RPC 6.1: PRO BONO PUBLICO SERVICE

Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to assist in the provision of legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least thirty (30) hours of pro bono publico service per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyers should:

(a) provide legal services without fee or expectation of fee to:

(1) persons of limited means or

(2) charitable, religious, civil, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; and

(b) provide pro bono publico service through:

(1) delivery of legal services at no fee or substantially reduced fee to individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, or charitable, religious, civil, 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:

(2) delivery of legal services at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means; or

(3) participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.

Pro bono publico service may be reported annually on a form provided by the WSBA. A lawyer rendering a minimum of fifty (50) hours of pro bono publico service shall receive commendation for such service from the WSBA.

[Originally effective September 1, 1985; amended effective September 1, 2006.]

Comment

[1] [Washington revision] Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional work load, has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay, and personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer. It is recognized that in some years a lawyer may render greater or fewer hours than the annual standard specified, but during the course of his or her legal career, each lawyer should render on average per year, at a minimum, the number of hours set forth in this Rule. Services can be performed in civil matters or in criminal or quasi-criminal matters for which there is no government obligation to provide funds for legal representation, such as post-conviction death penalty appeal cases.

[2] [Washington revision] Paragraphs (a)(1) and (2) recognize the critical need for legal services that exists among persons of limited means. Legal services under these paragraphs consist of a full range of activities, including individual and class representation, the provision of legal advice, legislative lobbying, administrative rule making and the provision of free training or mentoring to those who represent persons of limited means or organizations primarily representing such persons. The variety of these activities should facilitate participation by government lawyers, even when restrictions may exist on their engaging in the outside practice of law.

[3] [Washington revision] Persons eligible for legal services under paragraphs (a)(1) are those who qualify for services provided by a qualified legal services provider (see Washington Comment [14]) and those whose incomes and financial resources are slightly above the guidelines utilized by such programs but nevertheless, cannot afford legal services. Legal services under paragraphs (a)(1) and (2) include those rendered to individuals or to organizations such as homeless shelters, battered women's centers and food pantries that serve those of limited means. The term "governmental organizations" includes, but is not limited to, public protection programs and sections of governmental or public sector agencies. [Comment amended effective April 14, 2015.]

[4] Because service must be provided without fee or expectation of fee, the intent of the lawyer to render free legal services is essential for the work performed to fall within the meaning of paragraphs (a)(1) and (2). Accordingly, services rendered cannot be considered pro bono if an anticipated fee is uncollected, but the award of statutory attorneys' fees in a case originally accepted as pro bono would not disqualify such services from inclusion under this section. Lawyers who do receive fees in such cases are encouraged to contribute an appropriate portion of such fees to organizations or projects that benefit persons of limited means.

[5] [Washington revision] A lawyer's responsibility under this Rule can be fulfilled either through the activities described in paragraph (a)(1) and (2) or in a variety of ways as set forth in paragraph (b).

[6] Paragraph (b)(1) includes the provision of certain types of legal services to those whose incomes and financial resources place them above limited means. It also permits the pro bono lawyer to accept a substantially reduced fee for services. Examples of the types of issues that may be addressed under this paragraph include First Amendment claims, Title VII claims and environmental protection claims. Additionally, a wide range of organizations may be represented, including social service, medical research, cultural and religious groups.

[7] Paragraph (b)(2) covers instances in which lawyers agree to and receive a modest fee for furnishing legal services to persons of limited means. Participation in judicare programs and acceptance of court appointments in which the fee is substantially below a lawyer's usual rate are encouraged under this section.

[8] [Washington revision] Paragraph (b)(3) recognizes the value of lawyers engaging in activities that improve the law, the legal system or the legal profession. Serving in a volunteer capacity on bar association committees or on boards of pro bono or legal services programs, taking part in Law Week activities, acting as an uncompensated continuing legal education instructor, an uncompensated mediator or arbitrator and engaging in uncompensated legislative lobbying to improve the law, the legal system or the profession are a few examples of the many activities that fall within this paragraph.

[9] Because the provision of pro bono services is a professional responsibility, it is the individual ethical commitment of each lawyer. Nevertheless, there may be times when it is not feasible for a lawyer to engage in pro bono services. At such times a lawyer may discharge the pro bono responsibility by providing financial support to organizations providing free legal services to persons of limited means. Such financial support should be reasonably equivalent to the value of the hours of service that would have otherwise been provided. In addition, at times it may be more feasible to satisfy the pro bono responsibility collectively, as by a firm's aggregate pro bono activities.

[10] [Reserved.]

[11] Law firms should act reasonably to enable and encourage all lawyers in the firm to provide the pro bono legal services called for by this Rule.

[12] The responsibility set forth in this Rule is not intended to be enforced through disciplinary process.

Additional Washington Comments (13 - 16)

[13] Washington's version of this Rule differs from the Model Rule. Washington's Rule 6.1 specifies an aspirational minimum of thirty hours of pro bono publico legal services per year rather than fifty, but provides for presentation of a service recognition award to those lawyers reporting to the WSBA a minimum of fifty hours. Unlike the Model Rule, paragraph (a) of Washington's Rule does not specify that the majority of the pro bono publico legal service hours should be provided without fee or expectation of fee. And Washington's Rule does not include the final paragraph of the Model Rule relating to voluntary contributions of financial support to legal services organizations. The provisions of Rule 6.1 were taken from former Washington RPC 6.1 (as amended in 2003).

[14] For purposes of this Rule, a "qualified legal services provider" is a not-for-profit legal services organization whose primary purpose is to provide legal services to low-income clients.

[15] Pro bono publico service does not include services rendered for wages or other compensation by lawyers employed by qualified legal services providers (as that term is defined in Washington Comment [14]), government agencies, or other organizations as part of their employment.

[16] The amount of time spent rendering pro bono publico services should be calculated on the same basis that lawyers calculate their time on billable matters. For example, if time spent traveling to a client meeting or to a court hearing is considered to be part of the time for which a paying client would be billed, it is appropriate to include such time in calculating the number of pro bono publico service hours rendered under this Rule.

[Comments originally effective September 1, 2006.]

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