More Lawyers Giving More Time To Pro Bono
In the two years since a Pro Bono Summit was held to drum up solutions for the state's rapidly growing need for legal help, the state Judicial Branch has taken steps to get more lawyers involved.
But a new report by the commission tasked with finding ways to provide more legal representation for those who can't afford it has found that there's a lot more work to be done. "We've made some significant strides, but we still have some work to do," said Superior Court Judge William Bright, chair of the Pro Bono Committee.
The Pro Bono Committee of the Judicial Branch's Public Service and Trust Commission focused much of its attention last year on getting practice rules changed to allow partial representation in legal matters. That change, which will soon be tested in a pilot program, could eventually lead to more lawyers handling portions of cases for clients with limited resources.
And that could help reduce the large number of self-represented parties who are slowing down court proceedings and clogging civil dockets.
Bright said his committee is now turning its focus to spreading the word about partial representation in order to attract more pro bono help from lawyers. He said the committee plans to focus on law students and corporate lawyers. "We want to get those lawyers more involved in providing their legal expertise for pro bono efforts, especially in housing and family law matters," he said. "We think there is an untapped resource there."
According to survey, about 35 percent of the lawyers in the state did some sort of pro bono work in 2012. That number was a modest improvement from the year before.
But what did change more dramatically, Bright said, was the number of lawyers who reported they were more generous with their pro bono work.
According to data collected by Bright's committee, 2,757 lawyers donated more than 20 pro bono hours in 2012. That was 104 more than donated more than 20 hours in 2011.
Bright credited the Young Lawyers Section of the Connecticut Bar Association with improving that number. Last year, he said, the Young Lawyers organized a successful pro bono drive that got dozens of members involved.
"We want to ask law firms to start identifying who the younger attorneys in their organizations are, so that we can open up the line of communication," Bright said. "We think our young lawyers are going to be the driving force for the next generation of pro bono, going forward."