Pro Bono Reporting FAQ
I. Purpose and Goals
II. How to Report
I. Purpose and Goals
1. Why does the Oregon State Bar track pro bono hours?
2. How did the Oregon State Bar select the pro bono aspirational standard of 80 hours with 40 hours in direct legal services to the poor?
This goal was adopted by the members of the Oregon State Bar in 1989. In addition, Section 4.4 of the OSB Statement of Professionalism states that it is a principle of professional practice to engage in pro bono activities, and that all lawyers share an obligation to make legal services available to all members of society.
Moreover, the Legal Needs Study, sponsored by the Oregon State Bar and the Oregon Judicial Department in 2000, found that more than 470,000 low-income Oregonians cannot afford to pay for legal advice and representation in civil matters. Existing legal aid programs can help less than 20% of the need.
3. What if an attorney provides more than 80 hours of pro bono legal service?
Many Oregon attorneys do provide more than 80 hours of pro bono legal services each year. The Oregon State Bar commends those attorneys for their outstanding efforts. An attorney who provides at least 40 hours of pro bono legal services to the poor, qualifies for the Oregon State Bar annual OSB Pro Bono Honor Roll. The Pro Bono Challenge recognizes attorneys who donate the greatest number of pro bono hours in several categories.
4. Does the Oregon State Bar require lawyers to report their pro bono hours?
No. Reporting your pro bono hours is voluntary.
5. How many hours of pro bono service should attorneys complete?
Each lawyer in Oregon should endeavor to perform 80 hours annually. Of this total, each attorney should endeavor to devote 20 to 40 hours, or to handle two cases involving direct provision of legal services to the poor, without an expectation of compensation.
6. What happens if an attorney does not satisfy the aspirational standard?
While each Oregon attorney is strongly encouraged by the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors to provide 80 hours of qualifying services each year, pro bono services are not mandatory, and no attorney will be disciplined for failure to comply.
7. What if an attorney is unable to provide direct representation?
Only one of the four Pro Bono Roll Call categories tracks direct representation of clients. Many opportunities exist to improve the law, volunteer for community service, and to make a comparable financial contribution to an organization that provides or coordinates the provision of direct legal services to the poor.
8. Is the Oregon State Bar planning to make pro bono service mandatory?
No. The Oregon State Bar believes that volunteer legal services should be provided on a voluntary basis and has no plans to establish a mandatory pro bono policy. No other state in the United States requires pro bono service, although several require lawyers to report their pro bono hours.
II. How to Report
1. Where can attorneys find a reporting form?
The OSB Pro Bono Roll Call form (a.k.a. the reporting form) is available on the OSB Pro Bono website at www.osbar.org/probono. If you are unable to access the form online, contact the OSB Pro Bono Program at 800-452-8260 ext. 355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. How can an attorney find out about local pro bono opportunities?
Click here to view information about pro bono opportunities. Your county Bar Associations may also have information on pro bono opportunities.
3. What are the pro bono reporting categories?
A. VOLUNTEER LEGAL REPRESENTATION
(This category counts for the Pro Bono Challenge.*)
This category includes volunteer legal services in which you provided direct representation
B. VOLUNTEER LAW IMPROVEMENT ACTIVITIES (NON-REPRESENTATIONAL)
This category includes volunteer activities that improve the law, the legal system, and the legal profession. Examples:
C. COMMUNITY SERVICE
This category includes volunteer time in a non-legal capacity for the public good. Examples: volunteering for community organizations like Meals on Wheels or Habitat for Humanity.
D. FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION
This category includes financial contributions to an organization that provides or coordinates the provision of direct legal services to the poor.
4. How does the aspirational standard define "the poor"?
The pro bono aspirational standard does not specifically define "the poor." That decision is left to the individual program or attorneys. Many programs, such as those funded by the Legal Services Corporation or the Oregon Law Foundation define "poor to be 125% of federal poverty guidelines (e.g., in 2010 $27,563 gross for a family of four, and $13,538 for an individual). Clients referred by organized pro bono programs generally have been screened for income eligibility according to the local guidelines.
5. Can attorneys report legal services as pro bono if the client does not pay the bill?
Report your time as pro bono for cases that you accept with no intention to charge, but unpaid bills may not be counted as pro bono hours.
6. What if an attorney accepts a client on a fee-paying basis and later decides to provide services on a pro bono basis?
The definition includes legal services provided without an expectation of compensation. Attorneys must use their discretion to determine what services are provided without an expectation of compensation.
7. Do legal aid staff attorneys, public defenders, and prosecutors count their work time as pro bono, since they provide free legal services to the poor?
No. Although the services are free to the clients, the attorneys are paid for their work as salaries they have accepted. However, if these attorneys provide volunteer legal assistance to the poor outside their regular work, they may report those hours as pro bono service.
8. Do legal services to the poor have to be provided through an organized pro bono project to qualify?
No, services do not have to be provided through an organized pro bono project to qualify. Many attorneys provide substantial amounts of qualifying pro bono legal services to the poor on an independent basis.
9. Transactional attorneys often provide legal assistance to non-profit organizations such as schools, churches, and social service agencies by doing such things as drafting by-laws, handling contract negotiations, and providing legal advice. Do these services count for the Pro Bono Roll Call?
Yes, these services are examples of the Volunteer Legal Representation category in the Pro Bono Roll Call.
10. Are there any other non-litigation services that transactional and other attorneys can provide that count as pro bono for the Roll Call?
Yes. There are many kinds of pro bono opportunities that do not involve litigation or court work that would qualify as direct legal services. Included are various real estate transactions (such as assistance with clearing title), explaining the terms of a contract, negotiating a lease or repayment agreement, drafting a will or other estate planning documents, probating a will, advising on tax matters, appealing the denial of SSI or other public benefits, and negotiating with an insurance company. Most pro bono programs provide volunteer attorneys with specialized training, materials, and mentors to help guide volunteer attorneys through simple family law matters. Participation in a legal clinic or free legal seminar for the public, such as a legal awareness for the elderly clinic, also qualifies as pro bono. Simply providing free legal advice over the phone qualifies, as does conducting intake through organized pro bono programs.
11. Do law related lectures/education to the public count as pro bono activity?
Yes, as long as the lawyer does not receive MCLE credit for the teaching activities reported.
12. If an attorney did not track the exact number of hours provided? Are estimates ok?
Yes. Although accurate tracking of pro bono hours is preferred, estimates are acceptable for the Pro Bono Roll Call and the Pro Bono Challenge.
13. Can an attorneys firm report hours on the attorneys behalf?
Yes. An Excel spreadsheet is available on the OSB Pro Bono website for firms to track the pro bono hours of their attorneys using the OSB pro bono categories. If an individual attorney submits a separate reporting form, either in print or online, that form will supersede the hours reported by the firm.