History of Pro Bono
Pro Bono, as we know that term today, really started from at least two different movements. The first was the lawyer volunteer movement that began in larger cities throughout the country in the early 1900s and carried through to many mid-sized cities by the 1960s. This movement led to the establishment of local legal aid offices, first in Detroit and Grand Rapids, and then in many other Michigan cities, including Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Escanaba, Flint, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Monroe, Mount Clemens, Pontiac, and Sault Ste. Marie. Many of those offices were staffed, at least in part, by volunteer lawyers. Of course, even at that time, these legal aid programs were not the only ones to provide pro bono services—many individual lawyers provided free legal assistance to individuals in their communities on an informal basis.
The second movement arose from a Legal Services Corporation (LSC) regulation first adopted in 1983. This regulation required all federally funded legal aid programs to establish and maintain pro bono programs. Many of these programs began as joint programs with local bar associations.
This renewed interest in pro bono led to the strong support of pro bono by all levels of the organized bar; the establishment of pro bono committees in many bar associations; the formalization of pro bono recruitment, referral, and recognition systems; and the adoption of ethics rules strongly encouraging pro bono. And while Michigan has no pro bono reporting requirement, the ". . . And Justice for All" PDF report1, released in 2009, which was funded by the Michigan State Bar Foundation, found that almost 70% of the Michigan attorneys survey respondents did some pro bono work in 2007. However, despite the existence of strong organized pro bono programs in many communities, much pro bono work continues to be based on informal, person-to-person services.
While pro bono work has increased significantly since 1983, federal funding for legal services has remained essentially stagnant for over 30 years, with significant funding reductions in recent years. Funding levels took a precarious drop in 2011 when a 4% cut took place; 2012 saw a 15% cut; and there is an additional 8.3% cut expected for 2013. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that by 2010, due to the recession, the number of people living in poverty in Michigan increased by 50% from the 2000 poverty levels! This has led to even fewer lawyers for an increasing population of poor people and greater unmet legal needs. A national report published by LSC in 2005, Documenting the Justice Gap in America—The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans PDF, and updated in 2009, estimates that legal representation is available for only one in five low-income persons facing a civil legal problem.2 As a result, our current system in Michigan is marked by two phenomena—client needs that are hugely unmet, and a growing awareness by private lawyers of their responsibility to help in meeting this need.
1 The ". . . And Justice for All" report, released in 2009, was a 2008 State Bar of Michigan study regarding Michigan's pro bono activities in 2007.
2 See also Documenting the Justice Gap in Michigan PDF, prepared by the State Bar of Michigan in collaboration with Michigan's legal services providers (Spring 2012), which confirms the national figures as applied to Michigan clients and programs.
Now More Than Ever—Why Should Attorneys be Concerned About Pro Bono?
Pro bono publico ("for the public good") has become a well-established tradition among members of the legal profession. Many lawyers regard pro bono legal service as a personal endeavor, as well as a professional obligation. Among members of the broader society, pro bono is regarded as a noble contribution that is respected, appreciated, and admired.
The State Bar of Michigan recognizes the compelling need for legal assistance to the poor. The State Bar Representative Assembly adopted the Voluntary Standard for Pro Bono Participation.
"All active members of the State Bar of Michigan should participate in the direct delivery of pro bono legal services to the poor by annually:
- Providing representation without charge to a minimum of three low income individuals; or
- Providing a minimum of thirty hours of representation or services, without charge, to low income individuals or organizations; or
- Providing a minimum of thirty hours of professional services at no fee or at a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations; or
- Contributing a minimum of $300 to not-for-profit programs organized for the purpose of delivering civil legal services to low income individuals or organizations. The minimum recommended contribution level is $500 per year for those lawyers whose income allows a higher contribution."
In addition, Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 PDF is a statement of the ethical responsibility of every Michigan attorney to render public interest legal service, including the provision of pro bono legal services. (The American Bar Association's Model Rule 6.1 calls on lawyers to aspire to at least 50 hours of pro bono service per year. It is included later in this Manual.)
Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 provides: "A lawyer should render public interest legal service. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means, or to public service or charitable groups or organizations. A lawyer may also discharge this responsibility by service in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession, and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means."
The advisory comment to this rule states:
"Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, should find time to participate in or otherwise support the provision of legal services to the disadvantaged."
Distinguishing Pro Bono Service & Public Service
The attention given to public interest legal service has not eliminated the confusion that exists about what services actually qualify as pro bono. To understand the pro bono requirement, it is important to consider all of the Voluntary Standard's component parts. For example, some attorneys limit their focus to the "no fee" aspect of pro bono service. As a consequence, they will make the error of assuming that the will they draft at no cost for Aunt Martha is a pro bono service, even though Aunt Martha is comfortably middle class. Pro bono contemplates services for low-income individuals and groups.
A different example involves the attorney who focuses only on the income level of the service recipient. This attorney may make the error of assuming that serving as a coach for a Little League team for disadvantaged children constitutes pro bono involvement. Pro bono must involve the use of unique legal skills possessed by attorneys. Other good works for the community are regarded as "community service."
The State Bar of Michigan's A Lawyer Helps program celebrates lawyers who make a difference for people and society and provides lawyers with tools to continue doing so. A Lawyer Helps focuses on the legal profession's priority of pro bono: free legal help for the poor and financial donations to the Access to Justice Fund to support civil legal aid for the poor. In addition, A Lawyer Helps also recognizes lawyers who give time to other community efforts beyond pro bono. See the A Lawyer Helps website for more information.
As observed by State Bar of Michigan past-president, Hon. Victoria Roberts:
"Lawyers do a tremendous amount of public service which is not pro bono representation. It should also be recognized and valued. But the reason there is a distinction in our Voluntary Standard is to assure that lawyers use their legal skills to help those who need to navigate the justice system but who cannot navigate it without assistance from someone who has the necessary skills. It is important that lawyers understand this distinction and the paramount need to use their legal skills to represent indigent clients in civil matters."
Pro bono service does not, in all cases, require direct client representation. A footnote to the Voluntary Standard explains that other acceptable pro bono activities include:
". . . serving on a local pro bono committee or the board of directors of a legal aid or legal services program, training other attorneys through a structured program, engaging in community legal education programs, or advising not-for-profit, low income, or public interest organizations or groups.
To further illustrate the distinction between pro bono and public service, consider the following examples:
Pro bono: Counseling an indigent consumer about the terms of a rent-to-own furniture contract
Public service: Coordinating a community drive to collect used furniture for the poor
Pro bono: Mentoring a new lawyer's first pro bono referral from a legal aid office
Public service: Mentoring an underprivileged teenager
Pro bono: Membership on the board of directors of a poverty law program
Public service: Membership on the board of directors of a nonprofit opera company
Pro Bono's Value for Lawyers
Pro bono clearly has tremendous value for the indigent individuals and communities that are the direct beneficiaries. There are also substantial benefits for the lawyers who provide these services. New lawyers have the opportunity to gain valuable experience by handling matters that involve issues of great importance to indigent clients. In addition, veteran attorneys are often willing to play the role of mentor for new attorneys who are providing pro bono services. The knowledge acquired through these mentor relationships carries over into all aspects of a budding legal career. As they handle pro bono assignments, new lawyers are able, early in their careers, to meet and interact with judges and veteran opposing counsel who will usually respect the lawyer's pro bono participation.
Additionally, law firms increasingly find that young and talented recruits are attracted to robust pro bono opportunities that offer a welcome change of pace from the demands of corporate and business practice. A successful pro bono experience causes lawyers to feel that they have made a positive difference in the life of another person thereby increasing the quality of their own life.
There are benefits for experienced lawyers as well. On a practical level, many attorneys settle into a specialty, and pro bono work may bring variety to an otherwise predictable routine. In addition, a conventional career path may not have led the veteran lawyer to hold employment that involves full- time advocacy of causes that first inspired the attorney to choose law as a career. Pro bono provides the opportunity to pursue ideals by representing those who are most in need. It generally involves use knowledge and legal skills to make a unique and substantial contribution to the community. At the same time, pro bono enhances the image of a profession that has allowed veteran practitioners and their families to prosper.
