Reducing Pro Bono Case Expenses


Reducing Pro Bono Case Expenses


Attorneys who work for free should not be out of pocket for expenses. This is especially true for retired, corporate, government, solo and small firm pro bono attorneys. While large firms may be able to absorb expenses in pro bono cases, it is likely a significant impediment for smaller firms and solo practitioners. Pro bono programs must be creative in finding ways to eliminate or minimize the costs of volunteer services. Access to justice should not be through a toll gate. How can expenses for pro bono cases be kept to a minimum? How can unavoidable expenses for pro bono be funded?

  • In forma pauperis (IFP) is the basic tool to reduce expenses in pro bono cases. Supreme Court Rule 77.03 and Section 514.040, RSMo address in forma pauperis. Section 514.040.3 provides for Legal Services Corporation programs to certify low-income litigants. For other pro bono attorneys, the first step is filing an in forma pauperis application. For further discussion of in forma pauperis see "in forma pauperis, Section 514.040, A Practical User's Guide for Attorneys," Christine Rollins, Missouri Bar Journal, May-June 2010, p. 146.

  • Are clerks informed on expeditious handling of IFP applications, the scope of costs covered and filing of pleadings pending determination of in forma pauperis status?

  • Publications may be required. Consider editing orders to the minimum requirements to reduce publication costs.

  • Discovery: How can judges reduce discovery costs in pro bono cases?
    • Simplify and use standard form discovery (e.g., family law income and expense statements), which are issued sua sponte on filing pro se.
    • Develop model local rules.
    • Consider permitting the taking of depositions without a stenographic record.
    • Consider permitting the taking of depositions "by telephone or other remote electronic means."
    • Recruit court reporters to do pro bono work.
    • Further see, 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+.

  • The pre-trial and trial schedules. A very significant "cost" can be imposed or avoided depending on the court's sensitivity in establishing pre-trial and trial schedules and in responding to requests for continuances. See Oxholm, Part I, supra, p. 15.

  • Panel of volunteer stenographers. "Pro bono is not just for lawyers. There is no reason that the court could not maintain a panel of pro bono reporters. Court reporters who serve their courts for "paying cases" should be encouraged to enroll as panel members. These volunteers only agree to provide one copy of the transcript for free to the attorney representing an indigent party pro bono (they may charge their standard fees to all other parties)." See Oxholm, Part I, supra, p. 15.

  • Professional associations. Some associations of certified shorthand professionals have adopted policies encouraging their members to serve pro bono in any case where the requesting counsel is serving pro bono. When a lawyer (or law firm) regularly uses a specific reporter (or agency), a request to share in the burden of pro bono is appropriate.

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