September 1, 2014

Pro Bono

Are Florida Attorneys Paying Less Attention to Poor?

Non-billable pro bono hours are falling.

Art Levy | 5/1/2008

While many of the students seemed to recognize the importance of pro bono, both Walbolt and officials at the Florida Bar are concerned that the cumulative amount of hours that Florida lawyers donate to the poor each year hasn’t kept pace with the growing number of lawyers. The average number of hours donated by attorneys in Florida was 19.4 in 2003-04. In 2006-07, it was 17.2.

James Baxter, chairman of the Bar’s Pro Bono Legal Services Committee, says, “You can’t really claim that access to the legal system is fair unless even those who are indigent have the ability to be represented.”

There are many theories on why the numbers are down. Some say young associates at larger firms are being asked to work more billable hours to justify their high starting salaries. Another theory says that lawyers, seeking a better home/work balance, are simply working fewer hours overall. Some believe that lawyers are actually doing more pro bono work than ever but are simply neglecting to report the hours.

Kent Spuhler, executive director of Florida Legal Services, says improvement is needed in the process of connecting clients with lawyers who have the right expertise and the willingness to help.

NonBillable Hours
Year
Attorneys Pro bono hours
2003-04
74,874 1,457,644
2004-05
77,102 1,322,138
2005-06
79,290 1,450,505
2006-07 81,534 1,398,467
Source: The Florida Bar
To figure out what’s going on, the Florida Bar commissioned a survey to learn more about the pro bono habits and opinions of lawyers in Brevard, Broward, Miami-Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Leon and Orange counties. Kelly Carmody, from Arizona-based Carmody and Associates, is conducting the study and expects to present her findings this month to the Bar’s pro bono committee, which will then reveal the results.

Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge James Barton, vice chairman of the Bar’s pro bono committee, thinks all of the attention that pro bono is getting presents “a real opportunity to educate people and get the new kids right out of law school and also the veteran lawyers and kind of re-energize the whole thing. We’re not just going to sit back and watch for this to either continue or not. We’re looking to give it a shot in the arm.”

The Florida Bar's 2008 pro bono winners include:

  • Sylvia H. Walbolt, winner of the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award.
  • Circuit Court Judge Michael F. Andrews, of Florida's Sixth Judicial Circuit, winner of the Distinguished Judicial Service Award.
  • The Cuban American Bar Association, winner of the Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Award.
  • Tallahassee's City Attorney's Office, winner of the Law Firm Commendation.

The Bar also handed out pro bono service awards to 20 Florida attorneys and one from out of state. They include:
Debra Trevlyn Alexander, St. Augustine; Carlotta Appleman-Moniz, Panama City; Danelle Dykes Barksdale, Tampa; Morgan Ray Bentley, Sarasota; Dionne Maria Blaesing, New Port Richey; Suzanne Smith Brownless, Tallahassee; Theodore Mark Burt, Trenton; Russell E. Carlisle, Ft. Lauderdale; Melanie Emmons Damian, Miami; Patricia Ann Eables, Key West; James D. Francis, Jacksonville; Robert Eugene Fridley, Gainesville; Gary Randal Gossett Jr., Sebring; John Richard Hamilton, Orlando; Amy Christine Hamlin, Longwood; Julie Hope Littky-Rubin, West Palm Beach; William Jemison Mims Jr., Pensacola; Ginger Allison Miranda, Ft. Pierce; Jack Arthur Moring, Crystal River; Melinda Paniagua Riddle, Naples; Ross Benjamin Bricker, Chicago.

Tags: Politics & Law, Business Services, Government/Politics & Law

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