SJC Rule 4:02 Allows More In-House Counsel to Provide Pro Bono Legal Services
The Supreme Judicial Court recently amended SJC Rule 4:02, section 9 (b), to allow in- house counsel who work in Massachusetts but are licensed to practice in other jurisdictions to perform pro bono legal work. As described in the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct the pro bono legal services must be "under the auspices of either (1) an approved legal services organization . . or (2) a lawyer admitted to practice and in good standing in the Commonwealth.”
With this rule change, Massachusetts joins several other states that permit in house lawyers to perform pro bono legal services. The Supreme Judicial Court's Standing Committee on Pro Bono Services recommended the new provision in an effort to increase the participation of in-house attorneys who are licensed to practice in other jurisdictions, but not in Massachusetts, and who may be interested in providing pro bono legal services in the state.
Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph D. Gants, a member of the Court's Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, said, "The need for attorneys to provide pro bono services to the needy has never been greater. Our hope is that more attorneys will embrace this opportunity and help make a positive impact on the lives of low income individuals in the Commonwealth."
In-house pro bono initiatives have grown over the past decade. In Massachusetts, legal departments of major companies have partnered with law firms, community organizations, and the courts to expand their pro bono programs. Attorneys in companies of all sizes have represented clients in a broad array of pro bono matters involving housing, unemployment compensation, Social Security and domestic violence. Some attorneys have participated in free legal clinics for the homeless, volunteered in the Housing Court's Lawyer-for-a-Day Program, and assisted civil litigants in legal matters at Springfield District Court. Attorneys are also providing legal advice to the elderly and to nonprofit and community organizations.
Attorney Susan Finegan, who chairs the Standing Committee on Pro Bono Services, said, "Pro bono work not only addresses the pressing need for legal assistance among those unable to afford counsel, but it also enriches the attorneys who perform this work by diversifying their legal skills and experience. It is such rewarding work, and it helps to remind us why we went to law school."