Press Release, Maryland Courts
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Maryland lawyers donated 1,160,906 hours of volunteer or pro bono legal services last year to help the state’s indigent population, an increase of 10,701 hours over the previous year, according to a new report. The report, “Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers, 2017,” which compiles the required reporting of pro bono legal service hours of 40,215 lawyers, was recently submitted to the Maryland Court of Appeals by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The key findings in the report show approximately 52.1 percent of the lawyers practicing full-time in the state helped people of limited means and other vulnerable populations with free or substantially reduced-fee legal services. Though still estimated to be one of the highest rates in the country, the data indicate a slight decline in the percentage of lawyers engaging in pro bono work. By contrast, lawyers reported increasing their financial contributions to legal services organizations serving people of limited means, totaling $5,634,476.
“Maryland’s attorneys have demonstrated their commitment to pro bono service, providing more than one million hours of free legal services again last year. Their commitment to meeting the legal services needs of people who cannot afford private counsel enhances access to justice for those they serve pro bono and, ultimately, for all Marylanders,” said Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera. “Pro bono service means we come ever closer to keeping the promise of equal justice for all. We must keep striving until all who need legal services receive them, regardless of income.”
The majority of attorneys providing free legal work dedicated 10 to more than 50 hours of their time last year. Polling also revealed that the longer attorneys were in practice, the more likely they were to engage in volunteering their legal expertise on a pro bono basis. Sole practitioners and attorneys in small and extra-large firms (with 50 or more lawyers) offered their time and skills more frequently than those in large and midsize firms. Approximately 73 percent of the services were rendered as direct legal help to people of limited means or by assisting organizations serving those same populations. Overall, as in the past, those in the more rural parts of the state, such as Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, reported the highest percentage of pro bono involvement.
“The volunteer hours and financial contributions made by attorneys throughout Maryland help to fill the gap in serving those who simply cannot afford legal services,” said Senior Judge Karen Jensen, chair of the Judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service. “Local attorneys are assisting people with matters that are critical to their lives, including family, consumer, housing, elder care, and other important matters that impact their daily lives or quality of life.”
The report confirms that lawyers volunteer actively and support legal services financially in their local communities. However, it also reveals challenges: the types of law many attorneys practice do not necessarily correlate with the areas of greatest legal need; a significant percentage is retired or practicing outside of Maryland; and a large percentage is in government service, with attendant limitations on outside practice. Many attorneys who do not donate pro bono services reported they lacked the time or preferred to do non-legal charitable work. For government lawyers, conflicts of interest and prohibitions by their employers also created challenges.
“These data are critical as we strategize ways to raise the level of volunteerism by the bar and give those without the means equal access to the justice system,” said Sharon E. Goldsmith, executive director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.
To make volunteer opportunities easily accessible statewide, the Judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service works with the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC), the pro bono arm of the Maryland State Bar Association, and other legal services programs to ensure training, mentoring, malpractice insurance, and service-learning opportunities are available on a local level. Lawyers who want more information about getting involved in pro bono work can contact PBRC at www.probonomd.org or email@example.com, or review volunteer opportunities for lawyers at www.mdcourts.gov/probono/opportunities.