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Pro Bono Overview: Expanding Your Practice Through Pro Bono

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PRO BONO OVERVIEW
This information is extremely helpful in identifying trends and gaps in service delivery throughout the state, a necessary component to effective coordination of statewide service delivery and procuring funding. This is especially important because Nevada recognizes categories of pro bono service in addition to direct services, and mandatory reporting is the only central repository for that information. Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 (Pro Bono Publico Service) defines pro bono and related reporting requirements, and provides the aspirational goal of 20 hours of direct no-fee services, 60 hours of reduced-fee services or a $500 donation in lieu of services. Level one services involve 20 hours of direct legal services without compensation or expectation of compensation to persons of limited means or to a public service, charitable group or organization in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means. • Legal aid providers provide an excellent resource for direct services. Of course, lawyers may and do also choose to provide pro bono services directly through the law firm and those hours count equally. Level two services comprise 20 hours of delivery of legal services at no fee or a substantially reduced fee to: • Individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations; • Participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession; or • Delivery of services in connection with lawrelated education sponsored by the State Bar of Nevada, the Nevada Bar Foundation, a county bar association or a court located in Nevada. Level three services provide an alternative to direct no-fee services by completion of at least 60 hours at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means.
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What is a person of limited means?
Under rule 6.1, in private practice, the determination of whether a person is of limited means is left to the good faith judgment of the attorney providing services. By way of comparison, when services are performed through a legal aid provider, in most instances the income guidelines are based on 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines as shown in the chart below. Not all services are subject to income guidelines, such as services to senior programs and domestic violence victims, and some services have higher limits, up to 300 percent of poverty.
2009 Federal Poverty Guidelines for the 48 Contiguous States:
Persons in family
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Poverty guideline
$10,830 $14,570 $18,310 $22,050 $25,790 $29,530 $33,270 $37,010
For families with more than 8 persons, add $3,740 for each additional person.
Fee agreements required
When pro bono legal service is performed for an individual without compensation or at a substantially reduced fee, RPC 6.1 mandates the fee shall be agreed to in writing at the inception of the representation and requires reference to the rule.
What does NOT qualify as pro bono:
• • • Legal services written off as bad debts Legal services performed for family members Activities that do not involve the provision of legal services, such as serving on the board of a charitable organization
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Nevada Lawyer March 2010
WHy PRO BONO? Aren’t there lawyers who do that?
Based on the most recent census information available, there was one civil legal aid attorney on average for every 4,700 indigent Nevadans statewide, resulting in about 20 percent of those in need qualifying to receive help:
Total attorneys by county and ratios of persons per attorney*:
County
Clark Washoe Carson City Balance of State Reside out of state
Total
4,264 1,237 245 246 1,227
Ratio of Total Population to Nevada Attorneys
401 316 227 1,031 -
Ratio of persons in poverty population to Nevada Attorneys
45 32 23 105 -
Total Number of Legal Aid Attorneys
35 15 6 -
Ratio of Persons in Poverty to Legal Service Providers
5,495 2,645 ** **
* Statistics compare total active resident members of the State Bar of Nevada for 2008 and 2005 Census Persons in Poverty (SAIPE). ** Ratio combines area of Carson City and the balance of state. It shows 5,256 persons per legal service attorney. continued on page 10
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HONO R ROll
The State Bar of Nevada Board of Governors and the Access to Justice Commission extend a special thanks to the following attorneys who generously accepted cases in January 2010 through the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Washoe Legal Services, Nevada Legal Services and Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans.
Allf, Nancy Almase, Heidi Anderson, Peter Balboni, Denise Barnett, Meredith bonneville, Dan Bradshaw, Denise Bragonje, John Calvert, Lauren Chengi Yen, Aaron Chevalier, Yvette Cramer, Michancy Ghandi, Nedda Goldsmith, Dara Grellman, Jack Hales, James Harkess, Nancy Henriod, Joel Holley, Richard Hughes, Rena Ivie, Daniel Jackson, Nancy Luz Monje, Ofelia Lynch, Michael Mastin, Amy McKellar, Mandy Miller, Rebecca O’Mara, Bill Provost, Katherine Richardson, Bradley Robins, Jeremy Sanders, Jennifer Schwab, Christina Takos, Zachary Tyrell, Elyse Van Lyde Graf, Lance Whitbeck, Jill Williams, Nikkya Wirthlin, Brenoch Wong Lackland, Lisa Wysong, Magali
PRO BONO OVERVIEW
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Strikingly, that number doesn’t even include the working poor who don’t qualify for civil legal aid under poverty income guidelines. Pro bono service from the private bar is therefore a critical component in helping to bring down that ratio. Every case counts. When amendments to Supreme Court Rule 6.1 required Nevada lawyers to begin reporting pro bono hours back in 2005, a group of about 2,400 lawyers reported performing pro bono hours. That number has continued to grow every year (except 2008, which showed a decline of less than 2 percent, a relatively modest casualty of the economy). Hope springs eternal, however, as Nevada’s legal services providers are reporting a banner year for pro bono service hours in 2009. Even so, help is only there for about 20 percent of people who qualify. As much as lawyers have given, so much more is desperately needed. Pro bono service through a legal aid provider also provides opportunities for lawyers to gain experience in new practice areas, network in the legal community, take advantage of the mentoring and client screening services provided, and be eligible for awards and recognition.
