As I See It . . . by Marilyn Harp, Executive Director
American Bar Association's Pro Bono Survey results will strengthen Kansas programs
Last Spring, KBA members were asked to participate in an American Bar Association study on pro bono activities and attitudes. Responses were received from 1,376 Kansas attorneys. This was a very high response rate and provided a large of amount of information. Pro bono programs are just beginning to develop an action plan based on this information, but some very strong messages emerged. As we mark the Celebrate Pro Bono 2017 effort, these findings can guide our future.
Finding 1: While Kansas lawyers, as a group, do provide pro bono legal services, older lawyers are significantly more likely to provide those services, than younger lawyers.
Whether this has to do with time or opportunity, practice setting or location, we appreciate the lead set by the members of the Bar who provide this help. Whether in response to professional duty or the satisfaction of helping someone else, older lawyers are setting the way for pro bono service.
Kansas Legal Services has found this even extends to lawyers who have a retired (or inactive) license. As the KLS Emeritus program has become more widely known, there are currently five retired lawyers who are providing service on a pro bono basis through this program. To get more information about this program, you can go to http://bit.ly/2wWLf9c or contact Marilyn Harp at email@example.com.
Still, to grow the level of pro bono involvement (and give us more to celebrate) we need to find ways to provide volunteer opportunities that meet the interests and availability of younger lawyers. We also need older lawyers to encourage younger lawyers to provide pro bono involvement. When firms make a commitment to count pro bono hours as equivalent to billable hours in evaluating associates, pro bono activities grow. Only about 20% of those surveyed indicated that they were able to provide pro bono work during office hours and using firm resources.
Finding 2: Those in private practice are more likely to provide pro bono services than those in a firm, in government or in non-profit employment.
This finding makes sense for two reasons. First, lawyers are most comfortable providing pro bono service in an area of law with which they are familiar. For lawyers in practice areas that don’t regularly meet the general public, the learning curve for pro bono work can be steeper. Programs that recruit volunteer lawyers must be committed to providing training for all volunteers.
Another barrier is the issue of current and future conflicts of interest that arise when a lawyer provides short term legal services in a clinic or courthouse setting. Kansas Legal Services, with support of the Kansas Bar Association, the Christian legal Society’s Legal Aid Program (Kansas) and the Kansas Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, is seeking the adoption by the Supreme Court of ABA Model Rule 6.5. If adopted, this change will help ease that issue for some types of pro bono work. This solution has worked in 46 other states.
We have examples from across the state, where groups of lawyers that have taken on a specific type of legal work or adopted a low income “block” and provided legal services. Shook, Hardy and Bacon was recognized by the Kansas Bar Association in 2014 for its program in finding stability for children in the Kansas City area through adoption or guardianship. In 2016, the Wichita Bar Association members created “Clean Slate Day”, to provide expungement services. Similar programs could be replicated across the state by firms or bar associations. These programs could include lawyers in a variety of practice settings, providing training and other support where needed.
Finding 3: Based on data from 550 attorneys reporting pro bono activities in 2016, Kansas attorneys provided an average of 42 hours of pro bono service annually
Kansas lawyers have been challenged to volunteer 50 hours of pro bono services on an annual basis to those unable to afford an attorney. This survey result indicates that, for those lawyers who include pro bono service as a regular part of their practice, this goal is attainable.
Finding 4: The majority of pro bono service was advice (70%), provided to someone known to the lawyer (60%), who the lawyer believed to be unable to pay for the service (55%) and in an area of law that the attorney had experience (79%).
These survey results are probably not surprising. When a lawyer is asked, by someone they are acquainted with and who they believe can’t hire an attorney, for advice in an area of law in which the lawyer is comfortable, those questions get answered. The challenge is, how often does this occur? It might be that person in need doesn’t know any lawyers, or the lawyer they know doesn’t have experience in the appropriate area of law. Those people get left out.
Pro bono programs seek to be the “match maker” in these situations. They do this by screening participants to verify they are low income, recruiting a broad group of attorneys to consider providing the needed legal service and, often, providing malpractice insurance for those attorneys who participate.
The KBA’s new Free Legal Answers program is a new program on this model. It currently has 30 Kansas attorney volunteers, who have answered about 300 question in 2017. All communication is by email and can be handled at times convenient to the lawyer. Contact Pat Byers (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want more information.
The Elder Law Hotline, managed by Kansas Legal Services, is another advice only program. Regular orientation calls get volunteer attorneys familiar with how the program operates. Contact Jan Wagner (email@example.com) for more information.
KLS maintains a website (www.klsprobono.org) to recruit, match and support volunteer attorneys in reviewing clients in need of advice or representation. Check out this website for more information. KLS also schedules attorneys willing to provide advice on a regular basis in courthouse based help centers or specific court dockets.
As this report indicates, there is a lot to Celebrate about Pro Bono in Kansas. Using the valuable input, pro bono programs will be able to improve and provide more services to those in need in the future.