Evan Schaeffer posts here that the Illinois Bar is the latest bar to implement a mandatory pro bono reporting requirement whereby lawyers must report pro bono activity annually to the bar. According to Schaeffer, “the Illinois Supreme Court hopes that the new reporting requirement will
serve as a reminder that pro-bono work is important. In addition, it
will allow information to be gathered about lawyers’ efforts overall.”
On the surface, mandatory pro bono reporting seems innocuous enough. Lawyers aren’t forced to perform pro bono and it’s not really all that time consuming to fill out a form once a year and send it in to the bar. In fact, over at Legal Ethics Forum, Don Burnett analyzes mandatory pro bono reporting requiremens, concluding that those who oppose them are “really disputing the core message of ABA Model Rule 6.1.” (providing that lawyers should aspire to 50 hours of pro bono annually).
Even though I agree that lawyers have a professional obligation to perform pro bono because the requirements would disproportionately penalize solos. Most pro bono requirements do not recognize that the work that many solos perform day to day is pro bono. But at the same time, biglaw firms would be free to characterize as pro bono work at the rate of $400 an hour, marketing efforts and even a loss on attorneys fees representing high profile defendants. (under this last definition, given the firm’s potential loss in connection with representing Jeff Skilling, O’Melveny, Meyers would win a pro bono award!).
And that’s what I despise about mandatory pro bono reporting. Lawyers send in hours for any kind of pro bono work, whether it’s really pro bono or not. The bars collectsthese numbers and then uses them to give themselves a huge public pat on the back (hey, look at how much pro bono are lawyers are doing) – similar to what the ABA did last summer. Yet as I described in my ABA post, for all the millions of hours of pro bono that lawyers allegedly perform, we’ve still not made a dent in providing lower and middle income people in this country with meaningful and affordable access to law.
Mandatory pro bono reporting forces me to participate in this massive PR sham, it takes the pro bono hours that I report and uses them to make the bar look good, when frankly, when it comes to providing the poor with access to law, we still have a long, long way to go.