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Task force makes recommendations for pro bono reporting

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As the Indiana Supreme Court continues to consider mandating all Indiana attorneys report the number of pro bono hours they work, a task force has proposed that the donated hours be disclosed publicly only in an aggregate form rather than identifying the number of pro bono hours performed by an individual or a firm..

The disclosure proposal was one of five recommendations made by the Indiana Pro Bono Commission’s Pro Bono Reporting Task Force. The Supreme Court asked the Commission to appoint an ad hoc task force to make suggestions on how a mandatory reporting requirement would be implemented.

Indiana Tax Court Judge Martha Blood Wentworth, chair of the commission and leader of the task force, emphasized that the task force has only offered proposals. How any reporting requirement would be implemented has not been determined.

“We are recommenders, we are not deciders,” Wentworth said. “We have been asked to recommend only.”

The Supreme Court also underscored that the recommendations have not been adopted. At this point, the justices have not discussed the report and the court is not expressing any opinion on any of the recommendations.

Task force members were unanimous on the public disclosure recommendation. The task force concluded giving the total number of pro bono hours worked instead of listing hours by attorneys would still serve the purpose of the reporting rule to more accurately determine how many pro bono hours are provided annually in Indiana.

In addition, opposition to publicizing the hours by attorney has been strong. The task force believed an aggregate approach would ease fears that the reporting rule was the first step toward auditing reported hours, disciplining noncompliance or mandating pro bono service.  

The five recommendations made by the task force are as follows:

1)    CLE: Do not waive continuing legal education requirements in exchange for pro bono legal service. Forgiving CLE hours for pro bono work could send the wrong message that donating legal services is more important than keeping abreast of practice techniques and changing laws.
2)    Public Disclosure: Publicly report the pro bono hours only in an aggregate manner. Do not identify the number of hours donated by individual or by firm.
3)    Definition of Pro Bono: Do not change the definition of “pro bono publico service” in the Professional Rule of Conduct 6.1. Although attorneys had requested the meaning of “pro bono” be clarified and broadened, the task force recommended against a rewrite because pro bono programs have been developed with the current definition in mind. However, the task force proposed a Frequently Asked Questions supplement should be widely available to give real world examples and guidance on the distinction between “pro bono” activities under Rule 6.1 and reportable “pro bono” activities under the proposed Rule 6.7.
4)    Draft Rule 6.7: Identify which pro bono legal services are reportable in the proposed Pro Bono Reporting Rule (Professional Rule of Conduct 6.7). Allow attorneys to make a financial contribution to a qualified entity as an alternative to providing pro bono service.
5)    Implementation: Add a field to the annual online attorney registration for Indiana attorneys to report their pro bono hours and/or a financial contribution. Noncompliance would be impossible. Each attorney would have to enter a number for either pro bono hours or financial contribution in order to proceed. Entering zeros would technically comply with the reporting rule.

The Indiana State Bar Association and the Indiana Pro Bono Commission are accepting comments on the proposals through Aug. 8. Attorneys can contact the ISBA at 317-639-5465 for further information. Attorneys can submit written comments to the Indiana Pro Bono Commission at 615. N. Alabama Street, #122, Indianapolis, IN 46204.

All comments will be forwarded to the Supreme Court administrator.  

Attorneys can access the report through the ISBA website by clicking here.
 

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