Supreme Judicial Court Launches New Pro Bono Recognition Program
The Supreme Judicial Court today announced the establishment of a new Pro Bono Recognition Program for lawyers who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to pro bono work by voluntarily assisting vulnerable people of limited financial means with their legal issues. Each year the Program will honor those law firms, solo practitioners, in-house corporate counsel offices, government attorneys' offices, non-profit organizations and law school faculties which certify that they have met the Program criteria by providing significant pro bono legal services.
"We think it is important to recognize those lawyers, firms, and organizations which have gone beyond the call of duty to help individuals and families of limited means confront their urgent legal issues," said SJC Justice Francis X. Spina, who chairs the SJC Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services which will administer the Program. "The lawyers who volunteer to represent these often desperate citizens have done so at a time when the economic pressures on their own practices have never been greater.
To qualify for the voluntary Program, the lawyer, firm, or organization must certify that the pro bono legal services hours per attorney is at least 50 in a given year; or more than 75 percent of the Massachusetts attorneys have provided at least 25 pro bono hours in a year. More specific criteria for law firms and organizations are listed in the attached program description.
The need for pro bono legal services is critical, in part, because of the increased numbers of pro se litigants in Massachusetts courts and because of the precipitous decline in recent years of Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) funding, which pays for civil legal services for people in need. Rule 6.1 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Responsibility sets forth an aspirational goal for Massachusetts lawyers to devote 25 hours per year to the pro bono representation of persons of limited means.
The Access to Justice Commission, co-chaired by SJC Justice Ralph D. Gants, recommended to the Justices that a pro bono commitment recognition program be established in coordination with the Court's Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. "With so many in need of legal advice and services, it is important to recognize the many attorneys who have followed Louis Brandeis's extraordinary example in generously contributing their time to ensure that the problems of those who cannot afford counsel are resolved promptly and fairly," noted Justice Gants.
The Supreme Judicial Court will acknowledge the attorneys, law firms and organizations which are certified for the recognition program with a letter of appreciation for their commitment to pro bono legal work. The names will be listed on the SJC website and the attorneys, law firms, and organizations will be honored each year at a special event at the John Adams Courthouse.
Those organizations that submit their certification forms for calendar year 2010 by September 15, 2011 will be invited to send a representative to the October 2011 recognition event. The certification form and program information can be found on the SJC website at http://www.mass.gov/courts/sjc/pro-bono-recognition.html.