Launched at the State Bar's 2010 Annual Meeting, the Master Lawyers Section is comprised of active, inactive, and emeritus State Bar of Michigan members in good standing who have reached age 60 or completed 30 years of practice as members of the Bar. Membership is automatic and free of charge for those who qualify. Active, inactive, and emeritus SBM members of good standing who have reached age 50 or have completed 20 years of membership in the Bar may join the section for $25 annually. Please check out the Master Lawyers Section's Pro Bono Menu of Opportunities PDF for a list of programs that can provide ideas on areas of pro bono opportunity; location of service; and names, emails, or websites to contact for more information.
For solo and small firm practitioners, programs that refer pro bono cases oftentimes provide free and high quality substantive law training in exchange for handling a pro bono case appropriate to the lawyer's interest while building skill level and gaining practical experience. Pro bono offers the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients one may otherwise not encounter, thereby enhancing communication skills and building confidence for inexperienced lawyers. Attorneys in private practice often find that pro bono service leads to paying clients and is an important part of a successful client development plan. Many attorneys see that providing pro bono legal services enhances their reputation within their firm, within the profession, and within their community.
For all attorneys, the conscientious practice of law demands a professional concern for those who do not have access to justice. Pro bono involvement is one way in which individual attorneys can contribute to the public good by protecting the legal rights of the poor.
The Structure & Functions of Pro Bono Programs
"I know I am free to accept pro bono referral from any source . . . but I don't know where to find a steady supply of meritorious pro bono cases."
Michigan has a number of pro bono programs that are anxious to establish relationships with attorneys who are willing to accept periodic pro bono referrals. Often, the preliminary tasks of case screening, document collection, and docketing of immediate deadlines are handled by these programs, leaving the volunteer attorneys to provide legal services only. There are different types of pro bono programs.
Direct delivery pro bono programs provide free, civil legal services to low-income clients who meet eligibility guidelines. Usually, these guidelines relate to income and are very strict. The prospective clients' legal problems are also reviewed for merit. Legal services/legal aid programs are "direct delivery" programs. Some of these programs receive funding from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) established by Congress. They also receive donations from private attorneys who meet their pro bono obligation by making financial contributions, either directly to the program, or through the State Bar of Michigan Access to Justice Fund. Although legal services offices have staff attorneys, LSC-funded programs are required to devote 12.5 percent of their budgets to providing legal assistance to eligible clients through pro bono. This is referred to as the Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) requirement. PAI referrals are usually made to volunteer attorneys by a member of the legal services program staff, or by an outside subcontracting entity (such as a local bar association). To be eligible for these services, a prospective client must generally have income that is at or below 125 percent of the official Federal Poverty Guidelines, however, there are exceptions. Since some legal services programs have different income and asset guidelines, contact your local legal services provider for more information on guidelines to qualify for service.
There are also direct delivery programs that are funded by the Older Americans Act (Title III-B) PDF. Grants under this statute are distributed through regional Area Agencies on Aging for a variety of purposes, including legal assistance for the poor. Grant recipients are often legal services programs, but private law firms are also eligible, and these services are provided only to persons 60 years of age or older. The provider is referred to as a Title III-B provider, and there is no requirement that Title III-B providers operate like a PAI program. Smaller providers often do not, while larger programs and LSC-funded programs usually have a PAI component.
A third type of direct delivery pro bono program is usually private, and non-federally funded. These programs are commonly called "free-standing programs." Some are operated under the auspices of a bar association, a corporation, or a community-based organization. Each program has its own criteria for accepting clients. Some base their decisions on social needs (e.g., AIDS programs and the legal needs of domestic violence victims) and others on financial need.
Handling a Pro Bono Referral Step by Step
Let's assume that you are an official volunteer attorney for a pro bono program that uses a "case assignment model." The typical case referral might involve the following steps:
The Client's Predicament
1. Jane Client is 70 years old, and her husband passed away several months ago, leaving her with large credit card debts, a large car payment, and a monthly mortgage—none of which have been timely and fully paid. Yesterday, she received a summons and complaint for a collections lawsuit that has been filed against her. She has taken the documents to her local legal services office and requested assistance.
Determining Eligibility for Legal Services Assistance
2. At the legal services office, Mrs. Client meets with a staff member whose job is "intake," or the collection of information needed to determine client eligibility. Mrs. Client provides identification, and information about her income and assets. The intake worker considers the information along with income eligibility guidelines and determines that Mrs. Client meets these requirements. Mrs. Client is then asked to provide a brief summary of her legal problem. The legal services program is required by its funder to periodically specify the types of cases it will handle. Acceptable case categories are called "priorities." Because this legal services office has established collection defense as one of its priorities, the intake worker concludes that Mrs. Client is eligible for services.
Referral to Private Attorney Involvement
3. Mrs. Client's file is forwarded to a supervising attorney, who reviews the pleadings and current assignments of the program's staff attorneys. A decision is made that the caseloads of the staff attorneys do not allow their acceptance of an additional case. The supervising attorney forwards Mrs. Client's file to the legal services program's private attorney involvement coordinator. Cases are often sent directly to PAI.
PAI Cases Assessment
4. The PAI coordinator invites Mrs. Client to provide additional details about her case. A conclusion is reached that there are potential defenses to the litigation, and preparations are made to refer the matter to a volunteer attorney. The PAI coordinator maintains a lengthy roster of volunteer lawyers which is categorized according to specialties and preferences. Your name is on the roster because you responded to an appeal for volunteers by the local bar president last spring. Since that time, you have accepted two referrals.
You Get the Case
5. You receive a call from the PAI coordinator, who provides a brief oral summary of the case as the request for your involvement is made. You agree to represent Mrs. Client. As you receive effusive thanks, you conclude your conversation with a request for the file.
What You Do After You Receive the File
6. Two days later, Mrs. Client's file arrives in the mail. It contains copies of the documents she provided, along with copies of some of the intake documents prepared by the legal services program. Because Mrs. Client, like all clients, has been advised that you will not represent her unless she contacts you and requests your involvement, for the moment, you do nothing.
Your First Meeting with the Client
7. The next morning, Mrs. Client calls to schedule an appointment. When she meets with you later that afternoon, she formally retains you, and you collect additional information about her and her case.
Obtaining Pro Bono Malpractice Insurance Coverage
8. After she leaves, you call the legal services PAI coordinator and confirm that you met with Mrs. Client. You also explain that you are unsure whether the coverage provided by your firm's professional liability insurance policy will extend to this type of case. Upon your request, the PAI coordinator provides assurance that the legal services program's policy specifically provides for coverage of lawyers who volunteer to handle the program's referred cases. Arrangements will be made to ensure that your work on this case will be covered at no cost to you through the program's malpractice insurance.
Additionally, the State Bar's MI-LAPP program might be able to offer malpractice coverage. A request for coverage can be made if the client's income is within 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, liquid assets do not exceed $5,000, and the case is a meritorious civil matter that would not be handled by a private lawyer because there is no likelihood of a fee. Visit the PBI's web page for details, an intake form, and instructions.See also, MI-LAPP's Malpractice Insurance Coverage for Pro Bono Pamphlet PDF.
Pro Bono Websites and Mentors
9. As you prepare to draft an answer to the filed complaint, you begin to suspect that the issues are not unique. You contact the PAI coordinator and request advice about where you might locate helpful reference materials and resources. The legal services office may provide you with sample briefs and pleadings.You may also be given the names of attorneys who have agreed to mentor pro bono lawyers. Additionally, you may be given the Internet address for the Michigan Legal Help website, which provides legal information, access to SCAO forms, community resources, and other information that can assist you with your pro bono case.
