Traditionally we think of pro bono work as taking on some sort of existing or potential adversarial matter free of charge. Adversarial matters, however, are not the only way an attorney can fulfill their pro bono obligation. The Virginia State Bar Professional Guidelines and Rules of Conduct provide in rule 6.1:
For many attorneys, 2% amounts to about 40 hours of pro bono service per year. Finding these 40 hours is one challenge while finding pro bono work to fill these 40 hours is another. Even if you find a worthy cause you’re willing and equipped to work for free, the number of hours that case will take can be completely unpredictable. Luckily for many attorneys with strict time constraints, there are many traditional pro bono opportunities that can be completed in short, tight, time frames as discussed in a previous blog post.
Whether it be the aforementioned time constraints, broad conflicts, or lack of skills or experience in cases legal aid offers, getting to 40 hours via traditional routes can feel like a challenge. Nevertheless, the comments to the rule stress:
The state bar, our colleagues, our community, and our clients don’t just hope we fulfill our pro bono expectations but expect it of us. But where should attorneys turn when we can’t fulfill our pro bono obligations fully using the traditional methods? As if NFDs, EDP, and Wills weren’t easy enough, there are even more accessible, non-traditional, options for attorneys trying to fill out their 40 hours.
Virginia Free Legal Answers
Free Legal Answers is a platform provided by the ABA and managed by the Virginia State Bar standing committee on Access to Legal Services. Free Legal Answers is a service for folks who cannot afford an attorney and need legal advice and information on non-criminal matters.
Attorneys can easily register to answer questions on the site and, because Free Legal Answers pre-screens users for financial eligibility, all hours spent answering questions count toward pro bono hours. The site even has an hour tracker and pop-up to remind you to track the amount of time you spend on each question.
An added bonus is that when answering questions through this platform, conflict checks are not necessary. The only conflicts that need to be avoided to comport with ethics rules are those an attorney is aware of at the time they receive or answer a client’s question on the site.
Free Legal Answers is an easy and time-flexible way to put in pro bono hours and do our part in closing the Justice Gap.
Direct Financial Support
Rule 6.1 also provides for pro bono credit in the form of “direct financial support of programs that provide direct delivery of [pro bono publico services] is an alternative method for fulfilling a lawyer’s [pro bono] responsibility.”3 The comments to the rule clarify that the “provision of free or nominally priced legal services is still an obligation” of all Virginia attorneys, but acknowledges that some attorneys are “prohibited under their employment from engaging in any outside practice.”4 For these attorneys, direct financial support in proportion to their progression income of programs that provide legal services is satisfactory to fulfill their pro bono responsibility.
1 Professional Guidelines and Rules of Conduct r. 6.1(a) (Va State Bar).
2 Professional Guidelines and Rules of Conduct r. 6.1 cmt. (Va State Bar).
3 Professional Guidelines and Rules of Conduct r. 6.1(c) (Va State Bar).
4 Professional Guidelines and Rules of Conduct r. 6.1 cmt. (Va State Bar).