As attorneys, we are tasked with the great and noble responsibility of defending the rule of law – case by case, client by client. While our system is not perfect, the law’s ability to right wrongs, to reconcile conflicts, and to resolve disputes peacefully is a measure of who we are as a people, and the rest of the world looks to our courts as the exemplar of fair and impartial administration of justice.
Nevertheless, this fairness and impartiality only truly exist when they are available to all members of our state, regardless of ability to pay. A failure to provide adequate legal services to those of modest means affects both the economic and social fabric of our society, and does not adequately represent the principles of the profession to which we have been called. It is our duty to fill the gap that exists between this challenging reality and the highest ideal of our profession – equal justice under law for all people.
NCBA members: Look for space on the pro bono reporting form where you can report work with 4ALL, Wills For Heroes, NC LEAP and all the other great pro bono projects you’re involved in.
Rule 6.1 of our Rules of Professional Conduct encourages each North Carolina lawyer to provide 50 hours of pro bono legal services each year to those unable to pay, in addition to contributing financially to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means. Until now, however, there has not been a statewide mechanism to track and recognize this volunteerism.
On Jan. 1, 2017, the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC) began collecting responses from attorneys sharing information about their pro bono involvement. The PBRC, a program of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, launched in April of 2016 to work with North Carolina attorneys to increase pro bono legal services. In its first few months, the PBRC has made it easier to find pro bono opportunities by posting them on ncprobono.org and facilitating new projects.
With the launch of voluntary pro bono reporting in North Carolina, our state joins a national trend of capturing this data – 22 other states already track pro bono participation. To contribute information on your pro bono legal service during calendar year 2016, visit ncprobono.org and submit the online form by March 15, 2017. The form will only take 10 minutes to complete, and will allow you to share about all aspects of professional responsibility captured in Rule 6.1, which includes the following activities: providing pro bono legal services, participating in activities to improve the law, and contributing financial support to legal service providers.
Attorneys who report completing at least 50 hours of pro bono legal service in 2016 will be inducted into the 2016 North Carolina Pro Bono Honor Society, and each will receive a certificate from the Supreme Court of North Carolina recognizing their efforts. While we hope you will allow us to recognize your good work, the form does provide an option to remain anonymous upon submission.
North Carolina attorneys are generous with their time and financial contributions – we look forward to this new way to recognize that generosity.
Sylvia Novinsky is director of the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center.