PLEASE NOTE:  Publication for public comment is not, and shall not, be construed as a recommendation or approval by the Board of Trustees of the materials published.

SUBJECT:

Pro Bono Practice Program Rules 3.325 - 3.330-- Proposed Revision to Expand Eligibility to Court-Based Self-Help Centers

BACKGROUND:

The Board of Trustees established the Pro Bono Practice Program (formerly the Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Participation Program) in June 1987 to encourage attorneys who otherwise would be retired from the active practice of law to do pro bono work. This public comment notice seeks input on a proposal that would allow participating attorneys to volunteer with a court-based self-help center as well as with a legal services program or a State Bar certified Lawyer Referral Service. The Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services and the staff of the Office of Legal Services recommended the proposal to the Board’s Member Oversight Committee, and that Committee approved releasing the proposal for a 30-day comment period, from May 14, 2012 through June 13, 2012.

DISCUSSION/PROPOSAL:

The Board of Trustees adopted the Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Participation Program (“EA Program”) Rules in June 1987. The rules originally were created to encourage retired attorneys who otherwise would become inactive to represent low-income individuals on a pro bono basis. The retired attorney would become active for the purpose of doing pro bono work with a qualified legal services provider or certified lawyer referral service and the State Bar would waive the active membership fee.

Expanding the Pro Bono Practice Program to include court-based self-help centers as eligible programs for participants to volunteer with would reflect the status of such centers as an important component of the continuum of service for low and moderate income Californians. These centers exist in every county in the state and include Family Law Facilitators as well as more broad-based Self-Help Centers that offer services beyond family law issues, and some Small Claims Court Advisor programs. This proposal envisions allowing these self-help centers to use Pro Bono Practice Program participants.

Self-help centers provide an invaluable service to litigants who are mostly unrepresented and have nowhere else to turn, and are particularly valuable resources in rural areas that often lack a legal aid office. The Centers are also extremely valuable for the courts, since hearings can be held more efficiently and judges can be more assured that justice is being served if litigants have access to information about the law and judicial procedures. Most studies have shown that 80% to 90% of individuals assisted at court-based programs meet income eligibility requirements for services from IOLTA programs but cannot otherwise access those services because the legal services programs have inadequate resources and have very focused priorities that may not include the subject matter in question. These court-based centers often use the services of volunteer attorneys in a workshop or a one-on-one clinic setting. Because court self-help centers provide legal information rather than legal advice or representation, the range of services provided by attorney participants in the Pro Bono Practice Program would be more appropriately described as “legal assistance” rather than “legal services.”

Because of the key role that court self-help centers now play as a resource for unrepresented litigants, and because of the strict oversight that is available to ensure quality services are provided, this agenda item recommends that those Centers also be able to use the volunteer services of Pro Bono Practice Program attorneys.

ANY KNOWN FISCAL/PERSONNEL IMPACT:

None

ATTACHMENT:

Title 3, Division 2, Chapter 6 — As Proposed to Be Amended

SOURCE:

State Bar Standing Committee on Member Oversight; Standing Committee on Delivery of Legal Services

DEADLINE:

5 p.m., June 13, 2012

DIRECT COMMENTS TO:

Lauren Calton
Office of Legal Services
State Bar of California
180 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-1639
Ph. (415) 538-2534
Fax (415) 538-2524
E-mail: lauren.calton@calbar.ca.gov