Photo by KatieDobies/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by KatieDobies/iStock / Getty Images

New VA Supreme Court Rule Encourages Pro Bono Reporting

by J. Caleb Jones

Effective December 1, 2018, the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia includes a new provision regarding the reporting of pro bono hours. Unlike the Maryland mandatory reporting rule, Virginia lawyers are asked to voluntarily report pro bono hours served.  (Virginia rejected a proposal for mandatory reporting last year.)  The new rule will hopefully encourage more attorneys to engage in pro bono and legal aid service.

The change is made to help track the aspirational goal of Virginia Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1.  The relevant part states, “A lawyer should render at least two percent per year of the lawyer’s professional time to pro bono publico legal services.”

Not all “free” legal services qualify as Rule 6.1 pro bono publico legal services. Hours that Virginia lawyers write off or discount are not included. Neither are contingency fee arrangements. Only pro bono hours established in advance of the service rendered count towards the two percent goal.  

Volunteer and “low bono” representation and advice given to clients meets the requirements of Rule 6.1. These free and nominal fee arrangements are arranged in advance with those who do not have the financial resources to compensate a lawyer. Hours given to those whose incomes exceed legal aid guidelines can still be pro bono hours if the client lacks sufficient resources to compensate counsel and the arrangement is made in advance.

Attorneys can also take referrals from legal aid organizations to meet their pro bono goals. Financial support of organizations that provide legal representation and advice to those in need is an alternative way for attorneys to report their progress towards the two percent goal.

Maryland Mandatory Reporting Rule.  

Maryland Rule 19-503 requires Maryland attorneys to report on any pro bono activities [Link: ] they engaged in during the prior calendar year. Reports are confidential (although non-identifying data may be gleaned from the reports). Failure to file a timely pro bono report can result in decertification.  Note that while reporting is mandatory, pro bono service is not required. Rule 19-306.1 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct suggests that full-time practicing attorneys provide 50 hours of service pro bono publico each year