Bar Issue Papers
Pro Bono Publico
(For the Good of the Public)
On This Page
IV. Facts and Statistics
In response to a need for legal services to the poor, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that lawyers should aspire to do 20 hours of pro bono a year or contribute $350 to a legal aid organization. Although this goal, set by the court, is not mandatory, individual reporting of pro bono hours or dollars contributed (if any) is required. This decision does not force involuntary service of lawyers, but it does provide a necessary and accurate picture of the need and fulfillment of legal aid to indigent Floridians.
Although the ranks of Florida attorneys continued to grow after that rule was adopted, pro bono hours did not increase at the same rate.
To encourage more attorneys to volunteer, Florida Bar leaders helped to kick off the "One" campaign in October 2009 to increase pro bono work among Florida lawyers. The premise of the campaign was “One: One client. One attorney. One promise.” The goal was to get each attorney to take one pro bono case.
That emphasis on pro bono work continues. William J. Schifino, Jr., The Florida Bar’s president for 2016-17, made pro bono work a centerpiece of his term. One of the five core issues he listed in the speech given after his swearing-in was: “Together we must continue to serve the legal needs of our working class and our indigent, making certain Justice is available for all, not some, not many, but Liberty and Justice for All.”
In an October 2016 message to members, he wrote: “Pro bono service is part of the very DNA of our justice system, because accessing justice shouldn’t have a price tag or be limited only to those who can afford it.”
More information about pro bono opportunities can be found at https://www.floridaprobono.org/.
A. American Bar Association
The American Bar Association encourages lawyers to volunteer more services to the indigent. The American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1 states: “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should provide a substantial majority of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to: persons of limited means or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means.” The Rule also provides that “a lawyer should voluntarily contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.”
B. The Florida Bar
The Florida Bar position regarding pro bono work is contained in the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, Chapter 4 (Rules of Professional Conduct), section 6.1, which states: “Each member of The Florida Bar in good standing, as part of that member's professional responsibility, should (1) render pro bono legal services to the poor and (2) participate, to the extent possible, in other pro bono service activities that directly relate to the legal needs of the poor.”
The rule further states: “The professional responsibility to provide pro bono legal service to the poor may be discharged by: annually providing at least 20 hours of pro bono legal service to the poor; or making an annual contribution of at least $350 to a legal aid organization.”
The responsibility to provide pro bono services is aspirational rather than mandatory. However, The Florida Bar was the first state to adopt a required reporting rule.
A. The Florida Bar's Involvement
For the first half of the 20th century, legal aid in Florida was provided primarily by bar-sponsored legal aid organizations and, for many years, organized legal aid was a reality only in the larger cities. The 1960s brought the formation of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), a federally funded legal aid system.
In 1970, The Florida Bar commissioned a study of the legal needs of the poor in the state. This study, known as the "Levinson Report," found that only 21 of Florida's 67 counties had an organized program for providing legal services to the poor. A major recommendation was to form a nonprofit corporation for the expansion and coordination of legal services to the poor on a statewide basis.
In response, The Florida Bar, in cooperation with the Governor's Office and legal services programs, organized Florida Legal Services, Inc. (FLS) in 1974. Pro bono involvement continued to suffer, however, because of a perception that LSC programs had eliminated the need for private lawyer participation. That perception was illustrated by a 1982 Bar study, which revealed that LSC could meet no more than a fraction of the needs of the poor and that bar-sponsored legal aid programs should be revitalized.
To encourage pro bono activities, the Bar established a project, now a part of Florida Legal Services, Inc., to coordinate pro bono participation with local LSC offices.
In 1981, to encourage pro bono activity by members, The Florida Bar Board of Governors approved the concept of bestowing pro bono awards, and it empowered the president to appoint committees and present the awards. The first nominations were accepted in the fall of 1981, and the awards have been presented at an annual ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court since 1982. That first year, the President’s Awards were presented to 17 honorees from Florida’s judicial circuits. The ceremony also included the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, presented by the chief justice. Since then, the ceremony has expanded to include the Chief Justice’s Law Firm Commendation (1985), the Chief Justice’s Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Service Award (1991), The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award (1993), Distinguished Judicial Service Award (2005) and the Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Award (2016). Past honorees are listed below or on The Florida Bar’s Pro Bono Awards webpage.
