In 2010, the North Carolina State Bar proposed and the North Carolina Supreme Court adopted Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1, which encourages each North Carolina attorney to provide fifty hours of pro bono legal services each year to clients unable to pay. This rule recognizes the fact that pro bono legal service is one way that members of our profession can ensure access to justice for all of our state’s citizens.
The need for this type of service is great. Of all the civil legal needs of the poor – legal representation in the areas of domestic violence, divorce, child custody, housing, consumer protection, employment, benefits, health – 80% go unmet each year. Further, there is only one legal aid attorney for every 11,000 North Carolinians eligible for their services, more than 2.2 million citizens in 2016, compared to one private lawyer for every 362 state residents.
While lawyers are uniquely situated to address this need through pro bono legal service, time constraints, uncertainty in new areas of law, and unfamiliarity with where to find pro bono opportunities can be barriers to attorney volunteerism. In April 2016, North Carolina lawyers gained a statewide, comprehensive initiative to address these barriers.
The North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission launched the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC) to assist lawyers in fulfilling their professional responsibility to provide pro bono legal services. Since its launch, the PBRC has cultivated a statewide presence through a series of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) and other presentations on the value of pro bono legal service and the nuances of Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1. Coupled with the launch of a website highlighting more than 30 available pro bono projects across the state, the PBRC has made it easy for attorneys to find volunteer opportunities and resources to get involved. The PBRC has also connected attorneys to trainings and materials to become well-equipped to serve, and has partnered with the Supreme Court of North Carolina to recognize attorneys who report about the good work being done.