Model Firm Pro Bono Policy
Pro bono program coordinators from across the state suggest one way to increase pro bono participation is for law firms to clarify and memorialize their commitment to pro bono in a written document. In response, the LSBA's Access to Justices Pro Bono Subcommittee developed a set of recommendations, or a template, to help firms develop their own pro bono policy. These recommendations were developed to help firms set forth their commitment to pro bono service and develop best practices for managing those services. They are intended to serve only as a guide to be tailored to fit the particular goals and resources of each firm.
Introducing your firm's pro bono policy with a statement of principles can help to generate support and enthusiasm for pro bono services. A sample introduction is included below:
The lawyers and staff of ABC Law Firm recognize our professional responsibility to serve our community and the legal profession. As such, ABC Law Firm supports the goals established in Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct 6.1 and has developed this policy to encourage pro bono activity among members of the firm. We adopt this Policy to reflect the firm's resolve to advance the goal of making equal access to justice a reality by offering legal services to clients without charge, under the circumstances and procedures described herein.
Management of Pro Bono Services
We strongly encourage you to develop a mechanism for managing pro bono services the firm will provide, which is similar to the way other cases are managed. Coordination of cases in an efficient manner within a law firm will benefit both the firm and the pro bono client. The method by which pro bono cases are managed is largely dependent on the size of the firm, the firm's focus on pro bono service, and the type of firm. One management option clause is:
Section 1 - Pro Bono Management
1.01. The Firm's Pro Bono Coordinator (or Pro Bono Contact) is Just Dogood. He/she is responsible for managing the pro bono efforts of the firm and its 20 lawyers. This individual is responsible for interacting with the local pro bono program, handling requests for pro bono service and disseminating information about pro bono service opportunities to lawyers and staff of the firm. The Pro Bono Coordinator/Contact will also record the pro bono hours and activities of lawyers of the firm and prepare reports for firm management as requested. The Pro Bono Coordinator shall periodically, (a) report to the firm on how this Policy is being implemented and (b) recommend any modifications that should be made to this Policy.
Scope and Standard of Pro Bono Services
It is important that the firm defines the scope and standard of pro bono representation so that lawyers are aware of the proper sources of pro bono work, the expected standard of pro bono representation and the appropriate use of the firm's resources. Again, the size of the firm and the firm's position on pro bono service will influence how much emphasis is placed on this section. Some options are:
Section 2 - Definition of Pro Bono Service
2.01 Definition of Pro Bono Services. The firm adopts Louisiana Supreme Court Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 to define "Pro Bono Service" under this Policy. As found in Louisiana Supreme Court Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1, each attorney in the firm should aspire to render pro bono publico legal services. The firm encourages attorneys to perform pro bono services and determine how best to fulfill his or her pro bono responsibilities. Rule 6.1 suggests the substantial majority of the 50 hours should be provided to persons of limited means, or to public interest organizations in matters designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means. Provision of additional service is suggested through delivery of free legal services to public interest organizations in matter in furtherance of their organizational purposes where their resources would be significantly depleted. Delivery of legal services at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means or participation in activities that improve the law, legal system or profession are also included. Rule 6.1 does not define pro bono service to include non-legal volunteer activities; fee-generating matters which have become uncollectible; or unsuccessful contingency matters.
2.02. Sources of Pro Bono Service. The firm recognizes that there are many sources of pro bono cases, and encourages lawyers to seek such opportunities at their discretion, provided that their pro bono activities comply with the definition of pro bono service as described above in Section 2.01. Whenever possible, Pro Bono Service shall be performed through activities sponsored by a local Pro Bono Project or non-profit legal organization. The Pro Bono Coordinator/Contact is authorized to enter into a revocable-at-will memorandum of understanding with the Pro Bono Project describing the manner in which the members and staff of the firm may participate in Pro Bono Project activities.
2.03. Standard of Representation. Pro Bono Service shall be performed under the same standard of quality the firm demands in the performance of fee-generating service. If Pro Bono Service involves representation of a client, all of the firm's policies regarding the creation of an attorney-client relationship shall apply to that client (including inter alia reviewing conflicts, entering into an engagement agreement, etc.) with the exception of matters related to the collection of a fee.
Fees and Expenses
Policies for payment of fees and expenses may vary depending on the size of the firm, the type of case, and the particular agreement with a client or pro bono program. It is important to clearly set out your policies so that both lawyers and clients are aware of the expectations and limitations with regard to fees and expenses associated with pro bono representation. A sample policy is included below.
Section 3 - Fees and Expenses
3.01. Fees. No fee shall be charged to a client for Pro Bono Service. However, the firm recognizes that in some situations the objectives of this Policy may be best advanced by seeking to collect a fee from an adverse party. Therefore, the firm encourages collecting fees for Pro Bono Service from adverse parties if the fee will not reduce the recovery the client would otherwise receive.
3.02. Expenses. The firm shall not require clients to reimburse the firm for nominal expenses incurred in connection with Pro Bono Service. . On a case by case basis, the pro bono coordinator/contact or attorney handling the case will obtain written authorization regarding payment of all other expenses associated with Pro Bono Service (including inter alia filing fees, court reporter fees, expert witness fees, etc.) prior to incurring expenses. The firm management may determine whether it best to (a) advance expense funds upon execution of a written agreement by the client to reimburse the firm for the expense, (b) pay an expense without expectation of reimbursement from the client or (c) inquire whether resources are available through the Pro Bono Program.
Documentation of Service
Documentation of pro bono service is important in order to report the firm's commitment to pro bono service, to recognize the work of lawyers for purposes of evaluation, and to provide information for pro bono and public service awards. Most firms should be able to easily record pro bono hours using their established client/matter code system. One simple option is:
Section 4 - Documentation of Pro Bono Service
4.01 Documentation. All Pro Bono Service to a client shall be documented in the same manner as service to fee-paying clients.
Expectation of Service
The firm's expectation of its lawyers to complete pro bono service will vary depending on the size of the firm, the resources of the firm, and the firm's position on pro bono service. Each firm should consider whether it will require, recommend, or encourage pro bono service, and clearly set forth the expected number of annual pro bono hours.
Section 5 - Expectation of Service
5.01 The firm recognizes that the American Bar Association and the Louisiana State Bar Association recommend that every lawyer devote at least 50 hours per year to Pro Bono Service. The firm endorses that goal by encouraging each of its lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono service annually.
5.01. Being cognizant of the aspirational goals established by the Louisiana Supreme Court's Rules of Professional Conduct, the firm recommends/requires that every lawyer devote (X hours/time) each year to Pro Bono Service.
Credit and Evaluation for Service
A firm's capacity to credit pro bono service toward billable hour requirements will depend on the size and resources of the firm. Whether or not the firm has the resources to credit pro bono hours, each lawyer is expected to achieve his or her aspirational goal of 50 hours under RPC 6.1 or the goal established by the firm. Firms may consider a lawyers commitment to this professional goal as an important component of annual evaluations.
Section 6 - Credit and Evaluation for Pro Bono Services
6.01 Compliance with the firm's Pro Bono Policy shall be one component in the performance evaluation of all lawyers and staff members. For evaluation purposes, the firm will consider hours spent on pro bono matters during each year.