In 1982, The Florida Bar again asserted its role as a national leader in public service when it became the first state to implement an Interest on Trust Accounts program (IOTA). The income generated by IOTA goes primarily to providing legal services to the poor.
In 1984, The Florida Bar Commission on Access to the Legal System was formed to explore alternatives to increase access to the legal system for the poor and middle class. The commission presented its finding to the Board of Governors in September 1985. A major commission recommendation was to request the Florida Supreme Court to modify the Code of Professional Responsibility, changing the wording from "a lawyer should" to "a lawyer shall" provide pro bono service, which in effect would make such service mandatory. The Board of Governors did not adopt the mandatory provision but voted to "encourage all Florida Bar members to redouble their efforts to contribute services to pro bono work.''
In 1990, the Joint Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services to the Indigent in Florida was conceived by The Florida Bar and The Florida Bar Foundation following the adoption of mandatory Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) by the Supreme Court of Florida. The agenda of the joint commission was expanded specifically to study the status and possible expansion of pro bono legal services in Florida after a petition commonly known as the "D'Alemberte Petition" was filed. On Dec. 14, 1990, the court ruled that Florida Bar members have a duty to accept appointments from judges to represent indigents, even in civil cases. Further, the justices said the court could enforce fulfillment of that obligation. The ruling, however, stopped short of ordering each circuit to develop its own plan for meeting the legal needs of indigents or of imposing a mandatory pro bono scheme.
On June 23, 1993, the Supreme Court of Florida adopted the Voluntary Pro Bono Plan as part of Rule 4-6, Public Service, Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. The plan requires Florida Bar members to annually report pro bono work and established an aspirational goal for attorneys to annually provide at least 20 pro bono hours or contribute at least $350 to a legal aid organization. The Pro Bono Compliance Certificate appeared for the first time on The Florida Bar membership dues statement for Bar year 1994-95.
On May 22, 1997, the Supreme Court of Florida denied the petition to make pro bono reporting voluntary, concluding that there had been no fundamental change in the circumstances surrounding the issue of pro bono reporting since the court first determined that accurate reporting is essential for evaluating the delivery of legal services to the poor and for determining where such services are not being provided.
In 2001, the reported data began to indicate that pro bono legal service hours per lawyer were declining. The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono obtained a grant from the Florida Bar Foundation and retained a national consultant to civil legal aid providers, Carmody and Associates, to investigate the decline in pro bono services. Carmody and Associates was also asked to recommend measures to strengthen the pro bono framework and reverse the decline in attorney participation. The 2008 Carmody Report, “Pro Bono: Looking Back, Moving Forward,” was delivered to the Florida Supreme Court and The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee.
In October 2009, the Standing Committee on Pro Bono, led by Judge William Van Nortwick, launched the “One” campaign, with the objective of persuading each attorney in Florida to help at least one client in one case. With the assistance of the Florida Bar Foundation, the campaign used a broad array of online media, posters and videos to reach attorneys throughout the state.
Most recently, The Florida Bar has been actively involved with the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice and the Florida Legal Access Gateway. (See below.)
B. Judicial Involvement
On Feb. 20, 1992, the Supreme Court of Florida accepted the recommendations of The Florida Bar/Florida Bar Foundation Special Commission by adopting its comprehensive proposals to expand access for the poor to the justice system. The ruling called for lawyers to contribute at least 20 hours of free legal work for the poor or to donate $350 to legal service organizations that represent the indigent, the most comprehensive statewide system for volunteer legal assistance to the poor in the United States. The court also asked that a mandatory reporting rule be adopted whereby every lawyer reports pro bono contributions. The plan went into effect Oct. 1, 1993.
Florida’s judiciary has long recognized the difficulties confronted by people unable to afford representation in civil matters. The Supreme Court has supported the preparation of self-help websites and forms, the annual pro bono awards ceremony conducted at the court each January and other initiatives to encourage lawyers to act on their Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar, “to never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.”
