Accommodating Pro Bono Practice

Accommodating Pro Bono Practice

The only compensation pro bono attorneys receive, if any, is appreciation. Saving time reduces the cost of pro bono representation. "While this might appear to 'favor' one side 'against' another, it is nothing more than courtesy shown to a member of the profession who is fulfilling his or her professional obligation." A Rule To Show Cause On the Courts: How the Judiciary Can Help Pro Bono - Part I by Carl "Tobey" Oxholm (ABA Dialogue, Winter 1999), pp. 15+.

How can judges accommodate pro bono volunteers? Some examples include:

  • Giving priority to pro bono cases: If your court holds "motion days" or other events at which many cases are listed for activity at the same time, the court can recognize the public service that pro bono counsel is rendering, and it also reduce, where possible, the amount of time spent waiting for that counsel's case to be called.

  • Every effort should be made to honor the pro bono counsel's scheduling requests, and the court should give greater latitude to pro bono counsel who makes continuance requests.

  • Hear pro bono cases first on the daily calendar.

  • Grant docket time close to times the pro bono attorneys are appearing on other matters.

  • Organize the calendar so that all matters from pro bono programs will be heard by the same judicial officer at the same time each week.

  • Set pro bono cases at specific, non-standard times and at non-standard places.

  • Allow pro bono attorneys to attend routine hearings by conference call.

  • Offer courthouse space for meeting clients and pro bono clinics.

  • Encourage court personnel to be cooperative with volunteer attorneys.

  • Help with training: Often attorneys need training in family law, landlord/tenant and other areas of law in which they don't practice but for which there is a large need. Volunteer to help with training and offer free CLE programs. Not only will this improve the attorney's work, but it demonstrates the court supports pro bono volunteering.

  • "Little Red Schoolhouse Seminars:" One judge opens his courtroom during downtime to meet with attorneys to discuss pro bono issues to hold free CLE seminars on pro bono relevant topics such as review of local rules relevant to pro bono practice and limited scope representation (LSR).

  • Review local rules. Are local court rules and practices pro bono friendly?

  • Set aspirational goals: Adopt a local rule that defines an expectation or aspirational goal that each member of the local bar will provide 20-40 hours of pro bono services annually. (Note: This does not call for mandatory pro bonopro bono need help from the outside. In most jurisdictions that have successful pro bono programs, the judiciary plays a key role by establishing the expectation (if not the rule) that lawyers will volunteer to help in the delivery of legal services to the poor. This article does not recommend that courts make volunteer service mandatory. It suggests that each state and federal district review its rules and amend them to reflect that "the court expects [all the bar members] to engage in pro bono, if not in a panel maintained by the court, then through the local bar association's pro bono program." See A Rule To Show Cause On The Courts: How the Judiciary Can Help Pro Bono - Part II by Carl "Tobey" Oxholm (ABA Dialogue, Spring 1999), p. 4.

  • IFP applications: Are procedures for in forma pauperis applications simple and expedient? Consider using the Office of State Courts Administrator in forma pauperis application form.

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