A New Jersey State Bar Association task force proposing to raise the roof on pro bono legal efforts is meeting opposition from an unlikely quarter -- Legal Services of New Jersey, the state's largest pro bono provider.
In a 61-page report titled "Closing the Justice Gap," the task force recommends a raft of measures, including establishment of a judiciary commission; creation of a statewide pro bono web portal; allowance of CLE credit for pro bono work; and clarification and expansion of what qualifies for exemption from mandatory pro bono service.
But LSNJ has decried the recommendations as the product of a one-size-fits-all approach that fails to assess the most pressing legal needs of the poor and the real obstacles to meeting those needs, including the economic realities at small and solo firms and the pressure at larger ones to rack up billable hours.
It also describes the report as the result of a rushed process by an Essex County-centric group with too narrow a perspective that was working to meet an arbitrary deadline.
Though two LSNJ lawyers served on the task force and took part in discussions, they "did not concur with the great majority of conclusions and associated narrative," the report notes.
Despite LSNJ's opposition, the report has won support from the State Bar Board of Trustees, which voted on May 15 to circulate it among the association's constituent groups for comment.
It also voted to create an ad hoc committee to further examine the subject, perhaps to consider concerns expressed by LSNJ.
The vote came one day after former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, chairwoman of LSNJ's own board of trustees, had sent a letter urging the bar trustees not to give their approval.
The task force was the project of Susan Feeney, who stepped down as bar president in May. Feeney has a long-time commitment to pro bono and made it a "core mission" of her presidency to encourage lawyers to devote more time to volunteering their services.
After winning approval from the bar trustees last July, Feeney formed the 20-member task force and directed it to survey New Jersey's legal-provider landscape and make recommendations to encourage and expand pro bono participation by the private bar.