State bar association pushes more pro bono
Robert Keogh has a simple reason for hundreds of hours of pro bono work.
Now, with its “Justice for All” program, the State Bar Association of North Dakota is trying to encourage more lawyers to do pro bono work by recognizing those who do 50 or more hours of it a year.
“It isn’t charity,” said Tony Weiler, executive director of the State Bar Association. “It is our responsibility to provide that kind of work to those who can’t afford it.”
Most of Keogh’s pro bono work — and where most of the need lies — is in domestic relations, law like divorce and child custody.
“There’s so many folks that have domestic issues of one form or the other and just don’t have a lot of money,” Keogh said. “They have difficulty paying their own bills, much less a lawyer. … It’d be a real hardship for many people to have to pay those.”
And since not every lawyer is an expert in domestic law, more pro bono help is needed.
“Every lawyer realizes there’s some obligation to give back” Keogh said, but “… the biggest demand is in domestic relations and not everyone wants to do that.”
Weiler said the association is also pushing lawyers to do work for nonprofits, like reviewing contracts or advising boards.
And with booming western North Dakota, landlord-tenant issues are another area of need.
“Housing in a big issue, a big deal,” Weiler said.
Lawyers in the 50-hour club will receive a certificate and see their names published in the bar association’s magazine.
“We hope that gets more lawyers to do it,” Weiler said, “but it’s an awareness issue too for the public —making sure that the public knows that there are lawyers doing that.”
Weiler said with the population boom in the western part of the state, the bar association has seen more people applying for legal help.
“We are struggling to find lawyers who can do the work for those who need it,” he said.
The threshold of 50 hours aligns with the American Bar Association’s model rule for states, which encourages lawyers to “aspire to render” at least 50 hours of pro bono services annually.
The North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct don’t include a specific goal for amount of service, but do encourage lawyers to participate in “public interest legal service,” which includes pro bono work, activities to improve the legal system and financial support for organizations that provide legal service to those in need.