ILNews

Will Indiana attorneys be required to report pro bono hours?

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

At the direction of Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson, the Indiana Pro Bono Commission has made a series of recommendations to the Supreme Court designed to increase pro bono activity in the legal community.

The key proposal is to implement annual mandatory reporting of pro bono hours by every attorney licensed in Indiana.
 

Dickson Dickson

This is part of Dickson’s long-term goal of creating a culture shift that will lead to more attorneys performing pro bono work. While officials concede mandatory reporting alone will not cause a dramatic change in attitudes, it has proven to be a strong motivator in other states.

Neither the mandatory reporting nor the other recommendations made by the commission have been acted upon yet. But Dickson is clear about his desire that every individual stepping into a courtroom should be represented by a lawyer.

More and more pro se litigants are appearing before judges while federal funding for legal services has fallen to an all-time low. To help push back the rising tide of indigent Hoosiers who cannot afford an attorney, Dickson believes more lawyers need to volunteer their time.

“I’ve become convinced that the best way to meet this need is to animate and encourage Indiana’s lawyers to step forward and do more pro bono work,” he said.

3 recommendations

When Indiana Tax Court Judge Martha Wentworth was appointed chair of the Pro Bono Commission, the chief justice charged her with finding ways to increase pro bono activity. The commission subsequently pulled together a task force which examined legal volunteerism among Indiana lawyers and looked at possible ways to enlist more attorneys to help low-income Hoosiers with their legal needs.


Martha Wentworth Wentworth

In a report of its findings recently submitted to the Supreme Court, the task force made three recommendations. Along with mandatory reporting of pro bono hours worked, the group proposed the Indiana State Bar Association establish a pro bono committee in every section.

Lastly, the committee suggested that judges be more engaged in pro bono activity, although how that would be done remains a question.

Wentworth said the committee did review the idea of requiring every attorney to do pro bono work. By itself, mandatory pro bono would bring a marked shift in the culture.

However, that direction was rejected because in other states where such a policy has been instituted, bitter opposition has erupted. In addition, questions have been raised about the constitutionality of mandating that attorneys provide free legal services.

“While our committee did not recommend any quick kick in the pants to instantly change the legal culture,” Wentworth said, “we did recommend what we saw as a powerful combination – the Supreme Court instituting mandatory reporting and exploring new leadership roles for judges together with the ISBA coordinating pro bono training for lawyers, providing pro bono opportunities in all areas, and recognizing success.”

Dickson sees the mandatory reporting of pro bono as a way to raise attorneys’ consciousness about their professional responsibility to help those less fortunate. He does not advocate forcing lawyers to do pro bono but, instead, he wants to enable, encourage and facilitate it.

Getting input from attorneys

The House of Delegates of the Indiana State Bar Association is scheduled to discuss and debate the possibility of mandatory reporting during the association’s annual meeting in October.

Even though the state Supreme Court has the power to implement any change to pro bono work, Dickson said he wants input from the state bar before making a decision. The ISBA has been helpful in the past in improving suggestions, and Dickson hopes having the bar association work on the mandatory reporting idea, and possibly suggesting changes, will create a feeling of ownership and enthusiasm among the lawyers.


vinovich-dan-mug Vinovich

Dan Vinovich, ISBA president, declined to predict what the House of Delegates would do but said he is looking forward to getting the opinions of lawyers throughout the state.

Personally, Vinovich views mandatory reporting as a way to increase legal services to the poor and as a way to collect data to evaluate pro bono services and procedures.

As for the second recommendation of putting a pro bono committee in every section of the bar association, Vinovich is less sure. He is uncertain if the board of directors could direct the sections to do that since the separate divisions all have their own bylaws and governing structure.

The task force envisions that these sections’ pro bono committees would encourage donation of services and create opportunities for lawyers to participate.

Defining pro bono

At present, the suggestion is for lawyers to indicate the number of pro bono hours they performed when they renew their law licenses every year. They could also be asked to complete a brief survey detailing what type of pro bono activity they did.

Attorneys who do not provide any free legal assistance would write in zero hours with no fear of penalty, Dickson said. Yet, he noted, the number will be part of the public record and a zero could dissuade potential paying clients.

Both Dickson and Vinovich offered the possibility that, in conjunction with mandatory reporting, the professional rules of conduct may have to be tweaked. Possible modifications include expanding the definition of pro bono so the hours that attorneys donate to helping community nonprofits with their legal needs could be counted. The hours attorneys end up writing off for their services when clients, unexpectedly, cannot pay their bill might also qualify.

Shifting the culture

The economic downturn has depleted the funding for pro bono support while the number of residents needing help has risen.

In Indiana, funding for the pro bono districts has come primarily from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, but as interest rates have dropped, money flowing to pro bono has dropped 90 percent during the past four years from the high of $3 million to the current $300,000, according to Indiana Bar Foundation Executive Director Chuck Dunlap.

The Indiana Bar Foundation, which oversees the funding for pro bono districts, has been pulling money from its reserves to bolster the IOLTA funds, and a $1 increase in filing fees is being added to the pot as well. Through these efforts, the money available to the districts has been sustained at $750,000 per year.

In this atmosphere of rising need and declining resources, Dickson said judges feel torn. They want to be helpful to the pro se litigants coming into their courtrooms but at the same time, they want to remain neutral.

To bring about a cultural shift that would reduce, if not eliminate, a need to litigate pro se, the chief justice thinks the solution would be to “prime the pump.”

Attorneys freshly admitted to the bar are the best equipped to deal with the range of legal issues these litigants may have, Dickson said. They are familiar with several areas of the law because they have just graduated from school and taken the bar exam. Many also have the time to donate and need the experience.

If new attorneys can be encouraged to buy into pro bono service, then they will likely continue to offer their services as their careers advance, he said.

Dickson said there is not a deadline for acting on the task force’s recommendations but, he pointed out, he is anxious to make a difference as his mandatory retirement at age 75 is looming.

His goal, he said, is to have no more pro se litigants.

“My vision is that everybody who comes into court ought to have a lawyer,” he said. “My vision is that people who are financially strapped should not be stopped from having a lawyer helping them.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

ADVERTISEMENT