PRO BONO LEGAL SERVICE – NC RPC 6.1(a)
***Pro Bono Legal Service is the only category of activity that leads to recognition through the NC Pro Bono Honor Society.
This category of activity includes legal services provided without fee or expectation of fee to (1) persons of limited means; (2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; or (3) individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate.
How do I know if my client is of limited means? According to NC RPC 6.1 Comment 3, persons who are of limited means “are those who qualify for participation in programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation…” The Legal Services Corporation sets 125% of the Federal Poverty Level as the general eligibility cap for services (around $30,000 for a family of four). The Comment goes on to include “those whose incomes and financial resources are slightly above the guidelines utilized by such programs but, nevertheless, cannot afford counsel.”
What about when a client doesn’t pay me? NC RPC 6.1 shares that all activities within the rule turn on the “fee or expectation of fee.” If a fee was expected, but later not collected, you should not report that activity. See NC RPC 6.1 Comment 4.
What about court-appointed cases that pay less than what I would normally charge? While this activity is not pro bono legal service according to NC RPC 6.1, you may report the activity as legal service at a substantially reduced fee. See NC RPC 6.1 Comment 7.
What about my time spent training to provide pro bono legal services? NC RPC 6.1 does not specifically address this question. However, NC RPC 1.1 Comment 4 says “a lawyer may accept representation where the requisite level of competence can be achieved by reasonable preparation.” Therefore, it is the opinion of the Resource Center that reasonable time spent training to provide pro bono legal services, assuming that services are in fact provided, may be reported as pro bono legal service.
What about my time spent coordinating a pro bono project? If the time spent coordinating a pro bono project or participation is outside your primary job responsibilities, you may report the activity as pro bono legal service. See NC RPC 6.1 Comment 2.
LEGAL SERVICE AT A SUBSTANTIALLY REDUCED FEE – NC RPC 6.1(b)(1)
If you provide any legal services that would qualify for the above category but charge a modest fee, that activity may be reported as part of this category.
ACTIVITY THAT IMPROVES THE LAW, THE LEGAL SYSTEM, OR THE LEGAL PROFESSION – NC RPC 6.1(b)(2)
This category includes those activities that support justice more broadly, but fall outside the scope of pro bono legal services. Comment 8 lists the following examples of this activity: “serving on bar association committees; serving on boards of pro bono or legal services programs; taking part in Law Day activities; acting as a continuing legal education instructor, a mediator or an arbitrator; and engaging in legislative lobbying to improve the law, the legal system or the profession.”
What about my service as a board member of a nonprofit organization? If the nonprofit organization provides legal services to indigent clients, that service is an activity in this category. Board service in other organizations falls under the non-legal community service category.
NON-LEGAL COMMUNITY SERVICE – NC RPC PREAMBLE
While not specifically enumerated in RPC 6.1, the Preamble includes the following: “It is the basic responsibility of each lawyer to provide community service…” This category includes non-legal services that have a beneficial impact on the community and those in need.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF LEGAL SERVICE PROVIDERS – NC RPC 6.1
Attorneys are encouraged to financially support legal aid organizations in addition to providing pro bono legal services.