Rules Committee seeks public comment on pro bono proposals
The Supreme Court Rules Committee on the Legal Profession is seeking public comment on proposals intended to improve poor people’s access to legal services.
Proposals under review call for making pro bono service by attorneys mandatory, raising to $500 the payments lawyers may make in lieu of doing pro bono work, and increasing fees paid by out of state lawyers to $500.
The money is used by the Mississippi Bar to help fund civil legal assistance for the poor.
The deadline is Oct. 1, 2010, for filing public comments. Comments should be filed with the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Gartin Justice Building, P.O. Box 249, Jackson, Mississippi 39205-0249.
The recommendations are a preliminary step, and no final decision has been made about changes. Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said, “The proposals are a starting point for discussions. No decision has been made with regard to the amount or the issue of mandatory versus voluntary participation. We are interested in receiving input from the bar and the public on these issues.”
The Supreme Court Rules Committee on the Legal Profession will take into account the public comments before making recommendations to the nine-member Supreme Court. No time table has been set for action by the Supreme Court.
The Rules Committee on the Legal Profession, which Chief Justice Waller chairs, is seeking ways to increase the funding available to provide legal services for the poor.
Chief Justice Waller said, “I am interested in making sure that the poor have the same access to the courts as those who can afford to hire attorneys. These are challenging economic times. We must be vigilant in making sure there are sufficient funds and people available to represent the poor.”
The rules at issue are Rule 6.1 of the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct and Rule 46(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure. The proposals may be reviewed on the Mississippi Judiciary website at these links: https://courts.ms.gov/research/rules/rulesforcomment/2010/RPC6.1.pdf and https://courts.ms.gov/research/rules/rulesforcomment/2010/MRAP46(b)(5).pdf.
The Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct currently state that lawyers have a professional responsibility to render free legal services to the poor, and suggest at least 20 hours of pro bono work per year. Pro bono service is now voluntary. The proposed change to Rule 6.1 would make pro bono service mandatory.
Under the current Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers may donate $200 a year in lieu of providing pro bono service. The proposed rule changes would increase the amount to $500.
Lawyers who are not licensed in Mississippi must pay a fee to be able to practice here when they represent clients in state trial and appellate courts and before administrative agencies. The process is known as being admitted to practice pro hac vice. The fee is currently $200. A proposed change to the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure would increase the pro hac vice fee to $500. The money goes to the Bar to help provide legal services to the poor.
The Mississippi Bar reported that 434 out of state lawyers paid $86,800 in pro hac vice fees from Aug. 1, 2008, through July 31, 2009.
According to the Bar, 4,015 lawyers reported having performed 183,016 hours of pro bono service between Aug. 1, 2008, and July 31, 2009, the most recent reporting period available. At an average of more than 45 hours per attorney, pro bono service more than doubled the 20-hour annual contribution called for by court rule.
During that same period, the Bar received $155,107 in contributions in lieu of pro bono service from 1,013 attorneys. The average of $153 was below the $200 called for in the current rules.
There are currently 8,572 active members of the Mississippi Bar. According to the Bar, 2,511 lawyers claimed exemptions. Some are exempt from pro bono service by reason of their employment, such as lawyers who are restricted from practicing law outside their specific employment, members of the judiciary and court staff, other government lawyers, and Legal Services attorneys.