On or before Friday, every attorney on active status admitted to practice law in Maryland must complete the annual IOLTA Compliance Report and Pro Bono Reporting form. Failure to complete either form may lead to decertification.
So what is decertification? It precludes an attorney from engaging in the practice of law. Essentially, if you fail to report, the Administrative Office of the Courts will place your name on a list and send it to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which may ultimately issue a Decertification Order. (The entire process is laid out in Rule 16-903.)
What is interesting about this entire process is that there is no mandatory pro bono requirement in Maryland. An attorney cannot be decertified for failing to perform any pro bono work, only failing to fill out the form online or by mail. The Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct 6.1 states that each attorney has “a professional responsibility to render pro bono public legal service” and that each lawyer “should aspire to render at least 50 hours per year of pro bono public legal service.”
I have been fortunate to work for a law firm that wants each attorney to meet the aspirational goal of 50 pro bono hours a year. As I have previously written, I focus my pro bono efforts through the Homeless Persons Representations Project’s Criminal Expungement Program. For me, it is a worthwhile program and my clients are generally happy and appreciative of my services.
As I have become busier (whether with more work, family, or professional obligations), I have found it hard to meet the 50-hour goal of actual pro bono work. (I define “actual” pro bono work as legal services.) In fact, I was disappointed when I printed out the number of pro bono hours that I performed last year and found out it was below the magic number of 50.
So where is the balance? For me, it is making pro bono more of a priority (but, again, I luckily have the support of my firm). For others, I believe it depends. Are you an associate with a 2,200-hour billing requirement? For solo practitioners, finding an additional 50 hours for pro bono may be difficult.
At the very least, each year when I fill out my form, it puts pro bono higher on my list of things to consider.