Tracking Pro Bono Hours
10. After a review of pleadings provided by the legal services office,a visit to the Michigan Legal Help website, and a conversation with a pro bono mentor, you have obtained not only pleadings forms that can be adapted for your case, but also a strategy for seeking early dismissal of the litigation. You record your time as scrupulously as you would for a paying client. This information is important to the legal services program, because of their need to quantify the time expended by attorneys on pro bono cases, and to the State Bar and its desire to share and promote the incredible generosity of lawyers.
Application for Waiver of Fees and Costs for Indigents
11. Before packaging your client's answer for filing with the court, you include an application for waiver of fees and costs for indigent persons. This application is made pursuant to MCR 2.002 PDF. If the request is granted, neither you nor Mrs. Client will be responsible for payment of certain court fees and costs for the duration of the litigation (unless Mrs. Client's financial circumstances change). You know the client and the legal services program have limited financial resources, and you use the opportunity to avoid additional expenses.
Judicial Support for Pro Bono Attorneys
12. Several weeks later, you appear in court to argue your motion for dismissal of the litigation. The courtroom is crowded because of a heavy docket. You know this judge is very supportive of pro bono involvement, and you explain to the law clerk that you are appearing on a pro bono matter. Moments later, you are advised that your case has been moved to the top of the docket, and it is, in fact, the first case called. You argue eloquently, and your motion is granted. You are leaving the courthouse 30 minutes after arrival.
Judicial officers: Please see the Michigan Pro Bono Toolkit PDF for many opportunities that judicial officers have to encourage attorneys to provide pro bono assistance.
Reimbursement of Out-of-Pocket Costs
13. Back at your office, you prepare case closing documents for the legal services program.You note that you had a few minimal out-of-pocket costs that the program may be able to reimburse. You follow the policy established by the referring program to seek reimbursement. Mrs. Client has called a third time to thank you for your assistance. One of your partners has agreed to meet with her briefly next week to counsel her on the management of her remaining debts. You sit back and reflect on the fact that people like Mrs. Client are the reason you went to law school.
Common Questions & Answers About Pro Bono
Many efforts have been made by organizations that support pro bono work to provide resources and assistance intended to facilitate case handling. Information is provided in the responses to some of the most commonly asked questions about pro bono.
Q1. How does a pro bono lawyer obtain malpractice insurance coverage for pro bono cases?
Answer. Most attorneys should be able to obtain malpractice coverage through their own professional liability insurance policies. Policies that cover attorneys in private or corporate practice usually provide adequate coverage for their volunteer legal activities. While some insurance policies limit coverage outside of particular practice areas or specialties or to work performed only on behalf of a particular business or corporation, a rider to an existing policy may be all that is required to extend coverage to pro bono matters. If coverage is unavailable, many legal services programs and other pro bono programs, such as the Michigan Litigation Assistance Partnership Program (MI-LAPP) carry professional liability insurance that extends to their volunteer attorneys.
In its continuing effort to encourage pro bono work, the State Bar of Michigan provides malpractice insurance coverage for those attorneys who take a pro bono case but who may not have their own malpractice policy which covers their pro bono work and who are not otherwise covered by a legal services program's pro bono malpractice policy. This coverage is provided on a case-by-case basis. To be eligible for coverage, a case must be reviewed and approved by the Bar at the time the case is accepted by the lawyer.
For more information on MI-LAPP's Malpractice Insurance Coverage for Pro Bono and to obtain insurance, please check out the PBI website, or contact Robert Mathis, SBM Pro Bono Service Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412.
Please see, Malpractice Insurance Coverage for Pro Bono Pamphlet PDF
Q2. Is it true that filing fees are waived for pro bono cases?
Answer. They can be in some cases. MCR 2.002 PDF provides in relevant part: "If a party shows by ex parte affidavit or otherwise that he or she is receiving any form of public assistance, the payment of fees and costs as to that party shall be suspended." As to other indigent persons, the rule states: "If a party shows by ex parte affidavit or otherwise that he or she is unable because of indigency to pay fees and costs, the court shall order those fees and costs either waived or suspended until the conclusion of the litigation." The rule addresses as well the possibility of an order requiring a spouse to pay fees and costs for the opposing party in domestic relations cases. Finally, a party who has had fees and costs waived or suspended may have the costs of service of process by an official process server, or the cost of service by publication, paid by the county or funding unit in which the litigation is pending. To apply for waiver or suspension of fees, pro bono attorneys should use SCAO Form MC 20 PDF. Waiver of fees on appeal is governed by MCL 600.321(4). The statute provides:
"If a person is unable to pay the fees required by this section, the person, by motion, accompanied by the person's affidavit stating facts showing such inability, may ask the court to waive the fees and the court or a judge of the court may waive payment of the fees."
While there is no specific court-approved form available for use by indigent litigants seeking relief from fees on appeal under this provision, an affidavit comparable to MC 20 PDF may be appropriate. In federal court, the statute that allows indigent litigants to "proceed in forma pauperis" is 28 USC Section 1915. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 24 PDF (p.21) governs an indigent litigant's waiver of fees on appeal. Form 4 (p.49) is the court- approved form, entitled "Affidavit to Accompany Motion for Leave to Appeal In Forma Pauperis PDF."
Q3. Is client representation the only way an attorney can render pro bono service?
Answer. No, it is not the only option. Attorneys may become mentors to less experienced volunteer attorneys who are involved in the direct delivery of free legal services. They may participate as consultants to pro bono programs or their volunteer attorneys. They may provide training in areas of law needed by legal services staff attorneys and volunteer attorneys who are or who wish to become involved in the direct delivery of pro bono legal services. They may recruit volunteer attorneys through speaking engagements at law firms, corporate legal departments, and bar associations. They may serve on advisory boards for local pro bono committees, or the board of directors of a legal aid or legal services program. They may organize and participate in fundraising activities for a pro bono program. They may contribute financially to a State Bar approved program that provides direct legal services to low-income individuals or organizations. This can also be accomplished by making contributions to the Access to Justice Fund. They can assist legal services programs by participating in community legal education activities (workshops, preparation of pamphlets, etc.) They can engage in legislative and administrative advocacy on behalf of the poor.
Q4. Why should lawyers bother to keep track of the hours they devote to pro bono service?
Answer. Although attorneys will not use their pro bono time records for billing purposes, this information is extremely important to pro bono programs, the State Bar of Michigan, and other organizations that seek support for pro bono involvement and the legal profession generally. Usually, the organizations that provide funds to legal services organizations require a report on the amount of pro bono time that has been donated by volunteer lawyers. In addition, attorney time has quantifiable value. The time devoted by lawyers to pro bono translates into a financial contribution that is made to the citizens of Michigan. This information is often very helpful when it is necessary to respond to anecdotal allegations about the legal profession and its role in society.
Q5. How can attorneys employed by large law firms, corporate legal departments, and other organizations where poverty law is not practiced handle pro bono cases?
Answer. Most pro bono projects are designed with you, the business attorney in mind. Agencies are acutely aware that most large law firms and corporate legal departments do not have expertise in poverty law. Thus, many opportunities offered by legal aid are discreet, time-limited and are easily learned with basic training. Call your local legal aid agency to find out what specific opportunities are available for attorney volunteers without poverty law expertise. Attorneys within corporate legal departments may have unique questions because the culture of pro bono and the logistics of managing representations beyond the corporation may not yet be fully developed. In this situation, you may wish to contact the Pro Bono Institute's Corporate Pro Bono, a global project of the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Pro Bono Institute. They can answer questions about getting started, which can include connecting you with attorneys in your community that are already doing pro bono in the areas that you wish to work.
For those attorneys wishing to engage in pro bono that is closer to their day to day practice, consider contacting Michigan Community Resources in Detroit and Lansing for state-wide opportunities to represent nonprofits in various capacities, including offering corporate, tax, contract real estate, employment, intellectual property legal assistance. Here, the attorney's skills are applied directly to the nonprofit and improves the function of the nonprofit itself thus, enabling it to more efficiently serve its targeted community.
