Pro bono reporting results draw mixed reaction

The first round of data collected from Indiana’s new pro bono reporting rule invoked opposing reactions among the members of the Coalition for Court Access who recently reviewed the numbers. Some thought the amount of time and money lawyers donated to legal aid was shameful, while others were thrilled with the level of giving.

At its April 25 meeting at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, the CCA took time to examine the reporting rule information and discuss how to present the data to the public. Being just the first year, drawing inferences from the numbers is difficult, but Scott Wylie, member of the CCA pro bono working group, said the numbers provide a start.

“One year gives us a baseline as to whether or not the efforts by the CCA and other folks is moving the bar on getting people to do pro bono,” Wylie said.

Indiana amended its Rules of Professional Conduct in 2014 to include a mandatory pro bono reporting requirement. When lawyers renewed their licenses in 2016, they had to include any hours they provided legal services to the indigent and any financial contributions they made to legal aid agencies during the 2015 calendar year.

hours-table.gifThe numbers show less than 50 percent of Indiana attorneys in 2015 gave their time to helping clients who either could not pay anything or could only pay a greatly reduced rate. Of the 15,544 Hoosier lawyers covered by the reporting rule, 41 percent donated only their time. Adding in the 896 attorneys who gave both time and money, that total bumps up to 47 percent.

Joel Schumm, director of experiential learning at IU McKinney, pointed out percentage does not reflect well on the legal profession. The general public, he noted, will be able to see that 59 percent of practicing attorneys did not donate any time.

Others called the 41 percent “pathetic,” and asked if the goal behind publicizing the data was to shame attorneys into taking on pro bono work.

“I’m not necessarily thrilled with it,” said Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David, chair of the CCA. “… Personally, I think we would all like this to be 80 percent, but it’s not. This is one part of serving the unmet needs.”

However, Wylie, director of the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, had a different view. He noted these numbers put Indiana in the mainstream compared to other states.

All the other states have reporting rules similar to Indiana’s, although not all are mandatory, and the level of attorney participation in donating hours generally ranges from 45 to 55 percent. Data from 2013 collected by the American Bar Association show that of the states where pro bono reporting is required, Florida had a participation rate of 51 percent, Maryland had 57 percent and Illinois had 34 percent.

“In reality, I was actually surprised (the number) was as high as it was,” Wylie said. “Considering we were 50th to come to IOLTA and we were the last state in the nation to really start pro bono work, I took this as very positive.”

Indiana’s mandatory reporting rule stirred controversy when it was being implemented. Some in the legal community believed it was the first step toward requiring pro bono service. But the Indiana Supreme Court maintained the sole purpose of the rule is to get an idea of the level of pro bono service in the state.

The grumbling is not believed to have induced attorneys to purposefully misreport. If anything, lawyers may have underreported their donations. Charles Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation, which oversees the state’s pro bono districts, speculated some lawyers may have been unsure how much pro bono work they did, so, not wanting to perjure themselves, they included only the hours they could document.

Under the rule, attorneys can also list the monetary donations they made to legal aid organizations. A total of $775,122 was given in 2015, along with $281,953 of in-kind donations of property such as computers and office furniture, according to the data.

Again, of the 15,544 attorneys not exempted from the rule, 1,371 made financial contributions (this includes the 475 who donated only money and the 896 who gave time and money). The average monetary donation was $565.37.

Some on the CCA thought the dollar amount was high and wondered if there was a way to audit that by looking at the contributions the legal aid organizations received in 2015. David said he was unsure if there was any way to do an audit or even if there was any interest in doing some kind of verification.•

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