The Supreme Court of North Carolina recognizes 170 attorneys who donated 50 or more hours of legal services during 2016 through the state's inaugural voluntary pro bono reporting effort. These 170 attorneys make up the first cohort of the N.C. Pro Bono Honor Society.
According to the N.C. Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC), North Carolina attorneys are generous with their time and financial contributions. Rule 6.1 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct encourages attorneys to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services annually and to contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means. However, until January this year, there has not been a statewide mechanism to track this volunteerism, recognize pro bono efforts, and identify pro bono trends and unmet legal needs.
On January 1, 2017, the Resource Center began collecting responses from attorneys sharing information about their pro bono involvement. The PBRC, a program of the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission, launched in April of 2016 to work with North Carolina attorneys to increase pro bono legal services. In its first few months, the PBRC has cultivated a statewide presence through presentations on the value of pro bono legal service and the launch of a website highlighting more than 30 available pro bono projects across the state.
Pro bono legal services - legal services provided without fee or expectation of fee to persons of limited means, charitable organizations that are designed to address the needs of persons of limited means, or public interest organizations who cannot afford to pay - are the activity that can lead to statewide recognition. The Rules of Professional Conduct encourage a variety of ways for attorneys to serve our state, and the PBRC collects information about these important contributions, including: (1) activities to improve the law, such as leadership in professional legal associations, service on boards of legal service providers to clients of limited means, or active participation in employer pro bono committees; (2) non-legal community service; and (3) providing financial support to legal service providers, such as Legal Aid of North Carolina, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, and Pisgah Legal Services.
"We are happy to see North Carolina attorneys leveraging the unique skills they possess to help ensure access to justice for all citizens of our state, and we are just as happy that there is now a way to recognize that good work being done through the Pro Bono Honor Society," says Jennifer Lechner, executive director of the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission.
Each attorney who reported at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services provided during the 2016 calendar year joins the 2016 N.C. Pro Bono Society and will receive a certificate from the Supreme Court of North Carolina in recognition of their valuable contributions to the people of North Carolina.
The Pro Bono Society has 170 inaugural inductees. All 543 North Carolina attorneys who shared information about their pro bono volunteerism reported more than 25,700 hours during calendar year 2016.