Properly reporting your pro bono contributions August 1, 2004 Regular News Properly reporting your pro bono contributions (Editor’s Note: It has come to the attention of the Bar’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services that not all Bar members are properly reporting their pro bono hours on the Bar’s annual fee statement form. To address the concerns, Robin Rosenberg, chair of the Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service, put together the following Q & A to set the record straight.) 1. Who has to answer the pro bono questions on the Bar fees statements? Everyone. 2. What should I do if I gave money to a legal services provider and personally did pro bono work? You should report in both boxes – items 1 and 3. 3. What happens if I didn’t do any pro bono work or contribute to a legal service provider this year? There is no sanction for reporting 0 hours or $0 contribution. The rules only require that you honestly report what you did. The providing of pro bono services is voluntary. Lawyers are encouraged to contribute at least $350 to a legal aid organization in addition to or in lieu of service, so if you didn’t provide any pro bono you may wish to fulfill the aspirational requirement in that fashion. While reporting 0s is not sanctionable, the failure to complete the pro bono section of the form is a disciplinary violation. 4. What is “collective satisfaction” and when should I check it? Collective satisfaction is only available to attorneys whose law firms have filed a “collective satisfaction plan” with their circuit pro bono committee. You should only report in box item 2 the number of hours allocated to you. Also, if you have personally provided pro bono services or have made a contribution to a legal aid organization, you should report this service and/or contribution in the appropriate boxes. 5. What counts as pro bono? Generally, pro bono services involve direct free legal assistance to an eligible client or client group or free legal services to charitable, religious, or educational organizations whose overall mission and activities are designed predominately to address the needs of the poor. Direct legal assistance involves such services as representation, interviewing prospective clients, participation in advice clinics, co-counseling and mentoring on pro bono cases, serving as a mediator or arbitrator, and providing guardian ad litem services.Pro bono services to charitable, religious, and educational organizations may involve such services as providing corporate representation to a nonprofit group establishing a health clinic for the poor, providing real estate legal assistance to a church developing low-income housing, or assisting a charitable group feeding the homeless to obtain tax-exempt status.Nonlegal work for charities, such as fundraising or volunteer service, does not count as pro bono legal services. Nor does legal work for nonprofit institutions on projects that do not primarily serve poor people. 6. How is “poor” defined? The “poor” are not only those living below the federal poverty guidelines (a sliding income scale based on family size), but also the “working poor.” The “working poor” is not defined but is generally those families who have limited means and cannot reasonably afford the legal services they need. A good-faith determination by the lawyer of a pro bono client’s eligibility is sufficient. 7. If I do some pro bono work on my own and some from an organized program, how should I answer question 1? It is appropriate to mark both (a) “on my own” and (b) “through an organized legal aid program” and then provide the total hours of pro bono service provided. 8. Can I carry over pro bono hours from a previous year, and how? If you provided more than 20 hours of pro bono legal work last year, you can carry over the difference, up to 20 hours a year in the two succeeding years. Just report the carry-over hours in the line asking for how many you performed this year. Of course, we hope attorneys will want to continue providing needed pro bono assistance and will want to report all of their pro bono hours each year, so the true amount of volunteer service being provided in a year can be measured.