At the passing of the gavel ceremony on June 30, 2014, incoming Chief Justice Jorge Labarga pledged to address access to justice in Florida, noting that only 20 percent of indigent Floridians are able to receive legal counsel.
Recognizing that economic disparity threatens access to a fair and impartial judicial system, Labarga issued an administrative order on Nov. 24, 2014, establishing the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice. The commission was originally established for a term to expire on June 30, 2016, and tasked, among other things, with making recommendations on the need for a permanent access to justice commission in Florida. In its June 30, 2016, report, the commission recommended that it be reappointed on a continuing basis. The Supreme Court concurred with this recommendation, and the commission has been re-established as a permanent standing committee.
The federal judiciary in Florida also has been supportive of the pro bono initiatives described above. As but one example, U.S. Bankruptcy Judges Catherine McEwen in Tampa and Laurel Myerson Isicoff in Miami have encouraged robust pro bono representation (through their local bankruptcy bar associations) in their courts for debtors unable to afford private counsel. Those two judges were honored for their efforts with the Chief Justice’s Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Award in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
C. Increasing Role of Information Technology
The Florida Bar, the Florida Bar Foundation, Florida Legal Services and local pro bono committees have steadily increased the use of online media to support pro bono volunteers and their prospective clients. Websites such as www.floridaprobono.org and www.dadecountyprobono.org permit volunteers and clients alike to survey available cases and services.
Through the “Lawyers in Libraries” initiative, the computers in public libraries (and the library staff) become an accessible neighborhood directory for these pro bono services. Training videos and webinars are available to help private attorneys learn the procedural and substantive aspects of those cases that may be less familiar to them — landlord/tenant, foreclosure, dissolution of marriage, and guardianship cases, for example.
Each court and clerk’s office in Florida is now able to use a website to make self-help forms, information, “frequently asked questions” and other resources available to citizens needing legal assistance but unable to afford private counsel. The Florida Courts have an excellent self-help website.
Information technology also helps pro bono coordinators maintain lists of volunteers by case category, report on available client cases quickly, and post schedules for classes, webinars and awards for pro bono volunteers.
One of the goals of the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice was to find ways to leverage available technology to bring access to justice to disadvantaged, low-income and moderate-income Floridians. The Florida Legal Access Gateway (FLAG), a first-of-its-kind triage assistance program designed to connect individuals with the legal resources they need, launched as a pilot project on Oct. 20, 2016, moving Florida one step closer to offering residents a central online starting point for finding free or low-cost civil legal help.
IV. Facts and Statistics
- The report of the Standing Committee on Pro Bono Services to the Supreme Court of Florida, The Florida Bar and The Florida Bar Foundation indicates that Florida Bar members personally reported the following hours of pro bono legal assistance donated to the poor and dollars contributed to legal aid organizations:
|Pro Bono Hours Donated||Pro Bono Dollars Contributed|
|July 1, 1993 - June 30, 1994||806,874||$1,518,781|
