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Program Support - Bar Associations/Bar Leaders

Bar Associations/Bar Leaders

Access to justice is dependent upon the availability of legal help. Because of their stature, organizational structure and resources, bar associations are uniquely situated to spearhead the effort to promote and coordinate the pro bono component of an integrated legal services delivery strategy. Bar leaders, in particular, are in a position to influence and direct the expansion of legal services to the poor. Bar leaders are encouraged to work with the judiciary, legal services organizations, funders, law firms, other social services providers and client groups in their communities to design integrated strategies for addressing the unmet legal needs of low and moderate income persons in this country. In addition to influencing the structure of the bar to promote pro bono activities, bar leaders and candidates for bar leadership positions should demonstrate their support for pro bono and legal services through pro bono service, and service on boards that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

Specific strategies a bar association, a bar leader, or a candidate for a bar leadership position may use to promote pro bono work include:

Model Rule 6.1: Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service

Voluntary or Mandatory Reporting Requirements

Training & Continuing Legal Education (CLE)

Recognition/Awards

Starting a Pro Bono Program

Other ABA pro bono resources a bar association, a bar leader, or a candidate for a bar leadership position may find useful include:

Making Pro Bono A Priority: A Bar Leader's Handbook

Pro Bono Clearinghouse

Additional Information

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Model Rule 6.1: Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service

Almost every state has an ethical rule that calls upon lawyers to render pro bono service. For those states in which the Rules of Professional Conduct are in effect, the pro bono responsibility is usually defined in Rule 6.1. While it is ultimately the responsibility of another entity (usually a state's supreme court) to adopt revisions to state ethical rules, bar associations can take a leadership role by filing a petition with the court or by taking other appropriate steps to initiate amendment of the pro bono ethical rule. Click here for the full text of ABA Model Rule 6.1.

Voluntary or Mandatory Reporting Requirements

Several state bar associations or state supreme courts have considered the adoption of a requirement that attorneys report their pro bono activity. Generally, reporting requirements have arisen out of studies and reports done by bar committees or special commissions appointed by the court to assess the unmet legal needs of persons of limited means and recommend options for addressing them. In considering either voluntary or mandatory reporting, the entities making the recommendation typically have relied on the ethical principle that pro bono legal service to the poor is an integral part of a lawyer's public service responsibility. For more information on mandatory or voluntary reporting requirements, see State Pro Bono Reporting: A Guide for Bar Leaders and Other Considering Strategies for Expanding Pro Bono.

Training & Continuing Legal Education (CLE)

Bar associations provide training in a variety of ways, and training can be a vital aspect of recruiting pro bono attorneys. Some bar associations offer free CLE programs directed at recruiting pro bono attorneys for certain types of cases. Other bar associations offer discounts on CLE programs to attorneys who accept pro bono referrals. Still other bar associations support rules that permit attorneys who take pro bono cases to earn credit toward mandatory CLE requirements. In all of these situations, attorneys benefit by obtaining CLE credits without charge, and pro bono programs benefit by recruiting additional panel members. For more information about using training and CLE opportunities to recruit pro bono attorneys, click here.

Recognition/Awards

Bar-sponsored awards and recognition events are ideal occasions for bar associations to recognize and showcase outstanding pro bono efforts of attorneys and judges. Many benefits stem from the public recognition of bar members who have made outstanding pro bono contributions. First, public recognition is an effective recruiting tool. Awards events encourage and inspire other attorneys to participate in pro bono programs. Further, recognition events present valuable opportunities for bar associations to improve public relations with the community. Media representatives should be invited to awards and recognition events and provided with information about the bar's pro bono commitment prior to the event. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, pro bono attorneys deserve recognition and should be thanked publicly. For more information about recognition techniques, click here.

Starting a Pro Bono Program

Creating a pro bono program is one of the strongest tools bar leadership can use to influence the structure of the bar to promote pro bono work. When creating a bar association pro bono program, there are three main models for operating the program:

  • state support,
  • direct delivery, and
  • public legal education.
State support programs begin with the state bar association enacting a statewide pro bono plan and program that provides statewide support for pro bono activities. Some bar associations administer a statewide pro bono support program within the structure of the bar itself, and other bar associations create an independent 501(c)(3) for that purpose. Regardless of structure, however, the close relationship between a bar association and the state support program staff can be instrumental in raising the level of pro bono activity on a statewide basis.

Direct delivery programs provide direct delivery of legal services to persons of limited means through pro bono attorneys, and direct delivery programs operating through state and local bar associations exist in several forms. The most popular forms include intake/referral systems and clinics. In intake/referral systems, volunteers or staff members screen clients for income eligibility and type of legal problem before referring certain clients to volunteer attorneys for representation. In clinics, pro bono attorneys are matched with groups of clients in clinic settings in order to provide the most efficient use of limited attorney resources.

Lastly, public legal education is a relatively simple method through which bar associations can offer pro bono resources to persons of limited means. Public education often takes the form of speakers' bureaus, telephone hotlines, and publications, and a public education program often works well for bar associations that wish to undertake less labor-intensive pro bono programs.

For more information about starting a program and the three methods of managing the pro bono program discussed above, click here. For further guidance for new and established programs and their governing bodies, consult the ABA's Standards for Programs Providing Civil Pro Bono Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means.

Making Pro Bono A Priority: A Bar Leader's Handbook

The ABA Center for Pro Bono's publication, Making Pro Bono A Priority: A Bar Leader's Handbook, was designed for bar leaders to use in implementing the ABA House of Delegates' 1995 resolution urging the ABA, along with other bar associations, to make the expansion of pro bono legal services by practicing attorneys a critical priority. The handbook includes:

  • The description of an extensive range of strategies bar associations should consider as part of their pro bono commitment;

  • Examples of how particular strategies have been applied by selected bar associations around the country;

  • Samples of selected materials reflecting the manner in which a particular strategy has been implemented by a bar association;

  • Contact names and phone numbers to assist bar leaders in gathering additional information and materials; and

  • A list of additional resources, which bar leaders can utilize in the development of pro bono activities within their association.

Pro Bono Clearinghouse

As an additional resource for bar associations and bar leaders, the Center for Pro Bono maintains an extensive Pro Bono Clearinghouse Library of over 4,000 documents (articles, reports, studies and news clippings) pertaining to pro bono related matters with a focus on pro bono program management. Each document is summarized and recorded in the Clearinghouse database, which is now searchable from the web at www.abaprobono.org/clearinghouselibrary.html. Clearinghouse materials of interest to bar associations and their leaders include: bar leadership speeches and articles, materials from bar leadership conferences, bar action plans, materials from bar association pro bono/public interest committees, and bar policies and program descriptions.

Additional Information

For more information on how bar associations and bar leaders can develop strategies for involving particular segments of the legal community in pro bono activities, or for more information on the Clearinghouse Library, you may .

Updated: 9/1/2009

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