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

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. It is amazing how selectively courts can read cases and how two very similar factpatterns can result in quite different renderings. I cited this very same argument in Brown v. Bowman, lost. I guess it is panel, panel, panel when one is on appeal. Sad thing is, I had Sykes. Same argument, she went the opposite. Her Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence is now decidedly unintelligible.

  2. November, 2014, I was charged with OWI/Endangering a person. I was not given a Breathalyzer test and the arresting officer did not believe that alcohol was in any way involved. I was self-overmedicated with prescription medications. I was taken to local hospital for blood draw to be sent to State Tox Lab. My attorney gave me a cookie-cutter plea which amounts to an ALCOHOL-related charge. Totally unacceptable!! HOW can I get my TOX report from the state lab???

  3. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

  4. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  5. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

ADVERTISEMENT