Either way, you should not underestimate the power of you and your office to make a tremendous impact regardless of your expertise!
For more information on different types of pro bono opportunities that are available throughout Michigan, contact Robert Mathis, SBM Pro Bono Service Counsel, at (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412 or email@example.com
Q6. Where can pro bono attorneys who are unfamiliar with certain substantive areas of the law obtain training and support at little or no cost?
Answer. Many pro bono programs offer training and support to their volunteer attorneys. This training may take many forms, from orientation to the administrative procedures of the program to in-depth instruction on the aspects and details of the legal areas handled by the program. Programs often provide free training to attorneys on topics such as family law, landlord-tenant, etc. (which are generally the areas of highest client demand), in exchange for the attorneys' agreement to accept pro bono case referrals. This may also allow attorneys to expand their areas of practice. Some of the ways training is organized are in-house sessions, jointly sponsored programs, and webinars.
The State Bar is proud to sponsor upcoming pro bono trainings, including the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) Referral Match Program Pro Bono Tax Training on June 8, 2013, and the Domestic Violence Committee's Pro Bono Family Law Training on October 25, 2013. For more information on available training opportunities, please check out the PBI website, or contact Robert Mathis, SBM Pro Bono Service Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412.
Q7. Isn't there a risk that if an attorney handles a case pro bono, the client will expect free services for other cases?
Answer. Most pro bono programs emphasize to the clients that the volunteer attorneys are available to handle only the matter that is the subject of the referral. The attorneys are encouraged to emphasize this as well during the first meeting with the client. Attorneys are fully able to control their pro bono caseloads, and are welcome to decline requests for representation at any time.
Q8. Even if fees are waived, the pro bono lawyer may incur other out-of-pocket costs in the handling of the case. Is the attorney expected to provide free services and cover incidental litigation expenses as well?
Answer. Not necessarily. Out-of-pocket costs incurred in connection with cases handled through a pro bono program may be reimbursed by the program or by the client. There may be a cap on reimbursable costs due to limited funds. Each program has its own reimbursement process, which may require prior approval of certain costs. Attorneys should speak with the pro bono program to receive specific information.
Q9. If an attorney generally provides legal counsel to corporate executives and professionals, is he or she really able to effectively relate to and represent low-income clients?
Answer. Experienced volunteer attorneys report that it is easy to relate to low-income clients. They should be accorded the same respect and treatment as paying clients. It is helpful to review with the client a retainer agreement PDF or a "rights and responsibilities" form that spells out the roles, duties, and responsibilities of the volunteer and the client. Most, if not all, pro bono programs have copies of retainer forms. A sample rights and responsibilities form is included in this manual. By holding a discussion about mutual responsibilities at the initial interview, a successful working relationship can be forged from the beginning. As in any attorney-client relationship, clear and efficient communication is important. Alternative contact numbers and addresses should be obtained in case the client's phone number or address changes or the client fails to maintain contact or respond to calls or letters. Attempts to contact the client should be documented.
An unresponsive client should receive a letter that advises that the case will be closed by a certain date if the client fails to respond within a reasonable time. Client communication may present challenges because of language barriers, lack of formal education, or illiteracy. In addition to written communications and information, it is essential to clearly define the information needed from the client, any steps the client must take, the meaning of all legal terms, and the significance of judicial or administrative proceedings. Low-income clients may have difficulty attending meetings or making court appearances because they are dependent on others for transportation or for other reasons, such as the lack of child care. The client should sometimes be asked whether it would be easier to meet at an alternate, more accessible location. The use of another attorney's office, a bar association office, or the legal services program's office may be more convenient. It may be necessary to work with the client to arrange transportation for important meetings or hearings. Understanding and anticipating a pro bono client's special needs is an important part of the volunteer attorney's responsibility.
American Bar Association & State Bar of Michigan Model Pro Bono Rules
ABA Model Rule 6.1
"Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should: provide a substantial majority of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to: persons of limited means or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; and provide any additional services through: delivery of legal services at no fee or substantially reduced fee to individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization's economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate; delivery of legal services at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means; or participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession. In addition a lawyer should voluntarily contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means."
See also, Standards for Pro Bono Programs Providing Civil Pro Bono Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means (1996).
Michigan's Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 PDF
"A lawyer should render public interest legal service. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means, or to public service or charitable groups or organizations. A lawyer may also discharge this responsibility by service in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession, and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means."
Michigan Pro Bono Guidelines—The Voluntary Standard for Pro Bono Participation
At the State Bar, we ask our members to give back to their communities by providing legal services to the poor as only lawyers are qualified to do. Under the State Bar's Voluntary Pro Bono Standard (Standard), every year each lawyer is asked to take three cases, donate 30 hours, or contribute $300 ($500 per year for those lawyers whose income allows a higher contribution) to support legal aid through the Access to Justice Fund. So in Michigan, pro bono involves both time and money. Making a donation to the ATJ Fund is a way for lawyers who are not able to provide service to meet the pro bono standard. But many lawyers generously give both service and money, which is wonderful because the need for both is so great these days.
Formal recognition on the part of the State Bar of the importance of "providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means" is reflected in the Standard. The Standard, which was recently updated, was initially adopted by the Representative Assembly of the State Bar of Michigan on April 28, 1990, and states:
As adopted by the Representative Assembly as a policy of the State Bar of Michigan
All active members of the State Bar of Michigan should participate in the direct delivery of pro bono legal services to the poor by annually:
- Providing representation without charge to a minimum of three low income individuals; or
- Providing a minimum of thirty hours of representation or services, without charge, to low income individuals or organizations;1 or
- Providing a minimum of thirty hours of professional services at no fee or at a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations; or
- Contributing a minimum of $300 to not-for-profit programs2 organized for the purpose of delivering civil legal services to low income individuals or organizations.3 The minimum recommended contribution level is $500 per year for those lawyers whose income allows a higher contribution.
1 In recognition of the fact that some individuals may not be able to provide direct client representation, the time obligation may be fulfilled by active involvement in activities such as serving on a local Pro Bono committee or the board of directors of a legal aid or legal services program, training other lawyers through a structured program, engaging in community legal education programs or advising nonprofit, low income, or public interest organizations or groups.
2 A list of eligible programs will be published by the Committee on Pro Bono Involvement and made available annually through the State Bar of Michigan.
3 An attorney's obligation may be fulfilled by a combination of activities such as direct representation of an individual in one case and a financial contribution of $200.
Alternatives to Extended Client Representation
In a previous section, reference was made to a few alternatives to this approach to pro bono, such as mentoring, training, pro bono program board membership, fundraising, donations, etc. There are also other pro bono delivery models. The State Bar's Pro Bono Initiative recognizes the following models as pro bono work under Michigan's Voluntary Pro Bono Standard.
Case Assignment Model
Most attorneys providing pro bono service are associated with programs that use the "case assignment model." This means that volunteer attorneys enroll in a local pro bono program and agree to accept case referrals without expectation of a fee. The pro bono program then assigns cases, usually one at a time. It is then expected that the volunteer attorneys will represent the assigned client through all phases of the matter until resolution of the case.
The "clinic model" involves attorneys who are recruited to provide legal rights advice and counseling during a regularly scheduled block of time (e.g., a two-hour shift, twice per month). The clients visit the office or clinic on a walk-in basis, or they are scheduled beforehand on an appointment basis. The clinic may ask the volunteers to provide legal rights information in one or several areas of law, but the volunteer is not expected to take the client's particular case unless the volunteer so chooses. A number of pro bono programs need attorneys to volunteer their time to provide legal rights information, advice, and counseling at clinics for a set period of time each week or month. Such programs offer training in particular areas of law and will often have in-house technical and legal support available during a shift. Many attorneys in medium and large firms have discovered that this type of pro bono involvement, rather than handling individual cases, is the easiest way to accommodate their busy schedules.