|July 1, 1994 - June 30, 1995||561,351||$876,837|
|July 1, 1995 - June 30, 1999||709,070||$1,169,718|
|July 1, 1996 - June 30, 1997||842,305||$1,427,263|
|July 1, 1997 - June 30, 1998||989,333||$1,861,627|
|July 1, 1998 - June 30, 1999||1,068,666||$1,688,708|
|July 1, 1999 - June 30, 2000||1,146,501||$1,642,033|
|July 1, 2000 - June 30, 2001||1,206,357||$2,314,181|
|July 1, 2001 - June 30, 2002||1,247,546||$2,459,660|
|July 1, 2002 - June 30, 2003||1,298,202||$3,746,150|
|July 1, 2003 - June 30, 2004||1,457,644||$3,790,700|
|July 1, 2004 - June 30, 2005||1,322,138||$3,408,484|
|July 1, 2005 - June 30, 2006||1,450,505||$3,924,792|
|July 1, 2006 - June 30, 2007||1,398,467||$4,446,486|
|July 1, 2007 - June 30, 2008||1,489,099||$5,288,466|
|July 1, 2008 - June 30, 2009||1,545,157||$4,443,830|
|July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010||1,614,676||$4,637,265|
|July 1, 2010 - June 30, 2011||1,622,449||$4,812,275|
|July 1, 2011- June 30, 2012||1,675,498||$4,885,236|
|July 1, 2012 - June 30, 2013|
July 1, 2013 - June 30, 2014
July 1, 2014 - June 30, 2015
July 1, 2015 - June 30, 2016
- The Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, presented by the Chief Justice. Past winners:
Mark Olive, Tallahassee (2017)
Bruce B. Blackwell, Winter Park (2016)
John W. Kozyak, Miami (2015)
Karen Meyer Buesing, Tampa (2014)
Jeanne Trudeau Tate, Tampa (2013)
Rosemary E. Armstrong, Tampa (2012)
Robert G. Kerrigan, Pensacola (2011)
Robert C. Josefsberg, Miami (2010)
Russell E. Carlisle, Fort Lauderdale (2009)
Sylvia Hardaway Walbolt, Tampa (2008)
Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, Tallahassee (2007)
Katherine Warthen Ezell, Miami (2006)
James M. Vanderplas, Indian Rocks Beach (2005)
Edward M. Waller, Jr., Tampa (2004)
Jacqueline Marie Valdespino, Miami (2003)
Maurice Wagner, Deltona (2002)
Gerald Israel Kornreich, Miami (2001)
Victor Manuel Diaz, Jr., Miami (2000)
Daniel Frederick Wilensky, Jacksonville (1999)
Vance Edwin Salter, Miami (1998)
James M. Russ, Orlando (1997)
Richard Craig Milstein, Miami (1996)
Leon Blakely Cheek, III, Fern Park (1995)
Allan Howard Terl, Fort Lauderdale (1994)
Nancy S. Palmer, Maitland (1993)
Steven Mark Goldstein, Tallahassee (1992)
Alexandra delaVergne St. Paul, Bradenton (1991)
Howard W. Dixon, Miami (1990)
Herbert Lee Allen, Jr., Orlando (1989)
Jean Gillespie Booher, Fort Lauderdale (1988)
Steven Lauren Seliger, Quincy (1987)
Roderick Norman Petrey, Miami (1986)
William J. Sheppard, Jacksonville (1985)
Neil Chonin, Coral Gables (1984)
Philip John Padovano, Tallahassee (1983)
Ira J. Kurzban, Miami (1982)
- In 1985, The Florida Bar was named a winner of the Harrison Tweed Award for its program of finding pro bono attorneys for indigent Death Row inmates for death-sentenced collateral appeals. The awards are sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.
- Law Firm Commendation, presented by the Chief Justice. Past winners:
Immigration Law Group of Florida, P.A. (2017)
Duane Morris LLP (2016)
Akerman LLP (2015)
Stichter, Riedel, Blain & Prosser, P.A. (2014)
Clark & Washington, P.C. (2013)
Fisher, Butts, Sechrest Warner & Palmer, P.A. (2012)
Foley & Lardner, LLP (2011)
Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen & Ginsburg, P.A. (2010)
Hunton & Williams LLP (2010)
Fishback, Dominick, Bennett, Stepter, Ardaman, Ahlers, Bolton & Langley LLP (2009)
City Attorney’s Office, City of Tallahassee (2008)
Hogan & Hartson LLP (2007)
Messer & Messer (2007)
Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns LLP (2006)
Barrett & Barrett (2005)
Kozyak, Tropin & Throckmorton, P.A. (2004)
Carlton Fields (2003)
Markowitz, Davis, Ringel & Trusty, P.A. (2002)
Podhurst Orseck Josefsburg Eaton Meadow Olin & Perwin, P.A. (2001)
Fisher & Sauls, P.A. (2000)
Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (1998)
