to three low-income clients, 30 hours of free or reduced-fee services, or donate $300 to a legal-aid organization. The report indicates that additional education is needed to help lawyers apply a uniform understanding of what activities qualify as pro bono under this standard.

"The survey is a gold mine of data," said Janet Welch, executive director of the State Bar. "It looks at pro bono activity from every direction—by age, by gender, by race, by firm size, by practice setting, and by geographic region. It compares 2007 pro bono activity with the Bar's 1997 survey, and adds to a growing national body of research in this area."

The State Bar, through its Pro Bono Initiative, plans to publish articles in coming months that report on some of the detailed findings in the 77-page survey. The report indicates that most lawyers believe in and support pro bono efforts, expressing the same three top reasons for doing pro bono work in 2007 as they did a decade ago:

  1. A sense of personal satisfaction;
  2. The importance of supporting legal aid, the Bar, or a cause, and
  3. The belief that pro bono efforts are part of a lawyer's professional responsibility.

While we greatly appreciate the contributions our members are making in their communities, we need more lawyers to meet their pro bono obligations through providing direct legal assistance to the poor, particularly in today's challenging economy," Toy said.

Lawyers can contact their local legal aid organization or e-mail the State Bar of Michigan Pro Bono Initiative at pbi@mail.michbar.org to learn how to provide more pro bono help.

The survey, conducted by Michigan State University's Office for Survey Research at the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research under the direction of Dr. Larry Hembroff, was initially proposed in conjunction with a Detroit-area Pro Bono Summit held in November 2008 by the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan Pro Bono Initiative of the Justice Initiatives Committee. It was expanded to a statewide project with funds by the Michigan State Bar Foundation in cooperation with the State Bar of Michigan. View the full survey results.

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State Bar of Michigan
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Lansing, MI 48933-2012
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