Courthouse Based Model
A growing pro bono activity involves lawyer participation in a "courthouse based model." This model allows lawyers to volunteer time assisting members of the public who seek help from the growing number of pro se assistance centers in courthouses around the state. Additionally, the Michigan Legal Help website provides legal information, forms, and referral information to assist pro se litigants.
Attorneys have had similar experiences volunteering for programs that use the "hotline model." These programs are organized much like clinics, except the clients speak with the volunteer attorneys by telephone rather than in person.
Rural Delivery Model
Delivery of legal assistance to low-income persons in rural areas presents challenges that urban areas may not encounter. Those in need of assistance often face barriers such as a lack of transportation or easy access to a telephone. Local attorneys may be fewer in number, and conflicts of interest may restrict the availability of legal representation. These challenges can be overcome through many of the models described above, such as centrally located telephone hotlines or clinics.
Where Pro Bono Volunteers Can Find Support
Pro Bono and the Worldwide Web
Information about pro bono resources is as close as your nearest computer. The following websites provide useful information for volunteer lawyers.
American Bar Association
This site contains many pro bono resources provided by the ABA.
State Bar of Michigan
News and information about legal matters in Michigan can be found by clicking on the Justice Initiatives tab. This site contains information on pro bono and legal aid programs in Michigan, the Voluntary Standard, upcoming trainings, and programs sponsored by the State Bar. The Bar's website also contains information on pro bono honors, including the Circle of Excellence PDF and the John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award.
Pro Bono Month
Part of the State Bar's website, the Pro Bono Month web page highlights the need for and importance of pro bono civil legal assistance to low-income people during October and all other times of the year. The State Bar of Michigan has joined the American Bar Association and many other states in selecting October as a time to highlight the need for and importance of pro bono civil legal assistance to low-income people.
Michigan Compiled Laws
This site contains Michigan statutes and other information.
Michigan Legal Help
The Michigan Legal Help website was created to help people who have to handle simple civil legal problems without a lawyer. However, the Michigan Legal Help website can also provide pro bono attorneys with links to forms, community services referral contact information, and other information to help the pro bono attorneys better assist their clients.
Michigan Poverty Law Program
This site contains substantive law information, a brief bank, and other information that is helpful to attorneys who accept pro bono referrals from legal services programs. Legal services pro bono coordinators can provide volunteer lawyers with brief bank passwords.
Pro Bono Institute
Resource materials on implementing and managing a law firm pro bono program, including a best practices guide, a model retainer agreement, and sample law firm policies.
Nonprofit organization founded to increase the amount and quality of legal services for low-income communities using information technology.
State Bar of Michigan Justice Initiatives
Appointed by the President of the State Bar, the Committee on Justice Initiatives (CJI) consists of the four Initiative co-chairs and additional volunteers. The four Initiatives include the Criminal Issues Initiative, Equal Access Initiative, Justice Policy Initiative, and the Pro Bono Initiative. The CJI meets quarterly or as needed and is responsible for managing the work of the Initiatives with a goal of assisting the State Bar with strategic goals and establishing priorities, coordinating projects, and working on a communication strategy. To accomplish these goals, the CJI selects members of each Initiative; receives reports, and provides comment as needed, on the work of each Initiative, including public policy recommendations; recommendations to the State Bar for projects, special workgroups and training events; and input on possible agenda topics for the Justice Initiatives Summit. The State Bar of Michigan Justice Initiatives provide support for the work of the CJI.
The CJI develops and recommends proposals for the effective delivery of high quality legal services in Michigan, equal and fair to all. The Initiatives activities include
- Analyzing and making recommendations for positions on proposed legislation, court rules, and other policies relevant to the committee's jurisdiction.
- Developing policies and programs to benefit underserved populations, including juveniles and those with special needs.
- Encouraging and coordinating free or discounted civil legal services.
- Working to increase resources for civil legal aid programs.
- Examining collateral civil consequences of criminal convictions and issues of adequate representation in the criminal justice system.
State Bar of Michigan Pro Bono Initiative
The Pro Bono Initiative (PBI) is responsible for encouraging and coordinating the delivery of pro bono legal services. The PBI also helps the State Bar of Michigan play a constructive leadership role in promoting policies and mechanisms to support lawyers in their effort to fulfill their ethical responsibility to assist in the provision of civil legal services to the poor.
As provided above, the State Bar of Michigan supports many Justice Initiatives that help make available high-quality civil legal services to all Michigan citizens, assuring that the justice system is strong, equal, and fair in its application. CJI provides the organizational structure through which these activities occur. The PBI is just one of the Initiatives under the CJI umbrella. The areas of responsibility of the other Initiatives are as follows:
Criminal Issues Initiative (CII)—examines collateral civil consequences of criminal convictions and representational issues in the criminal justice system.
Equal Access Initiative (EAI)—develops policies and programs to benefit underserved populations, including those with special needs, cognitive disabilities, and juveniles.
Justice Policy Initiative (JPI)—analyzes and recommends positions on proposed legislation, court rules, and other policies relevant to the Justice Initiatives.
State Bar of Michigan Section Pro Bono Committees
Some State Bar of Michigan sections have formed special pro bono committees to encourage and coordinate pro bono work by their members. The State Bar Justice Initiatives staff can provide information about the section committees and their work and provide assistance with developing a pro bono committee for your section. Contact Candace Crowley, SBM director of external development, or Robert Mathis, SBM pro bono service counsel, at (800) 968-1442.
Michigan Litigation Assistance Partnership Program (MI-LAPP)
MI-LAPP was initially conceived in 1997 with a primary objective of increasing civil legal assistance for low income individuals by linking the litigation and non-litigation resources of large law firms and corporate law departments with legal service programs to handle complex cases, cases restricted by funding sources, and to assist not-for-profit organizations in transactional work. MI-LAPP provides an opportunity for the attorneys in large firms and corporate law departments to handle pro bono cases that are comparable in substance and form to matters these attorneys handle for paying clients. Currently, MI-LAPP administers three programs which include the Qualified Domestic Relations Order Program, Malpractice Insurance Coverage for Pro Bono Program, and the Tax Pro Bono Referral Panel Program.
Qualified Domestic Order (QDRO) Referral Program
MI-LAPP has coordinated the referral of approximately 400 qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) drafting assignments to volunteer drafters. A QDRO is a court order which dictates how retirement benefits are divided and paid to respective spouses in a divorce. Drafting a QDRO is a difficult and time-consuming process. In most cases, a highly trained professional must be retained for the proper drafting of a QDRO. Through a panel of QDRO professionals, the Program is able to refer QDROs to volunteer drafters for completion. Without the Program, many low-income individuals would be unable to obtain a QDRO, possibly preventing them from receiving retirement benefits that they are legally entitled to receive.
The QDRO Referral Program was created to meet the needs of low-income clients requiring a QDRO and to attract willing and experienced volunteer drafters to assist them. Clients' needs are at the heart of our efforts. State Bar staff appreciates and values the time donated by volunteer drafters and strives to reduce the administrative work for volunteers, making it as simple as possible to participate in the Program.
For more information on this program, contact Robert Mathis, SBM pro bono service counsel, at (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412 or email@example.com.
Malpractice Insurance Coverage for Pro Bono Program PDF
There are three ways Michigan lawyers can access malpractice insurance coverage for their pro bono work. First, the 40+ Access to Justice (ATJ) programs PDF around the state either carry their own malpractice insurance that extends to their pro bono lawyers or offer that coverage through a partnership with the State Bar of Michigan Pro Bono Initiative's Michigan Litigation Assistance Partnership program (MI-LAPP).
