The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has adopted a new pro bono rule which gives the judges the option of assigning cases to attorneys. Here are some frequently asked questions about the rule.
What does Local Rule 87 do?
The rule is designed to bolster the number of lawyers available to represent pro se litigants at no charge. Two pools of attorneys will be created — the volunteer panel will consist of lawyers who offer their services to the court, and the obligatory panel will be filled with lawyers who are required to provide representation.
Who will go into the obligatory panel?
Attorneys who have appeared before the court at least 10 times in civil cases during 2015 will be placed in the obligatory panel and assigned cases. The calculation is based on the number of court appearances filed, not on the length of time representing a particular client. If a lawyer files an appearance in 2015 and the case continues through 2016 and into 2017, the court will only count that as one appearance.
What kinds of civil cases will need representation?
Unrepresented litigants who have shown the court they cannot afford legal assistance and whose cases have cleared substantial hurdles, like surviving summary judgment, will be provided pro bono attorneys. If none of the volunteer attorneys take the case, the court will pull a lawyer from the obligatory pool.
When does the rule take effect?
The rule will take effect Sept. 1, 2016, but the first obligatory panel will not become active until Oct. 1. Lawyers chosen to be in the first round will be notified of their selection about a month in advance.
New obligatory panels will be pulled together each quarter. Similar to jury pools, attorneys who are placed in the panel but not given a case will be absolved from serving in the obligatory panels created during the next three quarters.
Can I withdraw from representation?
Yes, in certain circumstances. Recruited counsel can file a motion to withdraw on such grounds as conflict of interest, burden of other professional commitments, personal conflict with litigant and not feeling competent to provide representation in the particular legal matter.
What if my malpractice insurance won’t cover this work?
Malpractice insurance coverage will be available through the Heartland Pro Bono Counsel and the Indiana Pro Bono Districts.
Am I going to have to spend my own money?
No. The expenses considered appropriate for reimbursement or prepayment include deposition and transcription costs; travel expenses; fees for serving papers and appearance of witnesses; interpreter services; and costs of photocopies, photographs and telephone calls.
Attorneys must get approval in advance if the expense will exceed $1,000. Also, all requests for payment of expenses must be filed with and approved by the judge assigned to the case. No payment will be made without a court order.
What if I need help with the case?
The District Court is preparing resources to help attorneys who represent these clients. It is planning a continuing legal education program for Sept. 21 and it will be making James Chapman available to attorneys who have questions about their pro bono cases. Chapman is an Illinois attorney and has worked extensively with prisoners through his organization, the Illinois Institute for Community Law and Affairs.
Where can I read the rule?
Visit the Southern District of Indiana’s website, www.insd.uscourts.gov and click on the “Pro Bono Opportunities & Resources” bar in the center of the screen.
Source: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana