The Indiana Supreme Court has amended the state’s new pro bono reporting rule, narrowing the focus to measuring only the direct representation given to indigent litigants.
Indiana attorneys still have to report the hours of legal service they donate or the financial contributions they make to a legal aid agency. However, what qualifies as reportable pro bono has been refined.
The amended rule is exclusively targeted to measuring how many low-income people are able to get help from an attorney at no cost or at a greatly reduced fee, according to Judge Martha Blood Wentworth.
“I think the rule is simpler and more easily understood,” she said.
Wentworth is the chair of the Indiana Pro Bono Commission. She also chaired the Pro Bono Reporting Task Force which was charged with developing a proposal for mandatory pro bono reporting.
The reporting rule, which is covered by Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 6.7, was adopted in October 2014. On April 30, 2015, the state Supreme Court issued an amendment that clears up some of the confusion created by the October version and puts the focus on measuring how many hours of charity legal work attorneys are doing.
Under the amended rule:
• Attorneys will only be able to count the hours of legal services they provide to individuals of limited means without charge or at a charge of less than half the normal rate. Originally, the rule allowed lawyers to count work on nonprofit boards and sections of the bar associations.
• Contributions of tangible property, like office furniture or computers, along with money can qualify as reportable pro bono. The donations must be made either to the Indiana Bar Foundation, any of the state’s pro bono districts or a legal aid society in Indiana.
• The specific income requirement has been removed. Now direct assistance given to “individuals reasonably believed to be of limited means” may count as reportable pro bono. The Indiana Supreme Court, Wentworth said, did not want attorneys having to spend time determining if the client was financially eligible for free or reduced-rate legal help.
• The hours attorneys report are still confidential and they will not be made public either on an individual or firm-wide basis. Also, violating the rule will not subject the lawyer to discipline.
Wentworth reiterated the amended rule keeps the intent squarely on assessing how many hours attorneys are volunteering to represent clients. The hope is that the new rule will encourage other attorneys to donate their legal services to people in need of help.
Pro se litigants in the courtroom are a concern for two reasons, Wentworth said. First, they are not getting the help they need to maneuver the judicial system. Second, judges are being put into some ethically challenging positions by having to figure out how much assistance to offer the unrepresented party.
When Indiana attorneys register in the fall of 2016, they will have to provide the number of hours they gave to pro bono work and the amount of money they donated to legal service organizations during the calendar year of 2015. There is no required minimum. Attorneys can indicate “zero” but they will have to answer the reportable pro bono questions to complete their registration.