CHALLENGES FACING LEGAL AID AND PRO BONO LAWyERS
The obvious challenge is resources. Some legal aid providers are out of space. As budgets shrink, legal aid grants and funding sources are usually the first to be cut. The need for volunteer hours is ever-present as well; remember our 5000:1 client-to-legal aid attorney ratio and the fact that 80 percent of qualified people are being turned away for lack of resources, human and financial. However, there are other intrinsic challenges in the dayto-day provision of services. One operational concern is that not all courts have dedicated substantive court days. Lawyers all know the value of motion day. While an impediment to all lawyers, it is especially problematic for a pro bono lawyer to spend several hours in court waiting to be heard on a single, often simple matter for an indigent client. Every hour spent waiting is an hour that could have been spent on another indigent client of the hundreds in queue.
ASK-A-lAWyER, ClINICS, AND OTHER BRIEf SERVICES
Blackham, Brian blau, robert Carr, Chris Curran, William Fenu, Mario Glennen, Robert Hale, Christian Hamilton, Ryan Horner, Kim Mann, David McKellar, Mandy Provost, Katherine rivera rogers, Mariteresa Rose, Jason Smith, James Stafford, Thomas
bolD honors multiple cases accepted and/or sessions conducted within the month. 10 Nevada Lawyer March 2010
45407 NV Lawyers PL ad 11/19/09 3:08 PM Page 1
PRO BONO CLIENT SPOTLIGHT
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soon resurfaced, and E.B.’s brain began to hemorrhage. E.B.’s mother then took her child to be treated by one of the most prestigious brain surgeons in the country, where E.B. was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. E.B.’s new physician at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles prescribed a course of treatment which that doctor had been performing for a number of years on similar patients with great success. Unfortunately, E.B.’s prescribed course of treatment was promptly denied by Nevada Medicaid as ”experimental.” Incredulous, E.B.’s doctor made repeated requests that the prescribed treatment be reconsidered and supplied Nevada Medicaid’s doctors with a number of publications on the subject, many of which were published by E.B.’s doctor, who was a leader in the field. Despite the doctor’s efforts, the reviewing physician, who had no experience dealing with pediatric brain tumors, refused to approve the policy. The client’s mother enlisted the assistance of numerous elected officials to lobby Nevada Medicaid for a more thorough and correct assessment of the requested procedure, to no avail. E.B. sought out Nevada Legal Services, which corresponded with the client’s treating physician and assisted in fostering communication between E.B.’s doctor and Medicaid’s doctors. After a tremendous amount of work, multiple medical opinions and copious legal work, on the day of the hearing, after E.B.’s dedicated doctor had already boarded a plane to Las Vegas, Nevada Medicaid finally approved the treatment. This approval came after Nevada Medicaid’s physicians consulted with a third physician proposed by Nevada Legal Services. The approval, a victory to be credited to a number of dedicated parties, namely E.B.’s mother and dedicated treating physician, served as a valuable lesson for E.B. on the importance of standing up for yourself and fighting to preserve your rights. SUSIE: “Susie” had emigrated to the U.S. for the opportunity to make a better life for herself. She worked hard and was able to help members of her family come to the U.S. as well. After working hard for many years, she was laid off. She had to get food stamps and rely on friends to help her pay rent, buy gas and pay for other necessities. During this time, she was embarrassed and ashamed she could not support herself. When she found a job at a casino she was happy she would be able to
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support herself and no longer need food stamps. After about a year of working at the casino, she had only good reviews from her supervisors. One day, a customer was incredibly rude to a new co-worker. After he left the area, Susie went over to the new co-worker and made a comment about how rude the customer had been, hoping to make her feel better. Instead, this co-worker reported Susie to a manager and Susie was fired. When she applied for unemployment benefits, she was denied because she had been fired for misconduct. Since she was no longer receiving any income, she had to go back on food stamps and Susie became very depressed. A friend brought her to NLS to see about appealing the decision. At the unemployment hearing, the hearing officer found she did not commit misconduct and was eligible for her unemployment benefits. She told the staff attorney who assisted her that whatever happened in the future, just knowing that when she was at her lowest, there was someone there to fight for her renewed her sense of hope. D.G.: D.G. was one year old when his mother came to NLS for assistance because he had been denied SSI and, more importantly, the accompanying Medicaid coverage. D.G. was born with scoliosis, a congenital spine deformity, and underwent surgery when he was just over one year old. The doctors told his mom the surgery was necessary to avoid future heart and back problems. After the surgery, D.G. was in a body cast for approximately three months and still had an approximate 34-degree curve in his spine as well as several other related serious medical complications. Inexplicably, D.G. was denied SSI benefits after his initial application and again on reconsideration. NLS performed extensive research into his various conditions and provided the SSI Hearing Officer with a written brief extensively documenting his diagnoses and functional limitations. In February 2009, D.G. was finally awarded benefits which included a substantial payment in back benefits to assist the mother in providing appropriate care for her son. Even more importantly to his mother was her son’s qualification for Medicaid, which would help her ensure that cost would not prevent her son from receiving the best medical care.
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