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Md. bar sees increase in pro bono hours from attorneys

The judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service is looking to start an initiative to get young lawyers more engaged in pro bono work, says Judge Karen Jensen, chair of the committe. (File Photo)

The judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service is looking to start an initiative to get young lawyers more engaged in pro bono work, says Judge Karen Jensen, chair of the committee. (File Photo)

The Maryland bar gave nearly 11,000 more hours in pro bono work in 2017 compared to the previous year, and attorneys increased their contributions to legal services organizations, according to an annual report from the Maryland Judiciary released this week.

Lawyers across the state donated 1,160,906 hours in pro bono legal services to residents in need in 2017, an increase of 10,701 hours from 2016.

The data comes from annual reports on pro bono service all Maryland attorneys are required to fill out under the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct. The report examining the data is published more than a year later to include as many responses as possible. Maryland is one of few states with this reporting requirement.

“Maryland has a unique bar, and this report is one of the few resources that provides detailed demographic info about the bar,” said Pamela Ortiz, director of the judiciary’s Access to Justice Department, on Wednesday.

The majority of attorneys who reported doing pro bono work in 2017 dedicated between 10 hours to more than 50 hours of their time. In addition, attorneys with more experience were more likely to do pro bono legal work.

“We see that, generally speaking, older and more mature lawyers who are comfortable in their field are more likely to do pro bono than younger attorneys who are getting used to their firm,” Ortiz said.

The judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service is looking to start an initiative to get young lawyers more engaged in pro bono work, said Judge Karen Jensen, chair of the committee, on Wednesday.

Solo practitioners, as well as attorneys in small and “extra-large” firms (50 or more lawyers) did pro bono work more frequently than their counterparts at midsize and large firms, the report found.

Of the more than 40,000 lawyers licensed in Maryland, about 41 percent reported some pro bono activity. Among lawyers working in the state full time, 52.1 percent did pro bono service, the report states.

About 73 percent of pro bono services rendered was direct legal help to low-income Marylanders or with legal services organizations that serve that population.

As in past years, lawyers from the rural parts of the state, including western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, reported the highest percentage of pro bono involvement compared to other parts of the state.

“The rural areas are interesting because they have the least access to organized legal services groups whereas in the more metro areas, there’s lots of really great legal service providers,” Ortiz said. There are also fewer attorneys in rural areas.

The report also found that there is a gap between the types of law many attorneys practice and the areas of law where there is a need for pro bono services. Many attorneys who do not donate pro bono services reported they lacked the time or preferred to do non-legal charitable work.

A large portion of Maryland lawyers also work for the government and have limitations on whether they can take cases due to conflicts of interest and other prohibitions.

The judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service had a working group in the past dedicated to working with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General’s office, Office of the Public Defender and different county government offices to create policies that would permit their attorneys to participate in pro bono work, Jensen said.

“We’re making an effort starting next year to do that again,” Jensen said, adding that those policies often change with county leadership changes.

By the end of the reporting period, which includes four rounds of reminders, only 46 lawyers did not file a pro bono report for 2017, the judiciary found.

“I can’t emphasize enough how ahead of the curve Maryland remains,” Jensen said. “Hopefully we’ll get that number even lower.”


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