TCDLA Works with SBOT to Recognize Criminal Defense Attorneys’ Pro Bono Work

Subject: Reporting Pro Bono Hours: It’s Easy & Fun—Really!

We are asking all criminal defense attorneys to please report your pro bono hours—yes, criminal defense lawyers can and should report! It’s easy and—here’s the fun and heartwarming part—it helps efforts to secure funding for indigent defense and civil legal service providers. Really!

Why is it so important to report my pro bono hours?

Reporting your pro bono hours helps in the effort to increase funding for indigent defense and civil legal service providers in Texas. Each legislative session, representatives and senators want to know that lawyers are doing their part to help low-income Texans. We know you already are doing a ton of pro bono but need the data to show it. These legislators are tough cookies. They want the proof. Plus, we’d like to show off what superstars Texas lawyers are to the rest of the world. (It always comes down to that little thing we lawyers thrive on: COMPETITION, doesn’t it?)

Reporting and tracking your pro bono hours is EASY!

Log on to “My Bar Page” on the State Bar website, www.texasbar.com/mybarpage. On the left side of the page, click on “Report Pro Bono Hours.” Attorneys who report 75 hours or more of pro bono service a year will be invited to join the State Bar’s Pro Bono College (www.texasbar.com/probonocollege), which is an honorary society for legal professionals committed to pro bono. If you need help logging in to My Bar Page, please email or call (800)204-2222, ext. 6836.

Here are the fine print details……

What counts as pro bono?

1. The direct provision of legal services to the poor without an expectation of compensation, or at a substantially reduced fee.

2. Services without a fee, or at a substantially reduced fee, related to simplifying the legal process for, or increasing the availability and qualify of, legal services to poor persons.

3. Legal services without a fee, or at a substantially reduced fee, rendered to charitable, public interest organizations with respect to matters or projects designed predominantly to address the needs of poor persons.

4. Legislative, administrative or systems advocacy services without a fee, or at a substantially reduced fee, provided on behalf of poor persons.

5. Unsolicited, involuntary appointed representation of indigents in criminal and civil matters. (Superseded by the Fair Defense Act regarding appointment in criminal matters, since appointments are no longer involuntary. However, such appointments may count as “substantially reduced fee” work.)

How is “poor” defined?

The State Bar’s pro bono policy does not define “poor.” The decision is left to the individual program or attorneys. Many programs, such as those funded by the Legal Services Corporation or the Texas Access to Justice Foundation (IOLTA), define “poor” as 125% of the federal poverty guidelines (e.g., a family of four must not earn more than $27,938 and an individual must not earn more than $13,613). Clients referred by an organized pro bono project generally have been screened for income eligibility according to local guidelines. Attorneys who accept independent pro bono cases are encouraged to use the poverty guidelines, but they may also use their own judgment regarding who is poor.

Do legal aid staff attorney, public defenders, and prosecutors count their work time as pro bono?

No. Although the services are free to the clients, the attorneys are paid for their work at salaries they have accepted. However, if these attorneys provide volunteer legal assistance to the poor outside of their regular work, they may report those hours as pro bono services.

What is the definition of “substantially reduced fee”?

The pro bono policy does not specifically define “substantially reduced fee.” However, Lawyer Referral Services that offer reduced fee panels for low-income people often use $50/hr as the maximum that panel lawyers may charge. Lawyers doing reduced fee work may use that fee or may use their own judgment in setting the fee.

If substantially reduced fees are received for appointments in criminal matters, do the services provided still qualify under the pro bono policy?

Yes, since 2000, substantially reduced fee work for poor people has been included in the definition of legal services to the poor, whether or not it involves a court appointment. Free and reduced free services are distinguished from each other for reporting purposes.

Are there services in addition to representing a criminal defendant for free or for a substantially reduced fee that criminal law attorneys may count as pro bono?

Yes, criminal law attorneys can play an important role in “preventive” law. Many preteens, juveniles, and their families are unfamiliar with the juvenile justice system until they are involved in the system. Community education, e.g., speaking at schools or community centers, about the juvenile justice system counts as pro bono if the audience is predominately poor.

If you have any questions or need additional information on the pro bono policy please see www.texasbar.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Pro_Bono_Policies_and_FAQs or contact the Legal Services Support Division at or 1-800-204-2222, ext. 1855.

TCDLA
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