Task force: Keep pro bono hours anonymous

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Every year, the attorneys in the southern Indiana counties that comprise the state’s Pro Bono District 10 receive a survey asking how much legal help they have volunteered.

Diane Walker, District 10 coordinator, described the survey as unscientific and the response as hit and miss, but the goal is to get an idea of how many hours attorneys are working pro bono.

One remarkable trend the survey has spotlighted is the amount of pro bono work being done under the radar. The cases are self-generated, perhaps by an individual walking into the attorney’s office and asking for help, and are not being given to the attorneys by a legal aid agency.

“I think there’s a lot of underreporting,” Walker said of the survey. “I can’t put a number to it, but every year we get people who I didn’t know were doing pro bono.”

Dickson Dickson

The Indiana Supreme Court is considering a proposal that would likely put more light on underreporting and enable the state to get a better idea of how many hours attorneys across the state are giving to pro bono work. Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson is promoting the mandate as a way to incentivize lawyers to represent individuals who need help but cannot afford it.

The initiative would require Indiana attorneys to annually report the number of hours of free legal service they provided in a given year. Attorneys who did not donate time to pro bono work would be obligated to report zero hours.

Some in the legal community have pushed back against the proposal. They are concerned about potential ramifications if the hours are made publicly available. Others are worried that mandatory reporting will eventually lead to a mandate to do pro bono work.

Still, the Indiana State Bar Association’s House of Delegates gave a thumbs-up to the proposal at its meeting in October 2013. Then-ISBA President Dan Vinovich called the initiative “a noble vision.”

A task force formed by the Pro Bono Commission at the request of the Supreme Court made recommendations on how to implement mandatory reporting and submitted its report to the Supreme Court. The group was led by Indiana Tax Judge Martha Blood Wentworth.

wentworth-martha-2014mug Wentworth

“We are very proud of our work,” Wentworth said of the task force. “This has been a very active and thoughtful group.”

The committee looked at whether continuing legal education credit should be given for pro bono legal service; how the hours would be disclosed publicly; what constitutes pro bono work; what would be contained in the new reporting provision in the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct; and the method for reporting hours.

“We are recommenders, we are not deciders,” Wentworth said, explaining the role of the task force. “We have been asked to recommend only.”

Two sides of the issue

Bloomington attorney Matthew Schulz incorporates pro bono work into his regular practice. He always has one active pro bono case on his desk at all times.

“I don’t look at it as a burden,” Schulz said. “I just do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

A native of Bedford, Schulz served in the military then went to Indiana University Maurer School on Law on the GI Bill. He worked in the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office for three years before opening his own law office less than a year ago.

He is familiar with the mandatory reporting proposal and has heard a lot of discussion about it. He has not taken a position because he can see both the pros and cons of the issue.

Like Schulz, solo practitioner Stephen Griebel finds benefits and harms in mandating attorneys report pro bono hours. Griebel, based in Churubusco, accepts many pro bono cases from the Volunteer Lawyers Program of Northeast Indiana, and he offers assistance because he wants to help where he can.

While Griebel can understand that mandatory reporting would help to quantify the size of the need in Indiana and could inspire some attorneys to begin pro bono work, he said the implementation of the program will have to be done carefully.
probono-facts.jpg Some attorneys, he said, want to volunteer anonymously, but a reporting requirement might eliminate their ability to remain unidentified. Conversely, other attorneys may do the pro bono work solely for the recognition, seeing the service as a way to help themselves rather than as a way to help others.

Walker said her office conducts the survey to show grantors the type of pro bono work being done and to identify attorneys who might be able to take cases in the future.

“I think it’s all a part of making people know pro bono is important and that somebody is paying attention,” she said of the survey. “Plus, whenever I talk to people, they appreciate that somebody asked.”

Mandatory reporting would emphasize the importance of volunteering legal services, Walker said. Moreover, she added, submitting hours is not as onerous as some may think.

Needing more attorneys

Brian Drummy, attorney at Bunger & Robertson in Bloomington, agreed with Walker that mandatory reporting will underscore the need for pro bono work.

As far as the fears that mandatory reporting will lead to mandatory volunteering, Drummy said he did not have an answer. But he noted those worries should be eased if the Supreme Court offers an assurance that will not happen.

“Obviously we’re lawyers and we think critically,” Drummy said. “Our job is to know what ill effects can come from a decision so it’s natural to see the worst-case scenario.”
In a speech during the Allen County Volunteer Lawyers Recognition Luncheon, Dickson highlighted the growing number of litigants who cannot afford legal representation. He called pro se litigation a cancer and outlined the problems unrepresented individuals cause, including clogging court dockets and obstructing the judicial process because they are not familiar with the law and legal procedures.

The best remedy, Dickson said, is to encourage, incentivize and enable all Indiana lawyers to volunteer for pro bono legal service.

For many years, Allen County attorney John Cowan of Tourkow Crell Rosenblatt & Johnston LLP has taken pro bono assignments from the VLP of Northeast Indiana. In fact, he only accepts cases through the agency because the VLP screens the clients and keeps track of the cases as well as his hours.

Cowan’s experience points to how much legal aid organizations can help attorneys doing pro bono work. The assistance makes the service less burdensome, he said, and without VLP keeping track of his hours, he would have no idea how many he volunteered.

In total, attorneys provided 6,500 hours of pro bono service to VLP of Northeast Indiana in 2013. However, that does not meet the need.

According to Cyndi Gavin, client services coordinator, the program receives 12,000 to 15,000 requests for assistance each year and the clients who are accepted will likely have a four- to six-month wait before they see an attorney.

“We definitely need more attorneys,” Gavin said. “That’s a definite.”•


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.