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Faced with lawyers’ less than stellar response to voluntary reporting, the State Bar of Texas is developing a telephone survey to get a better handle on the amount of pro bono work that the legal community does for low-income Texans. In September, the state Bar board of directors authorized the expenditure of up to $10,000 to conduct the survey provided that all stakeholders in the pro bono issue are involved in its development. Dan Boulware, chairman of the Bar board’s Public Services and Education Committee, says there is a feeling that much of the free legal work that lawyers do for the poor never is reported. The Bar’s Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee proposed the survey to determine what Texas lawyers are doing with regard to pro bono, he says. “We’re trying to get a true reflection of what pro bono in Texas is,” says Boulware, a partner in Cleburne’s MacLean & Boulware. The Bar has tried for a number of years to get lawyers to voluntarily report their pro bono service, but their response has been poor. Pamela Brown, chairwoman of the legal services to the poor committee, says she sometimes has not known how to respond on the voluntary report because the definition of pro bono has been changed from time to time. About 6,200 of the 69,241 active attorneys in Texas did not return the state Bar pro bono reporting form mailed to them in March with the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts compliance forms, according to a Bar report released this month. The report shows that about 55 percent of the forms that were returned contained no information, and 8.3 percent — a total of 5,230 lawyers — turned in forms with all fields reported as “zero.” “We don’t know what they mean when they send [the form] in blank,” says Carol Cannon, research associate with the Bar. Cannon says a form with zeros in all the blanks at least tells the Bar something. “If they fill in the form with all zeros, we know that they’re making a definite statement that they did zero pro bono that year,” she says. Only 8.86 percent of the lawyers report that they met or exceeded the 50-hour goal for pro bono in 2001, says Charles “Chuck” Herring, a member of the Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee. That is a slight increase over 2000, when 7.77 percent reported meeting the aspirational goal set by the Bar board in 1992, he says. ‘PRETTY PITIFUL’ “For nine out of 10 Texas lawyers to fail to indicate that they meet our formally adopted professional aspiration is pretty pitiful,” says Herring, a partner in Austin’s Herring & Irwin. The report shows that 23.4 percent of the 28,219 lawyers who filled out the portion of the form addressing the aspiration standard said they did 50 or more hours of pro bono work last year. Another 21.3 percent reported that they provided at least 50 hours of service to the poor at a substantially reduced fee, according to the report. The respondents reported an average of 35.3 hours of free legal service to the poor last year, up from an average of 30.2 in 2000. Boulware says he believes Texas lawyers are underreporting their pro bono work because they don’t keep up with the hours of service they perform. “We feel like a lot of pro bono that’s done is not reported,” he says. Brown, an attorney with Texas Rural Legal Aid in Weslaco, says lawyers are unfairly portrayed in reports that don’t show anything. She’s hopeful that more accurate numbers will better portray what lawyers do. Cannon says the low response rate to voluntary reporting may be the result of changes in the way the information is gathered. The reporting forms were sent with the IOLTA compliance forms this year and in 2001, but the forms previously were enclosed in the annual dues statements mailed in May. It’s also possible that lawyers don’t want to fill out the forms or find it difficult to do so because they don’t keep records of their pro bono work, Cannon says. Herring says the Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee recommended mandatory reporting on pro bono or a survey to get a better picture on pro bono efforts in the state. Only the recommendation for a survey was passed along to the board. The Bar is expected to conduct the survey sometime in early 2003, Herring says. Still to be determined are the questions to be asked and the size of the survey sample, he says. Brown says the survey could be helpful if the Bar is able to ask evaluative questions. If attorneys say they don’t do pro bono work, they should be asked what barriers there are to doing it, she says.

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