Second, lawyers without malpractice coverage who want to provide pro bono services to clients they obtain on their own can contact an ATJ program PDF and ask for a "reverse referral." If a client is income and asset- eligible under the program's eligibility guidelines and the case fits within the program's case priorities, most ATJ programs can add the client to the program's docket and provide the program's malpractice coverage to the pro bono lawyer. Additional benefits of working through many of the ATJ programs are that the programs screen clients for income eligibility, assess the merits of the case, understand that the case meets community priorities, offer technical assistance, and have formal pro bono recognition programs.
Finally, if the client matter is not able to fit in an ATJ program through a reverse referral, the State Bar MI-LAPP program might be able to offer malpractice coverage. A request for coverage should be made if the client's income is within 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, liquid assets do not exceed $5,000, and the case is a meritorious civil matter that would not be handled by a private lawyer because there is no likelihood of a fee. Visit the State Bar website for details, an intake form (ATJ Program PDF / Non-ATJ Program PDF), and process instructions PDF. MI-LAPP malpractice coverage extends only to the particular pro bono matter and the individual attorney.
For more information on this program, contact Robert Mathis, SBM pro bono service counsel, at (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tax Pro Bono Referral Panel Program
A new partnership of the State Bar of Michigan, State Bar of Michigan Tax Section, and the Low Income Tax Payer Clinics (LITC) at Michigan State University College of Law and the University of Michigan Law School, this Tax Program will assist in the referral of appropriate tax related cases to pro bono attorneys. Please look for updates on this Program on the PBI website as they are made available.
If you are interested in joining this pro bono panel, please contact Robert Mathis, SBM pro bono service counsel, at (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412 or email@example.com.
Other Pro Bono Initiative Sponsored Events
Pro Bono Workshop
Each year, the Pro Bono Initiative sponsors a free workshop for non-profit directors, pro bono managers and coordinators, and their staff. The Pro Bono Workshop has proven to be a tremendous resource for Michigan's pro bono community - a must-attend event for anyone involved with pro bono.
For more information and to register for the 2013 Pro Bono Workshop on May 15, 2013, at the State Bar Building in Lansing, contact Robert Mathis, SBM pro bono service counsel, at (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pro Bono Month
Now more than ever, pro bono is more than just the right thing to do.
The State Bar of Michigan has designated October as Pro Bono Month, joining the American Bar Association and many other states in selecting October as a time to highlight the need for and importance of pro bono civil legal assistance to low-income people. All across the country, lawyers take part in events to educate the public and the legal profession about pro bono legal services.
In Michigan, Pro Bono Month is a time for celebration for the many pro bono events that occur all across the state. In 2012, there were more than 40 events held in recognition of Pro Bono Month. We are also proud to announce that Governor Richard Snyder signed a Certificate of Proclamation PDF proclaiming October as Pro Bono Month. Start planning your Pro Bono Month events today.
For more information on Pro Bono Month, contact Robert Mathis, SBM pro bono service counsel, at (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412 or email@example.com.
Special Concerns for Special Groups of Lawyers
There is a growing interest nationally, and in Michigan, in requiring law students to engage in pro bono work. The underlying rationale for such efforts is the exposure of the students to their pro bono obligations and to the challenges facing low income and other disadvantaged persons with an eye to increasing the future lawyers' openness to providing service to such individuals in the future. A concern raised regarding such initiatives is that they require significant amount of administration, supervision, training, and oversight by legal aid and similar organizations, which may not have resources available to carry out those functions. On the other hand, law schools recognize that these costs are an obligation in the provision of a legal education, and law school initiatives are generating significant resources for the client community and for use by legal aid and social service organizations to assist low-income persons and communities.
The Pro Bono Initiative of the State Bar of Michigan encourages law schools to continue developing programs that provide quality experiences to their students and increase access to justice for the poor. Many of Michigan's law schools have instituted voluntary pro bono pledges asking their students to commit to performing 50 hours of pro bono service while enrolled at the law school. Additionally, most of Michigan's law schools have strong clinical programs that use students and pro bono lawyers to provide legal services to the community.
There are a number of initiatives supporting the pro bono efforts of recent law graduates. These include law school-based fellowship programs that place recent law graduates at legal aid programs and bar association-based programs and provide mentorship and support as they provide pro bono services. Also, for newer/inexperienced lawyers looking to increase their proficiency in an unfamiliar area of law, many legal training opportunities are offered free of charge, in exchange for the commitment by the attorney to accept a pro bono case referral. Check the PBI website for upcoming training opportunities.
Solo and Small Firm Practitioners
Attorney who practice on their own and attorneys who are in small law firms have learned that providing pro bono legal services does not necessarily require a substantial expenditure of times and resources. Many pro bono cases can be resolved in a few hours. The solo or small firm practitioner can typically benefit from an affiliation with an existing pro bono program. Out-of-pocket expenses may be reimbursable, professional liability insurance is usually provided, and additional training and resource materials may be available through the program.
Medium and Large Firm Practitioners
Medium or large law firms have more resources, including legal secretaries, law clerks, paralegals, or legal assistance that can more readily support the volunteer attorney's pro bono work. Because the practice areas within larger firms are more diverse, a wider variety of pro bono legal issues can be handled. Furthermore, it is easier for law firms of this size to accept more complex cases, such as cases that involve important legal issues of significance to poor, elderly, or disabled individuals. An additional benefit of pro bono is the opportunity it provides for new attorneys to gain valuable trial experience that will benefit the firm. Many attorneys at medium and large firms participate in pro bono clinics or intake programs. Additionally, law firms increasingly find that young and talented recruits are attracted to robust pro bono opportunities. A successful pro bono experience causes lawyers to feel that they have made a positive difference in the life of another person thereby increasing the quality of their own life.
In-house attorneys, accustomed to providing legal advice to business entities, will appreciate the variety of pro bono work and the personal satisfaction that comes from helping real people with important legal problems. Newer attorneys can gain experience in a variety of areas of the law. Experienced attorneys find that their experience in handling complex tax, real estate, and commercial transactions makes them well suited for handling individual real estate, probate, and consumer matters. Pro bono involvement improves the morale of the legal staff and benefits the entire legal department. Corporations that support pro bono legal work also benefit. The reputation of the corporation in the community is enhanced, and its ties to the community, from which the corporation draws its employees, are strengthened. Corporate law departments are able to take advantage of the full range of pro bono opportunities: legal services private attorney involvement programs, clinics, and more.
Government attorneys face a number of actual and perceived impediments to providing pro bono legal services. Statutes and regulations may prohibit federal, state, and municipal attorneys from representing certain parties that would or could pose a conflict of interest. However, each government office should be able to establish policies that will enable government attorneys to conform to the applicable laws. Other obstacles stem from the perception that as public sector employees, they cannot use official time, equipment, and facilities, including support staff time, for private purposes. This problem has been resolved in some cases by permitting volunteer attorneys to use flextime when they interview clients or when discovery or court appearances are necessary. Some offices allow the limited use of support staff and equipment but make arrangements with the pro bono program for more extensive support and use of equipment. Federal, state, and municipal attorneys throughout the country have fashioned programs that permit the actual delivery of pro bono legal services. Key to this process is the development of a clear pro bono policy that considers and resolves how the office will handle questions, conflicts of interest, and legal restrictions. The American Bar Association publishes an excellent manual, Pro Bono Development: A Desk Book for Government & Public Section Lawyers PDF. For more information on the manual, please contact:
Members of the judiciary are specifically excluded from the practice of law, so they cannot handle pro bono cases, render legal advice to clients, or participate in mediation. However, there are several important roles, within the bounds of ethical behavior that judges can play. Among other things, they can:
- Write and adopt policies for their courts that encourage and facilitate pro bono involvement
- Make general appeals to groups or attorneys to recruit volunteers
- Provide training to clients, legal services attorneys, and volunteer attorneys
- Write endorsement letters to be used by programs for fundraising activities
- Meet with bar leadership to encourage pro bono participation
- Serve on advisory boards of pro bono programs and local bar associations
- Contribute money to eligible pro bono programs
- Participate in the pro bono policy making and planning of local bar associations, or the State Bar of Michigan Pro Bono and Justice Initiatives.
