A lawyer’s pro bono service should be considered as part of his or her professional background when seeking certification from The Florida Bar, but pro bono service should not be mandatory for those seeking certification.
The Pro Bono Legal Services Committee made that recommendation at its September 19 gathering at the Bar’s Midyear Meeting in Orlando.
The committee vote was unanimous to recommend to the Board of Legal Specialization and Education that meeting the Bar’s aspirational pro bono goals should be considered as part of the professionalism, practice, and ethics section of the application form. That aspirational goal is to annually provide 20 hours of pro bono service or a $350 donation to a legal aid agency.
A motion followed to recommend to BLSE that certification applicants be required to meet the pro bono standard in order to be certified or recertified. That motion, however, was withdrawn after it became apparent a majority of committee members opposed it.
Committee member Robert Johnson said he was concerned that while it might be possible to have pro bono service considered as part of the certification process, asking that such service be mandatory may result in no changes.
“We’ve had this issue [mandatory pro bono] come before this committee many times, and it’s always been divisive every time it comes up,” said committee member Natasha Williams. “It just splits people . . . and that is not what this committee is about. We’re trying to get the work done and to get people to voluntarily come in.”
“I see no reason we would require mandatory pro bono in order to be board certified, as opposed to be a lawyer generally,” said committee member Bill Davis, who is also a member of the Bar Board of Governors.
“I don’t think it’s compatible with the spirit of pro bono, which is done for positive reasons, not because someone is cracking a whip over you.”
On another matter, the committee received a preliminary report on pro bono provided by Bar members in 2011.
Paul Doyle, of The Florida Bar Foundation, said the numbers are only general because the Foundation is still working to refine its reporting system. Overall, it appeared that the amount of pro bono service was unchanged or slightly higher than 2010. The preliminary number, though, showed a dramatic drop in the number of lawyers doing pro bono work, but Doyle said that is almost certainly because of glitches in the reporting system.