The best service of the professional man is often rendered for no equivalent or for a trifling equivalent and it is his pride to do what he does in a way worthy of his profession even if done with no expectation of reward. This spirit of public service in which the profession of law is and ought to be exercised is a prerequisite of sound administration of justice according to law.
– Roscoe Pound, The Lawyer From Antiquity to Modern Times 5 (1953).
Pro bono publico or “for the public good” is a Latin phrase for professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment. Unlike traditional community service or volunteerism, pro bono service uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them. As it stands, Rule 6.1 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct provides that “A lawyer should render at least two percent of the lawyer’s professional time to pro bono public legal services,” which includes “poverty law, civil rights law, public interest law, and volunteer activities designed to increase availability of pro bono legal services.”
Virginia lawyers have now a voluntary reporting opportunity to track pro bono service. Specifically, the Supreme Court of Virginia amended the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, effective December 1, 2018, requesting each active lawyer to report (or affirmatively choose not to) on their annual dues statement their pro bono hours and/or financial contribution in support of pro bono legal services.
Paragraph 22 in Part 6, Section IV, states that:
Rule 6.1 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct establishes an aspirational goal that every lawyer should render at least two percent per year of the lawyer’s professional time to pro bono publico legal services. Providing an opportunity for lawyers to voluntarily report their pro bono service on an annual basis will:
- Heighten awareness of this ethical responsibility among the bar membership by serving as an annual reminder;
- Provide a comprehensive mechanism for the bar to report and measure its collective performance vis-à-vis the aspirational goal set by Rule 6.1;
- Provide comprehensive data for the judiciary to support its efforts to promote and recognize pro bono work on a local, regional and statewide basis;
- Provide crucial benchmark data to the Virginia Access to Justice Commission to support its work promoting equal access to justice for Virginia residents; and
- Enable the bar to educate the public regarding the amount of pro bono publico legal services provided by its membership to the community, thereby improving the image and standing of the profession and its membership.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court of Virginia requests that each active member of the Virginia State Bar voluntarily supply certain information regarding pro bono publico legal services as part of the annual license renewal application process….
The optional responses include:
- Providing the number of pro bono hours,
- Providing the amount of the financial contribution to support legal services,
- Indicating a basis for not making a report (such as being a member of the judiciary), or
- Making “no report.” The July 2019 dues statement for the 2020 bar year will be the first to incorporate voluntary pro bono reporting.
In supporting the reporting, Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons of the Virginia Supreme Court stated that “Pro bono legal service is an important professional obligation and can also be a source of great personal satisfaction. If you were able to engage in pro bono practice or make contributions in 2018, I hope that you will take the time to report your contributions so that we can gather reliable data regarding this important effort in Virginia.”
Jeff Geiger assists attorneys and law firms with ethics and professional responsibility matters. If you have any questions about this post or other issues, please contact Jeff at (804) 783-7248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.