Please see the Judicial Pro Bono Toolkit PDF which provides several key things that Judicial Officers can do to encourage attorneys to provide pro bono assistance.
State Bar of Michigan Sections and Local and Special-Purpose Bar Associations
The involvement of bar sections and local special-purpose bar associations can be extremely important to legal services providers and pro bono programs. Many bar associations and sections have established committees to spearhead and promote participation by the private bar. These committee survey the civil legal needs of the poor in their areas and help develop programs to address some or all of those needs. Many bar association committees coordinate their efforts with local legal services providers. The following are just some of the many ways bar associations and sections can participate in pro bono projects:
- Assist in the recruitment of attorneys to participate in the pro bono program of the local legal services provider or other pro bono programs
- Publish articles in the bar association's newsletter encouraging pro bono involvement
- Sponsor pro bono recognition events such as luncheons or volunteer awards
- Support legal services programs by making annual contributions to the State Bar of Michigan Access to Justice Fund, and by encouraging individual members to make annual donations of $300, and annual donations of $500 or more for those attorneys whose income allows.
- Request contributions from members to benefit a local pro bono program (e.g. with a check-off option on the annual dues statement or by an annual appeal through the Access to Justice Campaign.
- Sponsor fundraising events, such as a judges-lawyers softball game
- Assume case assignment administration for pro bono programs with the local legal services provider and other pro bono programs
- Co-sponsor training sessions in poverty law issues for private attorneys
- Support efforts that advocate the increase of funds for legal services providers and the increase of access to legal assistance for poor persons
- Survey bar members' pro bono interest areas and current activities to better match those interests and activities in the pro bono programs or community organizations whose clients need pro bono legal assistance.
Behind Law Firms Doors—Making Pro Bono Work
To ensure proper management of pro bono activities, it is important that an individual, usually a pro bono coordinator, organize, monitor, and run the pro bono activities for your law firm. If the firm is affiliated with an existing pro bono program, the pro bono coordinator's activities might include:
- Recruitment within the firm
- Maintaining contact with the referring agency or clinic
- Reviewing accepted case referrals to ensure that the matters are compatible with workload constraints and there are no legal or business conflicts with existing clients
- Overseeing the case assignments and recordkeeping
If there is not an affiliation with an existing pro bono program, the coordinator can establish a relationship with a program in the community that needs legal assistance for its clients. In such a case, there is like to be a need to establish procedures for case screening, client eligibility, case referral, malpractice insurance, case assignment, case management, and other matters.
Please contact SBM Pro Bono Service Counsel Robert Mathis, for more information at (800) 968-1442 ext. 6412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writing & Adopting a Pro Bono Policy
Attorneys, law firms, corporate legal departments, and government legal offices, should adopt a pro bono policy. A policy is a statement of how the attorney, the firm, the company, or the organizations will encourage, support, track, participate in, and reward volunteer efforts. It can assure attorneys that pro bono work is valued as much as the work performed for paying clients. It established formal procedures to ensure that pro bono work is properly completed and tracked. It may also define how pro bono work will affect performance evaluations and compensation. Policies are often developed by a committee, and they are designated to ensure compliance with the Voluntary Pro Bono Standard. Model pro bono policies are available in Forms section of the Pro Bono Manual. The pro bono policy document should consider and reflect the unique circumstances of each firm.
Special Pro Bono Honors & Activities
John W. Cummiskey Award
The State Bar of Michigan annually sponsors an award in the name of John W. Cummiskey, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mr. Cummiskey was a leading advocate and activist in the cause of making legal services available to all without regard to economic status. Every year, a Michigan attorney who has made a special contribution to the delivery of legal services to the poor in Michigan is honored with the Cummiskey Award. This award fosters awareness of the need for the involvement of the private bar in delivering legal services to the poor and appreciation for those who participate.
Any member of the State Bar who is in good standing is eligible to be nominated for the Cummiskey Award, and any Michigan attorney may submit a nomination. A plaque is presented to the recipient during the State Bar Annual Meeting in September. In addition, a cash award of $2,000 is presented to a Michigan legal services program or pro bono project designated by the award winner, to be used to further the delivery of legal services to the poor.
The 2012 recipient of the John W. Cummiskey Award was Sister Ann Ozog for exceptional pro bono work with Lakeshore Legal Aid.
List of Past Cummiskey Award Recipients.
Circle of Excellence PDF
The State Bar of Michigan recognizes firms and corporations that have demonstrated full compliance with the recently updated Voluntary Pro Bono Standard which was initially adopted by the Representative Assembly in 1990. Full compliance is demonstrated through the provision of pro bono services rendered collectively through donations of reduced-fee or no-fee work, financial contributions to legal aid programs eligible to receive funding from the Access to Justice Fund, or a combination of the two. Most firms and corporations in the Circle of Excellence PDF have a pro bono policy in place that includes encouragement of the provision of pro bono practice by all attorneys affiliated with these firms and corporations as well as documentation of such activities, which are reported to the State Bar of Michigan. Those in the Circle have proven a stellar level of participation by all attorneys staffed by the firms and corporations.
On average, each attorney has contributed at least 30 hours of counsel or representation to low-income individuals and families or to organizations that provide legal services, or has donated at least $300 to a nonprofit program organized to deliver civil legal services to low-income individuals. The Voluntary Pro Bono Standard was recently amended to increase the annual financial contribution from $300 to $500 for those whose income allows a higher contribution. Periodic issues of the Michigan Bar Journal include a list of law firms, corporations, and organizations that have certified that the lawyers they employ comply with the Voluntary Pro Bono Standard.
Beginning in 2014, the Circle of Excellence PDF, will have two categories, the Excellence Level and Firm Leadership Level. The Circle of Excellence is intended as a salute from the State Bar. To be included in the Circle of Excellence, an applicant must provide the Pro Bono Initiative's Circle of Excellence Subcommittee with a written pro bono policy that has been adopted by the firm. There must also be a written demonstration of compliance with the Voluntary Standard.
The Pro Bono Initiative has adopted a number of policies to better communicate the applicable standard and to assure that applications are evaluated consistently. These rules are as follows:
- Eligibility is determined on a calendar-year basis.
- Excellence Level (current Circle of Excellence) eligibility determined on an aggregate firm basis. The total number of pro bono hours is divided by 30—which provides the number of lawyers who qualify based on service. The total number of dollars donated is divided by 300—which provides the number of lawyers who qualify based on donations. These two numbers are added together. If the total is equal to or greater than the number of lawyers in the firm, the firm qualifies for the Excellence Leadership level.
- Firm Leadership Level (beginning with 2014 Circle of Excellence) eligibility determined on an aggregate firm basis using a similar calculation approach and standard as the Excellence Level, but will be based on a 30 hour or $500 standard. The total number of pro bono hours is divided by 30—which provides the number of lawyers who qualify based on service. The total number of dollars donated is divided by 500—which provides the number of lawyers who qualify based on donations. These two numbers are added together. If the total is equal to or greater than the number of lawyers in the firm, the firm qualifies for the Firm Leadership level.
- Primary determination of eligibility will be made based on the pro bono hours; however, a reduced-fee program may be considered.
- All donations reported by the firm to ATJ-approved agencies and non-reimbursed costs advanced by the firm count towards eligibility.
- Only attorneys "practicing in Michigan" and number of pro bono hours contributed "by Michigan-based lawyers" will be counted towards eligibility.
- Pledges will normally be counted in the year(s) the funds are received; however, the firm may designate the year a donation is credited.
Local Pro Bono Honors/Honor Rolls
Local legal services programs and pro bono programs appreciate the work performed by their volunteer attorneys. Some have annual banquets or other social events where they pay special tribute to pro bono attorneys who have rendered exceptional service. Other programs recognize the work of their volunteers in newsletters, proclamations, and other sincere gestures of appreciation for the attorneys' important work. Many local programs publish an honor roll listing the names of individual attorneys who have provided pro bono service.