The Broward County Attorney’s Office, Office of the Public Defender (1997)
Fowler, White, Gillen, Boggs, Villareal and Banker, P.A. (1995)
Steel Hector & Davis (1994)
Wooten, Honeywell & Kest, P.A. (1993)
Emmanuel, Sheppard & Condon (1992)
Greenberg, Traurig, Hoffman, Lipoff, Rosen & Quentelo, P.A. (1991)
Fine Jacobson Schwartz Nash Block & England (1991)
Holland & Knight (1990)
Thomson, Zeder, Bohrer, Werth, Adorno & Razook (1985)
- Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Service Award, presented by the Chief Justice. Past winners:
Jacksonville Bar Association (2017)
Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association (2016)
Hillsborough Association for Women Lawyers (2015)
Central Florida Bankruptcy Law Association (2014)
Tampa Bay Hispanic Bar Association (2013)
St. Lucie County Bar Association (2012)
Tallahassee Women Lawyers (2011)
Seminole County Bar Association (2010)
Dade County Bar Association (2009)
Cuban American Bar Association (2008)
Bankruptcy Bar Association of the Southern District of Florida (2007)
Hispanic Bar Association, Stetson College of Law (2006)
Clearwater Bar Association (2005)
Indian River County Bar Association (2003)
Jacksonville Bar Association (2002)
St. Petersburg Bar Association (2001)
Bankruptcy Bar Association of the Southern District of Florida (2000)
Collier County Bar Association (1999)
Hillsborough Association for Women Lawyers, Inc. (1998)
Jacksonville Bar Association (1997)
Counsel for Cuban Detainees (1996)
Escambia/Santa Rosa Bar Association (1995)
The Legal Aid Foundation of the Tallahassee Bar Association, Inc. (1994)
Put Something Back, A Joint Project of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit and Dade County Bar Association (1993)
Orange County Bar Association (1992)
Hillsborough County Bar Association (1991)
- Distinguished Judicial Service Award, presented by the Chief Justice. Past winners:
Hon. Virginia Baker Norton, Jacksonville (2017)
Hon. Cynthia L. Cox, Vero Beach (2016)
Hon. Ashley B. Moody, Tampa (2015)
Hon. Emily A. Peacock, Tampa (2014)
Hon. Claudia Rickert Isom, Tampa (2013)
Hon. James M. Barton, II, Tampa (2012)
Hon. Susan G. Sexton, Tampa (2011)
Hon. Nikki Ann Clark, Tallahassee (2010)
Hon. John Robert Blue (retired), St. Petersburg (2009)
Hon. Michael Francis Andrews, Clearwater (2008)
Hon. Lauren L. Brodie, Naples (2007)
Hon. Charles A. Francis, Tallahassee (2006)
Hon. William A. Van Nortwick, Jr., Tallahassee (2005)
- Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Award, presented by the Chief Justice. Past winners:
Hon. Laurel Myerson Isicoff, Miami (2017)
Hon. Catherine Peek McEwen, Tampa (2016)
- The Florida Bar's Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award. Past winners:
Jennifer Edwards, Largo (2017)
Elisa J. D’Amico, Miami (2016)
Sara Alpert, Tampa (2015)
Laura E. Ward, Tampa (2014)
Rebecca Lauren Sosa, Miami (2013)
Timothy Allen Moran, Oviedo (2012)
Rachel May Zysk, Tampa (2011)
Monica Miller Evans, Tallahassee (2010)
Carin Manders Constantine, St. Petersburg (2009)
Heather Pinder Rodriguez, Orlando (2008)
Mac Richard McCoy, Tampa (2007)
Joseph F. Summonte, Jr., Sarasota (2006)
Melanie Emmons Damian, Miami (2005)
Thomas Alan Zehnder, Orlando (2004)
Laurel Francis Moore, Tampa (2003)
Lawrence Howard Kolin, Orlando (2002)
Jacqueline Hogan Scola, Miami (2001)
Steven H. Malone, West Palm Beach (2000)
Scott Edmonds Ray, Miami (1999)
Karen Josefsberg Ladis, Miami (1998)
Michelle Anchors, Tallahasssee (1997)
Robert Lowery Hamilton, Orlando (1996)
Cheryl Ada Elizabeth Little, Miami (1995)
A. Bryant Applegate, Orlando (1994)
Robert Alan Williams, Tallahassee (1993)
Prepared by The Florida Bar Department of Public Information and Bar Services with the assistance of the Public Services Programs Department.