Monday, April 28, 2014

Florida Bar Pro Bono Reporting: Option Two ― The Best-Kept Secret

By Lynn Hanshaw 

The Florida Bar Annual Membership Pro Bono Reporting Form has six options. This article is to introduce Option Two to the legal community of the Sixth and Thirteen Judicial Circuits through a local program tentatively called SHARE (Sharing Hours And Reaping Equity).

Over the next several months, expect to hear and see information about SHARE and how it can benefit your firm and your community. The authority for the SHARE program is found in Rule 4-6.5(c) of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct and is expected to work as follows:

A law firm that chooses to participate will design a “plan.” This plan, called a “voluntary pro bono plan,” has as its goal “the improvement of the availability of legal services to the poor and the expansion of present pro bono legal services” Rule 4-6.5(a). This simple concept is limited only by the broad provisions of Rule 4-6.5(c), as applicable. 

A plan, once created, gets submitted to the local Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service [Rule 4-6.5(b)], where it will be reviewed for compliance. Once approved, the plan may be implemented and the pro bono hours earned may be distributed according to the schedule outlined in the plan. The distributed hours are then reported on The Florida Bar annual reporting form. Under the rule, the only requirement of the distribution is that it be done in a fair and reasonable manner as determined by the firm. It’s that simple.

Rule 4-6.1 defines an attorney’s aspirational pro bono goal as 20 hours. Under SHARE, a designated number of attorneys for each firm will earn those 20 hours for themselves and the remainder of the firm. These hours can be accrued through: (1) a major case or matter involving a substantial expenditure of time and resources; (2) a full-time community or public service staff; or (3) any other manner that has been approved by the circuit pro bono committee in the circuit in which the firm practices.

Rule 4-6.5(d) plan suggestions include:
(1)    representation of clients through case referral;
(2)    interviewing of prospective clients;
(3)    participation in pro se clinics and other clinics in which lawyers provide advice and counsel;
(4)    acting as co-counsel on cases or matters with legal assistance providers and other pro bono lawyers;
(5)    providing consultation services to legal assistance providers for case reviews and evaluations;
(6)    participation in policy advocacy;
(7)    providing training to the staff of legal assistance providers and other volunteer pro bono attorneys;
(8)    making presentations to groups of poor people regarding their rights and obligations under the law;
(9)    providing legal research;
(10)    providing guardian ad litem services;
(11)    providing assistance in the formation and operation of legal entities for groups of poor persons; and
(12)    serving as a mediator or arbitrator at no fee to the client-eligible party.

However, this list is far from exhaustive. “Any legal services to charitable, religious, or educational organizations whose overall mission and activities are designed predominately to address the needs of the poor, including the working poor, are also permitted.”

If you are drawn to pro bono work, this is a great tool to get your firm’s support. The plans are custom-made, allowing each firm to designate as many attorneys it determines appropriate and how those attorneys will spend their pro bono time. The entire firm will be involved in and benefit from the good work.
A fill-in-the-blank form for plan submissions is in the works, and we hope to get it to you soon.  For now, get your creative juices flowing and let’s begin to SHARE. It’s a win/win for everyone.