As it stands now, lawyers are not required to provide pro bono services. The ABA model rules say that a lawyer “should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year.” The wording of the rule itself lends to the idea that the 50 hours of pro bono work is something to aspire to, but not everyone’s aspirations are the same. When I first read the rule, my initial thoughts were those of confusion and perplexity, as I wasn’t sure exactly why the model rules would include conduct that a lawyer “should” engage in. In any event, inclusion of the rule itself is not the topic of this blog post, so let’s get back on track.
Moving away from what may seem like a mix of skepticism and pessimism, I know for a fact that there are programs that act as agents of change. In my post “A Solution to the Justice Gap”, I make reference to the Northstar Program run by the MSBA. However, even with the existence of programs like these, the justice gap still exists. So how much would it take to completely close the justice gap? Sure, 1,010 lawyers each contributing at least 50 hours a year is a fairly large number, but it would seem to me that the number would need to envelop a much higher percentage of lawyers to close the gap indefinitely.
As with every argument, the other side is that lawyers cannot themselves afford to provide free legal services to anyone and everyone who walks through their door and is qualified. The cost of law school is high, and lawyers need to put food on the table and sustain themselves just as everyone else does. In addition, as far as I am concerned, nearly every other profession gets compensated for their work, so why should lawyers be the only profession in which free services must be provided?
The answers to the questions that plague the legal community cannot be remedied through simplistic avenues of change, although there are organizations that are attempting to remedy at least a portion of the gap. Having said that, providing everyone with legal counsel will not happen in the next year, or maybe even within the next decade, or maybe ever. Regardless, if every lawyer were required to provide some amount of pro bono services annually, I still believe the gap that currently exists in the justice system might slowly start closing. Given the amount of hours lawyers put in annually, 50 doesn’t seem like such a huge favor to ask.
Dakota Erickson is a rising 2L at Mitchell Hamline School of Law; he’s spending his summer assisting CCLI’s advocates with their law practices.