ABA Pro Bono Awards
Each year, the American Bar Association presents a series of awards to attorneys who have distinguished themselves through exceptional pro bono service. The ABA Pro Bono Publico Award is presented annually by the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service to lawyers and institutions in the legal profession that have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged. The ABA Pro Bono Publico Awards program seeks to identify and honor lawyers, small and large firms, government attorney offices, corporate law departments, and other institutions in the legal profession that have improved or delivers volunteer legal services to our nation's poor and disadvantaged.
Pro Bono Donations & Access to Justice Fund
The pro bono obligation of Michigan lawyers also involves financial support for programs that service the legal needs of the poor. The Voluntary Standard as adopted by the Representative Assembly of the State Bar of Michigan states, in relevant part, that lawyers may satisfy their obligation by: Contributing a minimum of $300 to not-for-profit programs organized for the purpose of delivering civil legal services to low income individuals or organizations. The minimum recommended contribution level is $500 per year for those lawyers whose income allows a higher contribution.
The State Bar of Michigan Pro Bono Initiative, Michigan State Bar Foundation, and civil legal aid and Access to Justice programs recommend that attorneys make all financial contributions through the Access to Justice Fund.
The Access to Justice Fund
The Access to Justice Campaign is a partnership of the State Bar of Michigan, the Michigan State Bar Foundation, and Michigan's nonprofit civil legal aid programs to increase resources for civil legal aid for the poor in Michigan. deductible contributions to the ATJ Fund are received and administered by the Michigan State Bar Foundation according to the ATJ Fund Guidelines.
The Access to Justice Campaign works with donors and legal aid programs throughout Michigan to coordinate private support of attorneys for those programs. Establishment of the ATJ Fund was prompted by research showing that an estimated 80 percent of civil legal needs of low-income people in Michigan are unmet. In addition, the funding for programs that provide legal services to the low-income population is in contact jeopardy. pro bono work has increased significantly since 1983, federal funding for legal services has remained essentially stagnant for over 30 years, with significant funding reductions in recent years. Funding levels took a precarious drop in 2011 when a 4% cut took place; 2012 saw a 15% cut; and there is an additional 8.3% cut expected for 2013. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that by 2010, due to the recession, the number of people living in poverty in Michigan increased by 50% from the 2000 poverty levels! This has led to even fewer lawyers for an increasing population of poor people and greater unmet legal needs. For more information on the current state of legal services for the poor in Michigan, see Documenting the Justice Gap in Michigan PDF.
While contributions to the ATJ Fund are sought from all segments of the community, lawyers must take the lead in continuing to make the campaign a success Attorneys have the responsibility because they have the training and skills necessary to provide legal services to others. They have made a commitment to assist people in obtaining civil legal representation. Lawyers in Michigan are donating professional services and charitable contributions, conservatively valued at a minimum of $12 million to $15 million annually, to help those who cannot afford to pay for legal services. Despite this effort, a great need remains unmet.
The Michigan State Foundation passes 100 percent of gifts designated to specific program operations directly through to the program, and income from the endowment is distributed according to the Foundation's grant application and evaluation procedures. The investment and management policies for all funds are set by the Foundation in a manner consistent with its policy and the objectives of the ATJ Fund. See ATJ Fund Guidelines. PDF
Financial contributions should be made to:
Access to Justice Fund
Michigan State Bar Foundation
306 Townsend Street
Lansing, MI 48933
Online donations can be made at www.atjfund.org.
Eligible Programs for Pro Bono Contributions
Attorneys may satisfy the Voluntary Pro Bono Standard by donating at least $300 each year, $500 for attorneys whose income allows, to any of the organizations designated by the Pro Bono Initiative (PBI) as eligible to receive such contributions. See List of Eligible Organizations PDF.
Programs that wish to receive such contributions must submit an application to the Pro Bono Initiative. To receive such contributions through the Access to Justice (ATJ) Fund, programs must also submit signed assurances forms to the Michigan State Bar Foundation (request forms from Celee@msbf.org) The State Bar's Board of Commissioners resolved that eligibility is based on the Voluntary Pro Bono Standard, and the following criteria:
- The organization must be operated on a not-for-profit basis, and
- The organizations must have a written plan for delivering civil legal services to low-income individuals or organizations.
The relevant language of the Voluntary Pro Bono Standard states that an attorney can comply by "Contributing a minimum of $300 to not-for-profit programs organized for the purpose of delivering civil legal services to low income individuals or organizations. The minimum recommended contribution level is $500 per year for those lawyers whose income allows a higher contribution."
In response to varying interpretations of this language, the PBI adopted the following policies to set objective, clearly established standards for reviewing applicant organizations:
- A "program . . . delivering civil legal services to low-income individuals or organizations" includes a specific legal services program within a multi-program organizations, so long as that legal services program is separately identified in the organization's financial records and so long as the organization can document that all funds received through PBI donations are expended to support that legal services program.
- A "program . . . delivering civil legal services to low-income individuals or organizations" includes both programs that provide direct free legal services and referral services, so long as the result of the referral program is that low-income individuals or organizations receive direct, free legal services.
- A "program . . . delivering civil legal services to low-income individuals or organizations" means an organization that applies a means test to document whether or not its beneficiaries are low income and which can document that at least 50 percent of its clients are below 200 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines.
Make Your Annual Pro Bono Donation through the Access to Justice Fund
Every attorney who did not perform at least 30 hours or pro bono work in a calendar year is encouraged under the State Bar's Voluntary Pro Bono Standard to use the ATJ Fund to donate at least $300, $500 for attorneys whose income allows, to eligible pro bono organizations. The Bar requests that all funds (even those designated for individual programs) be donated to the ATJ Fund; having the funds come through a single source permits the Bar to leverage large gifts for statewide services.
The ATJ Fund does not provide legal services, but it distributes contributions to Michigan legal services providers as designated by the donor, or, if not designated, on a grant basis to legal services providers throughout the state. Any program eligible to receive pro bono contributions can be designated to receive gifts through the ATJ Fund. The gifts may be eligible for a federal tax deduction Programs followed by an * on the List of Eligible Organizations PDF accept designated endowment gifts in addition to designated operations gifts. A general permanent endowment fund is available for undesignated gifts to support the needs throughout the state. By making a donation, you can help meet the enormous need for legal services for the poor and satisfy your pro bono obligation.
Please see www.michbar.org or www.atjfund for more information or to donate online.
ATJ Fund Eligibility for Designated Donations
Programs eligible to receive designated contributions to the Access to Justice (ATJ) Fund must be tax-exempt nonprofit entities and meet ATJ Fund eligibility criteria. The programs on the list of ATJ Fund Eligible Organizations PDF qualify for such donations, including contributions given by lawyers to meet their annual pro bono obligations under the State Bar of Michigan's Voluntary Pro Bono Standard. The ATJ Fund is held by the Michigan State Bar Foundation, a nonprofit charity that receives, administers, and disburses donations. Lawyers and others may contribute for program operations needs or to support endowments. All ATJ Fund gifts must be used to support civil legal services for low-income people in Michigan.
List of all ATJ Fund eligible organizations PDF (Current as of December 2012)
All ATJ Fund eligible programs welcome gifts for current operations needs. Programs on the ATJ Fund eligible organizations list which are followed by an asterisks (*) also seek endowment funds; they have met the endowment threshold, or the program is seeking endowment donations toward the threshold required for a designed endowment. Notwithstanding your designation, endowment contributions will be used for needs throughout the state unless the programs requests to have an ATJ Endowment Fund established for its benefit and contributions reach the threshold requirements for establishing the fund. The ATJ Fund is administered according to the ATJ Fund Guidelines PDF, which can be found at www.msbf.org/atjfund.