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Sept. 20, 2007
Supreme Court Supports Pro Bono Legal Services by Ohio Lawyers

Court re-emphasizes lawyers' professional obligation to ensure access to justice

To underscore the important obligation attorneys have in facilitating public access to justice, the Supreme Court of Ohio today issued a statement encouraging Ohio attorneys to regularly provide pro bono legal services and to report their voluntary legal activities.

“The Court recognizes that many Ohio lawyers honor their professional commitment by regularly providing pro bono legal services or financial support to pro bono programs,” the Court said in its statement. “The Court encourages lawyers to continue providing these essential services and to respond to this call by seeking to engage in new or additional pro bono opportunities.”

Today's statement reemphasizes what the Court has said previously. In 1997, the Supreme Court issued a Statement on Professionalism that recognized each lawyer's obligation to engage in activities that promote the common good, including the provision of and support for pro bono representation to indigent clients. Again, in 2007, in the Preamble to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the Court reemphasized the importance of this obligation.

In addition to these statements, the Court has regularly allocated funding to the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation to aid in the development and coordination of pro bono activities throughout Ohio. Since 2003, the Court has provided more than $2.6 million to support pro bono programs and other activities of the Foundation. These funds have been allocated from the biennial licensing fees collected from Ohio lawyers.

The Court took the action in response to recommendations made last year by the Supreme Court Task Force on Pro Se and Indigent Litigants, the Ohio State Bar Association and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. The task force had recommended that the Court adopt a rule making it mandatory for Ohio attorneys to report their participation in pro bono activities. In addition, the task force recommended that the Court adopt a rule proposed by the American Bar Association, known as Model Rule 6.1, which among other things defines specific activities that qualify as pro bono work and sets a goal of 50 hours per year of pro bono work for attorneys. The task force's other recommendations are still under consideration.

In its statement, the Court announced that it is developing a system in cooperation with the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, by which Ohio lawyers will be able to voluntarily report their pro bono work. The information gathered through such reporting will demonstrate the commitment of the legal profession to serving the public good and also will serve as a constant reminder to the bar of the importance of pro bono service, Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer said.

“We are thankful to the members of the task force and the legal organizations for their hard work and recommendations,” Chief Justice Moyer said. “At this time, the Court has elected to call on Ohio attorneys to voluntarily report their pro bono representation and financial support for legal aid programs. The ranks of Ohio lawyers are filled with hard working professionals who take seriously their obligation to facilitate equal access to justice for all. This is a way of encouraging even more pro bono work without a bureaucratic mandate.”

The Court's statement will be published in booklet form along with the Statement on Professionalism, which is made available to Ohio's more than 42,000 registered attorneys.

Editor's Note: The full statement issued by the Court is below.

Contact: Chris Davey or Andrea M. Strle at 614.387.9250

STATEMENT REGARDING THE PROVISION OF
PRO BONO LEGAL SERVICES BY OHIO LAWYERS

Each day, Ohioans require legal assistance to secure basic needs such as housing, education, employment, health care, and personal and family safety. Many persons of limited means are unable to afford such assistance, and legal aid programs must concentrate limited resources on those matters where the needs are most critical. The result is that many Ohioans who are facing significant legal problems do not have access to affordable legal services. These persons are forced to confront landlord-tenant issues, have questions involving employment rights, or seek protection against domestic violence without the assistance of a legal advocate.

In 1997, this Court issued a Statement on Professionalism that recognizes each lawyer's obligation to engage in activities that promote the common good, including the provision of and support for pro bono representation to indigent clients. In 2007, in the Preamble to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the Court reemphasized the importance of this obligation by stating:

A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure legal counsel.

Lawyers, law firms, bar associations, and legal services organizations, such as the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, have done and continue to do much to address unmet civil legal needs through the organization of, support for, and participation in pro bono legal services programs. Although these programs have increased both in number and scope in recent years, there remains an urgent need for more pro bono services.

This Court strongly encourages each Ohio lawyer to ensure access to justice for all Ohioans by participating in pro bono activities. There are pro bono programs available throughout Ohio that are sponsored by bar associations, legal aid programs, churches, and civic associations. Many programs offer a variety of free legal services, while others concentrate on specific legal needs. Lawyers also may choose to participate in programs that focus on the needs of specific individuals such as senior citizens, the disabled, families of military personnel, or immigrants. The Web site www.ohioprobono.org Link opens new window. contains a complete, searchable listing of pro bono programs and opportunities in Ohio. A lawyer may fulfill this professional commitment by providing legal counsel to charitable organizations that may not be able to afford to pay for legal services or by making a financial contribution to an organization that provides legal services to persons of limited means.

The Court recognizes that many Ohio lawyers honor their professional commitment by regularly providing pro bono legal services or financial support to pro bono programs. Moreover, the Court encourages lawyers to respond to this call by seeking to engage in new or additional pro bono opportunities. To document the efforts and commitment of the legal profession to ensure equal access to justice, the Court, in conjunction with the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, will develop a means by which Ohio lawyers may report voluntarily and anonymously their pro bono activities and financial support for legal aid programs. The information regarding pro bono efforts will not only underscore the commitment of the legal profession to serving the public good but also will serve as a constant reminder to the bar of the importance of pro bono service.

Issued by the Supreme Court of Ohio
Sept. 20, 2007